Mr President of the Centre Pompidou, dear Alain Seban, Mr President of the Société des Amis du Musée national d'artmoderne - Centre Pompidou, dear François Trèves, Mr Director General of Heritage, dear Philippe Bélaval, Mr Director of the National Museum of Modern Art, dear AlfredPacquement, Ladies and Gentlemen,

From Petrone to Vasari, the theme of the «living portrait», known since
Antiquity but extremely present in the Renaissance, crosses history
representation. This real photographic image pointed out by Walter
Benjamin in his Little History of Photography, this flesh that
palpite» to translate the quality of a plastic representation, there is a
recurring pattern that Gradiva’s theme takes up again, at the
following the myth of Pygmalion or the Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
It was therefore more than natural to count this major work in one
of our major national collections.

I am very pleased to celebrate with you today the acquisition of
GRADIVA, painting made by André Masson in 1939 that will soon join
the collections of the Centre Pompidou’s National Museum of Modern Art.

André Masson is one of the major painters of the twentieth century and one of all
of the surrealist movement created by André Breton in
1924. Surrealism borrowed from literature many of the figures the
of mythology. The catalogue of the exhibition First papers
of Surrealism organized in New York by André Breton in 1942 establishes
list of these literary myths. Alfred Jarry’s «Dragone» y
appears alongside the Gradiva of Wilhelm Jensen.

By its subject Gradiva is one of the most ambitious works conceived by
André Masson during his second surrealist period. She illustrates one of the
the most fertile myths of surrealism, which finds its origin in the
short story published by the German writer Wilhem Jensen in 1903. Gradiva
relates the discovery, by archaeologist Norbert Hanold, of a low relief of the
Archaeological Museum of Naples showing a young woman walking. The
hero weaves his fantasies around her, he imagines her a name - Gradiva,
that which advances in Latin – and an origin, it carries this being that he created
in the city of Pompeii, on the very day of the eruption of Vesuvius, which was to
destroy the city. He goes to the place and suddenly sees, without being able to
doubt the Gradiva of its bas-relief come out of a house and win ,with a step
light, across the street. Resurrection, hallucination, mythology
complex, there is in this story something to feed the works of
most famous psychoanalysts as art historians most
asserted. There is a more deeply possible escape for the visitor
and the spectator.

In 1931, Wilhelm Jansen’s short story was translated into French while
as the famous essay dedicated to him by Freud. Freud’s persistent interest
for Jensen’s novel will lead him to acquire a cast of the
«Gradiva» bas relief, which he will hang above the sofa of his
Viennese consulting firm, 19 Bergasse.

In 1937, André Breton gave the name of the heroine to the gallery
Surrealist he runs.

Two years later, in 1939, André Masson devoted one of
his most ambitious paintings that we can admire here today.
This painting literally transposes the most dramatic passage of the
account of Jensen. While Vesuvius, in the background, appears at the moment
of its eruption, the painter freezes the metamorphosis of Gradiva between creature
and mineral figure, between life and death. In the left part of the
composition, poppies refer to the passage of the novel where Gradiva
disappeared by the crack of a wall bordered by these flowers. A swarm of bees
evokes, according to the exegetes of the work, the insects that assail
archaeologist Hanold, the bees that accompany the holidays
in their representations on the walls of the Villa des
mysteries of Pompeii. To the example of Barthes in Fragments of a
discourse in love (1977), it is perhaps necessary to remember only the
model of the resurrection proposed by the tale, which is a kind of setting
in the abyss of the very function of art. Art gives life to inert matter:
it is a work of metamorphosis at the same time as it can
deeply upset, I dare say metamorphose, the one who
contemplates it. There is in this work a kind of mirror of what can
be the artistic expression: the Gradiva model is the exact replica
the narrative system by which Proust brings back to the present the past for
to appear «a little time in the pure state» to quote the narrator of
La Recherche.

The interest and the subject of André Masson’s painting justified his
collections. This is why the Department of
Culture and Communication wished to exercise its right of pre-emption
to acquire this masterpiece of surrealism. Here we must congratulate ourselves on
the existence of this pre-emptive device. It is a major asset for
national collections, as well as that of the
Heritage Fund, budget heading exclusively for
the acquisition of works of major interest, which enabled the
Ministry of Culture to widely support the Centre Pompidou in the
achievement of this great acquisition.

I would like to acknowledge the extreme generosity of the Society of Friends of the Museum
National Modern Art/Centre Pompidou
President François Trèves., without which it would not have been possible
André Masson’s painting. Once again, after
major acquisitions like, among many other Knife Throw by Jeff Wall
in 2010, a work by Anish Kappoor in 2008, L'adoration du veau, de
Francis Picabia in 2007, the support of the Society of Friends was revealed
decisive in this acquisition.

It is therefore thanks to an exemplary mobilization of all the actors,
which I particularly welcome, that Gradiva complements the important
set of surrealist paintings from the National Museum of Modern Art –
Centre Georges Pompidou, which includes some 90 works by André
Masson whose surrealist production of the years 1920-1940 is
widely presented in the exhibition Surrealism at the National Art
Tokyo Center, which offers, under the curatorship of Didier Ottinger and
Yusuke Minami until May 9, works from the collection of the
Centre Pompidou.

I am sure that this work will fully reveal to the public the aesthetic
and the penetrating gaze of the generation of surrealists, while
the apocalypse of the Great War. This generation
artists who oscillated between fantasy and gravity, between hedonism and
disenchantment, and for whom, as Jean Arp said, at the moment when
we conceive the conceivable, it begins to resonate in us and becomes
inconceivable”.

Thank you.