Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
March 31 – July 4, 2011
20 place des Terreaux, Lyon
+33 472 10 17 40


This exhibition describes the rediscovery of Islamic arts in 19th-century Europe, and the impact of this visual encounter on Western contemporary creations (design, architecture and painting). Particular attention is devoted to the study of Islamic ornamental patterns by European artists of the time.

The growing knowledge of Islamic monuments and artefacts led to two very different if not antithetical tendencies. One was drawn by a fascination for Orientalist fantasies; Islamic ornaments served mainly as a décor for the display of fabulous stories of the Orient. The other was concerned with understanding of the normal structure of decorative design; it led the artists (most particularly theoreticians of architecture and design) to penetrate as far as they could the aesthetics of Islamic additions. This is what the museum calls “Islamophilia” as opposed to traditional “Orientalism”. The situation was in no way dualistic and the two tendencies frequently interacted and were often intertwined.

The ten sections of exhibition culminate with Henri Matisse and Paul Klee, as representative of a moment of utopian modernist hope. Both of them referred to Islamic art, of which they possessed a thorough knowledge, in order to legitimize their attempts at a radical shift in painting.