Struggling to secure his reputation as a great American artist, Samuel F.B. Morse sailed to Europe in 1829 and embarked on a period of intense study and prodigious copying of great works of art that culminated in his grand painting Gallery of the Louvre (1831-33).
Measuring approximately 6 by 9 feet, the painting depicts an imagined installation of 40 artworks in the Salon Carré at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. In the scene, individuals study, sketch and copy from great works of art, just as Morse did in order to complete the painting. With its emphasis on copying as a technology of transmission and creation, this ambitious work anticipates Morse’s later experiments with photography, the electromagnetic telegraph and the invention of Morse code.
PEM’s presentation of Samuel F.B. Morse's Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention is accompanied by an installation of objects from the collection that further explore the role of copying in creativity and visual communication, including the display of approximately 40 rarely seen photographs from PEM’s extensive holdings.
Whether you go or not, the exhibition catalog, Samuel F. B. Morse's "Gallery of the Louvre" and the Art of Invention, considers that the painting is one of the most significant, and enigmatic, works of early 19th-century American art. It is also one of the last works Morse painted before turning his attention to the invention of the telegraph and Morse code. A signature painting in the collection of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Gallery of the Louvre underwent an extensive conservation treatment in 2010–11 and was the focus of three symposia held at the Yale University Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This collection of essays, carefully drawn from the proceedings of these scholarly sessions, brings together the fresh insights of academics, curators, and conservators, who focus on the painting’s visual components and its cultural contexts.