An exhibition exploring how French art and design inspired Walt Disney films will open at the Met in…


Manufacture of Sevres. Tower-shaped Covered Vase (tower vase; detail), ca. 1762. Soft-paste porcelain. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA, The Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. Image courtesy of Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, CA

Inspiring Walt Disney: the animation of French decorative arts will be the first-ever exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore the hand-drawn animation work of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Opening on December 10, it draw new parallels between the magical creations of Disney studios and their artistic models, examining Walt Disney’s personal fascination with European art and the use of French motifs in Disney films and theme parks.

Forty works of 18th-century European decorative arts and design – from tapestries and furniture to Boulle clocks and Sèvres porcelain – will be displayed alongside 150 works of art and works on paper from the Walt Disney Animation Research Library , Walt Disney Archives, Walt Disney Imagineering Collection, and the Walt Disney Family Museum. Excerpts from selected films illustrating the extraordinary technological and artistic developments of the studios during Walt Disney’s lifetime and beyond will also be screened. The exhibition will highlight references to European visual culture in Disney’s animated films, including nods to neo-Gothic architecture in Cinderella (1950), medieval influences on Sleeping Beauty (1959) and rococo-inspired objects that come to life in The beauty and the Beast (1991). The exhibition marks the 30th anniversary of The beauty and the Beastthe animated theatrical release of.

Inspire Walt Disney is organized in collaboration with The Wallace Collection in London, where the exhibition will open in spring 2022.

“Disney animated films and decorative rococo artwork are imbued with elements of playful storytelling, fun and wonder,” said Max Hollein, French director of the Met’s Marina Kellen. “Eighteenth-century artisans and twentieth-century animators sought to elicit feelings of excitement, awe, and wonder in their respective audiences. Through exquisite objects and Disney artifacts, this exhibition will offer an unprecedented look at the impact of French art on Disney studio productions from the 1930s to almost the present day.

Wolf Burchard, the exhibition’s curator, added: “In curating the Met’s first-ever exhibition dedicated to Walt Disney and the work of his studios, it was important for us to explore his sources of inspiration as well as to acknowledge that his studio’s lively interpretations of European fairy tales have become a lens through which many view Western art and culture today. Our fresh look at this material, which sparks an effervescent dialogue between the drawings and illustrations of some of the most talented artists from the Walt Disney Animation Studios and a rich range of the finest 18th century furniture and porcelain, brings the humour, wit and ingenuity of French Rococo decorative arts.

At the Met in December, the exhibition “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts”. Concept art by Karl Simon for Beauty and the Beast.

Sarah Lawrence, Iris Curator and B. Gerald Cantor in charge of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, shared: “Burchard brings a thoroughly original response to his subject, one that enriches our appreciation of the art of animation of Disney and revives our pleasure in the decorative arts. of 18th century France. The genius of Walt Disney and his studio was to guess the animation implicit in these ornate pieces of furniture, and then to discover a technology that brings these objects to life.

Preview of the exhibition

The exhibition will be organized thematically and largely chronologically, with the largest section devoted to Disney’s most rococo film, The beauty and the Beast (1991), well known for featuring inanimate objects coming to life.

Walt Disney (1901-1966) had a personal relationship with France, and after a brief look at that history, the exhibition will highlight his encounters with European art and architecture during his repeated visits to Western Europe. . These gave him a deep source of inspiration from which he and his studios have drawn throughout his life. His travels also sparked his passion for collecting and building miniature furniture and dollhouse contents, reflecting the kind of creativity he would exercise overseeing the creation of new “worlds” through his theme parks and movies. A selection of these mini-objects will be shown alongside personal film footage of Disney and his family visiting Paris and Versailles.

The next section will explore the concept of ‘animating the inanimate’ through a display of French and German Rococo porcelain figurines as well as story sketches for two of Disney’s ‘Silly Symphonies’: The clock store (1931) and The China store (1934). These types of whimsical porcelain figurines, originally inspired by the pastoral scenes of French Rococo painter Antoine Watteau and his contemporaries, were brought to life by the first generation of Disney animators. Links will be established between the remarkable technological advances of the porcelain factories of Meissen and Sèvres during the 18th century and the cinematographic innovations developed by Disney animators at the beginning of the 20th century.

The next three sections will focus on three first animated feature films, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), inspired by the tale of the Brothers Grimm. Included will be a gouache on celluloid depicting two greedy-eyed vultures, from the film, which Walt Disney presented at the Met in 1938. His gift to the Museum was widely discussed in the press at the time, with The New York Times Magazine ask the question, “It’s Disney, but is it art?” The typically Germanic atmosphere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contrasts with the Francophile look of Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959), both adapted from the original tales written at the dawn of the 18th century by Charles Perrault, an influential man of letters at the court of Louis XIV. the Cinderella will spotlight female artists who have broken through the barriers that have entered the creative realm of Disney Studios, including Bianca Majolie and Mary Blair. The latter’s bold, highly colorful style drove the look of studio feature films of the 1940s and early 1950s. The exhibition will then shed light on the medieval sources that Disney artist Eyvind Earle and his colleagues have consulted for the style of Sleeping Beauty. unicorn hunt tapestries (1495-1505; also known as Unicorn Tapestries) from the collection of The Met Cloisters are often credited with providing a starting point for the visual development of the film.

The next series of galleries will be dedicated to The beauty and the Beast (1991), which Walt Disney himself had suggested for animation in the 1940s and 1950s. The famous tale was first published in 1740 by Suzanne-Gabrielle Barbot de Villeneuve, although a later adaptation and abridged (1756) by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont is more widely known. This expansive section will explore the subjects of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism in 18th-century French literature and decorative arts, Disney’s satirical take on rococo fashion, the interiors of the film’s Enchanted Castle, and the design and animation of the Beast and other characters. On display is a touching 16th-century portrait on loan from Ambras Castle in Innsbruck, Austria, of Magdalena González, who has been associated with the history of The beauty and the Beast for generations. Young Magdalena had a genetic condition that covered her entire body with an unusual amount of hair; his story and that of his family was one of alienation and oppression. Preparatory film sketches displayed alongside 18th-century clocks, candlesticks and teapots (evoking the film’s characters of Cogsworth, Lumière and Mrs. Potts) will illustrate how Disney animators and Rococo craftsmen sought to bring to life to that which is essentially inanimate. Highlights include a pedestal clock by André Charles Boulle, gilt bronze candlesticks by Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier and antique Meissen teapots, including an anthropomorph of a bearded man riding a miniature dolphin, as well as a pair of Sèvres elephant vases designed by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis. Particular attention will be given to Beast’s transformation scene, animated by Glen Keane and inspired by sculptor Auguste Rodin. The Burghers of Calais, as well as the stage in the ballroom, whose vast architectural decor is inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Finally, a “Be Our Guest” exhibition will discuss how glittering silver and porcelain buffets were part of the festivities at Versailles and other European courts.

The final section will look at Disney’s architecture, especially the fairytale castles that are the focus of many Disney films and theme parks. While fantasy buildings exist outside of actual time periods and styles, Disney artists were heavily influenced by French and German architecture when creating their sets, especially for theme parks. A presentation of concept art from Walt Disney Imagineering will illustrate these Disney architectural designs and historical comparisons, such as the 16th-century Loire Valley castles and 19th-century Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. The centerpiece of this section will be the first bird’s eye view of Disneyland, drawn by Herbert Ryman under the direction of Walt Disney during a weekend in the fall of 1953, as well as the only two pairs of so-called Tower vases, manufactured by Sèvres around 1762-1763 and likely to be united for the first time in history. These vases, like Disney’s castles, were designed to inspire viewers to let their imaginations run wild.


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