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Carmontelle's Transparency: An 18th-Century Motion Picture At the Getty Center, March 14-June 18, 2006

March 13, 2006

LOS ANGELES—One of the most unusual works of art in the Getty’s collection is a 12-foot-long transparent drawing, made over 200 years ago, that would “come to life” when rolled through a backlit viewing box.  It offered 18th-century viewers what was possibly the very first movie experience.  The exhibition Carmontelle’s Transparency: An 18th-Century Motion Picture, at the Getty Center, March 14–June 18, 2006, showcases this forerunner of modern cinema invented by Louis Carrogis, known as Carmontelle (French, 1717–1806).

Carmontelle’s transparency Figures Walking in a Parkland, thought to be the first of his rouleaux transparents (rolled-up transparent drawings), is the focus of this exhibition.  A replica of his viewing box and a facsimile of the transparent drawing will enable visitors to experience the work as 18th-century viewers did.  Few of Carmontelle's transparencies exist today, and only Figures Walking in a Parkland depicts an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end.  The exhibition therefore offers a rare opportunity to explore this unique creation, which capitalized on the interest in optical illusions among 18th-century European aristocrats. 

A master of entertainments at the court of Louis-Philippe, duke of Orléans, Carmontelle was a versatile draftsman and writer.  He wrote numerous short plays and even served as designer when the garden at the Orléans property in Monceau (now in Paris) was expanded during the mid-1770s.  Carmontelle devised his extended drawings and the viewing box to delight his audience.  Joining several pieces of paper together, he used watercolor, gouache, and black chalk to create an ever-changing parade of characters and landscape, unfolding a continuous tale that he accentuated with improvised spoken narratives to animate the passing scenes. 

Figures Walking in a Parkland invites viewers into an expansive imaginary landscape filled with a river, trees, winding pathways, and a variety of architectural features that draw the eye, including a round temple on a hilltop, a pyramid, and an obelisk.  These exotic locations helped to transport viewers out of their usual surroundings.  Here, Carmontelle presents groups of aristocrats engaged in various social pastimes.  The adventure begins with a man preparing to launch a raft and the entrance of a horse-drawn carriage, and continues with a new vista or unique feature at every turn.

Also on view in this exhibition is a selection of drawings from the same period, gathered from the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.  These works offer additional insight into French artistic and social traditions of the day, complementing the presentation of landscape, elegant gatherings, and theatrical performance in Carmontelle’s invention.  Among them are several recent acquisitions of works by Claude Gillot (French, 1673–1722), Jean-Jacques de Boissieu (French, 1736–1810), and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French, 1725–1805).


Curator's Gallery Talks
Tuesdays, April 18 & May 2, 2:30 p.m., Museum Galleries, Getty Center
Christine Giviskos, assistant curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a gallery talk on the exhibition. Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.
Free. No reservations required.

Gallery Course
Human Nature: Courbet, Adams, and the Mystery of Modern Landscape
Sundays, March 12 & 19, 1:00–3:30 p.m., Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center
Join Museum educators Mary Beth Carosello and Jeremy Glatstein in this two-part gallery course exploring the mystery behind landscapes and landscape art throughout the ages. Participants visit three exhibitions: Courbet and the Modern Landscape; Robert Adams: Landscapes of Harmony and Dissonance; and Carmontelle's Transparency: An 18th-Century Motion Picture. Course fee $20. Open to 50 participants. Tickets are available on-site or by phone, 310-440-7300.

Visit the calendar at for a complete list of the Getty’s public programming.  Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa.

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Miranda Carroll
Getty Communications Department

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

Visiting the Getty Center: The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is always free. Parking is $15 per car, but free after 5pm on Saturdays and for evening events throughout the week. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call 310-440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is 310-440-7305. The Getty Center is at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California.