The International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in 1937 focused on demonstrating the relationship between art and technique, among many other things. Following the instructions set forth by the electricity company, Compagnie parisienne de distribution d’électricité, Raoul Dufy was commissioned to paint the interior design for the Exhibition’s Pavilion of Light and Electricity. His project told the story of “The Spirit of Electricity” and was largely inspired by the ancient poem On the Nature of Things, by Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius. Created in less than a year due to thorough research and innovative techniques, Dufy’s project occupied 600 square meters, covering the walls with 250 plywood panels with brilliant colors.

The work’s theme is an ode to the scientists and researchers who contributed to the invention of electricity, a key element in the advent of modernity. Their figures appear next to the representation of a number of significant inventions in history: Michael Faraday’s electromagnetic induction, Zénobe Gramme’s direct current dynamo, Émile Baudot’s telegraph, and Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb.

In 1964, the French state electricity company, Électricité de France, gifted Dufy’s monumental design, titled The Spirit of Electricity (1937), to MAM’s collection. It was later installed at the museum in 1964, where the piece required special adjustments to fit its new location.

Raoul Dufy, The Spirit of Electricity (La Fée Électricité), 1937
At the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris
Paris Musées / Musée d’Art moderne de Paris
© Pierre Antoine