Variations: Eugène Frey’s Light Set Projections presented by João Maria Gusmão at Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Villa Paloma, through August 30, 2020

“Variations is an exhibition devoted to the lesser-known art of Light Set projections, a stage design technique established in 1900 in the tradition of shadow theatres and magic lantern shows and developed on the Opéra de Monte-Carlo stage up until the 1930s.

Eugène Frey (Brussels 1864 – Courbevoie 1942) was a painter and an artist whose work has been forgotten by the history of art and stage. In 1900 he invented the technique for ‘Décors Lumineux à transformations’, a complex system of light projections mixing pictorial, photographic and cinematographic techniques to bring diverse variations of colours, lights and forms to stage scenery, while also integrating moving pictures. He developed this unique process for on the stage of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo from 1904 to 1938.

With the aim of rediscovering Frey’s prolific work, the NMNM has invited the artist João Maria Gusmão (Lisbon 1979) to reinterpret his Light Set projection technique.

Likening his research to a metaphysical inquiry in the field of analogue experimental media, with references to early film pioneers (such as Eadweard Muybridge), as well as science philosophers and physicists (James Clerk Maxwell, Ernst Mach), João Maria Gusmão has developed a scenographic installation composed of multiple modified slide projectors. Synchronised in the Villa Paloma’s different spaces, they reactivate Frey’s different animation techniques in the form of a ‘continuous light micro-cinema’.” ― NMNM Villa Paloma

Exhibition views of Variations: Eugène Frey’s Light Set Projections, presented by João Maria Gusmão at Nouveau Musée National de Monaco Villa Paloma. Photos: Andrea Rossetti, 2020.


Hans ‐ Peter Feldmann, Schattenspiel (Shadow Game), 2002. NMNM Collection. Acquisition with the support of the Association of Friends of the NMNM.


Lourdes Castro, Teatro de Sombras (Theater of Shadows), 1978. Extracts from the film “Return to Portugal: Lourdes Castro de Madeira “, produced and produced by José Maria Berzosa and broadcast on Antenna 2 in the program “From one country the other” on the 20th august 1978, 3’57 ’’, National Audiovisual Institute.


Emmanuel Cottier, Théâtre d’ombres (Theater of Shadows), 1915-1920, NMNM Collection.


Left to right: Léon Sandis, Théâtre d’ombres (Theater of Shadows), n.d.; Georges Redon, Théâtre d’ombres, La Boîte à Musique (Theater of Shadows, The Nightclub of Music), 1897. Collection of the Cinémathèque française; Lotte Reiniger, The Adventures of Prince Ahmed, 1926. National Archive British Film Institute.


Left: Eugène Frey, Studies for the Light Set of “Terpsichore”, ca. 1900 and Scenes from review shows, n.d. Right: João Maria Gusmão, Light House, 2020.


Michel Ocelot, Illuminated paintings for “The Castle of the Witchand” and “The Coat of the Old lady”, ca. 1989, Michel Ocelot Collection.


Eugène Frey, Plates for “La Walkyrie”, ca. 1909 Monte ‐ Carlo Company Sea Baths.


Alphonse Visconti and Eugène Frey, Scenery model for “La Walkyrie”, Acte III, The Ride of the Walkyries, ca. 1909. Monte ‐ Carlo Société des Bains de Mer in permanent deposit at NMNM.


Eugène Frey, Studies and glass plates for the light set of “the Damnation of Faust” / “Mephistopheles”, ca. 1905. NMNM Collections, Monte ‐ Carlo Société of the Baths of Sea and Nicéphore Museum Niépce.


The Songs of Faust on the banks of the Elbe, n.d. Parade of characters, n.d. Magic lantern plates. Collection of the Cinémathèque française.


Left: Alphonse Visconti, Stage model for “Pompeii”, 2nd painting, 1921. Right: Eugène Frey, Study for the illumination of “Pompeii”, 2nd painting, ca. 1921.


João Maria Gusmão, RGB, 2020.


Left to right: João Maria Gusmão, RGB, 2020 (projectors); João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, Green Orange, 2018; Jules Chéret, Folies ‐ Bergère – La Loïe Fuller, 1893, Collection of the Cinémathèque française.


Left: Eugène Frey, Painted glass plates for decorations bright, unidentified, n.d. Monte ‐ Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. Right: João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, Sunset, 2017.


João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, Camera inside camera, 2010.


João Maria Gusmão, Tartan, 2019. Produced by the Biennial of Contemporary Art Anozero ‐ Coimbra in 2019.

Variations: Eugène Frey’s Light Set Projections was curated by Célia Bernasconi.

Title image: Eugène Frey, Study for the light set of “The Enchanted Flute”, ca. 1921. Graphite pencil, black ink and gouache on black card, 24 x 41.2 cm. NMNM Collection, n° 2003.7.93 © NMNM / Marcel Loli.

Images courtesy Musée National de Monaco, Villa Paloma.