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At full gallop - Duruthy and the art of origins

At full gallop - Duruthy and the art of origins

The exhibition is extended from May 19 to November 14, 2021 due to the health crisis

Arthous Abbey


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From June 2 to November 15, 2020, Arthous Abbey presents a temporary exhibition dedicated to the prehistoric collections it keeps. Installed in the church, this exhibition is characterized by a shared perspective, both scientific and artistic. It consists of artistic photographs taken by Claire Artemyz and a presentation of the archaeological context of the works interpreted by the photographer.


The exhibition develops two approaches, artistic and scientific. These are materialized by supports of two different colors: light gray for the photographs and the artist's comments and black for the archaeological contextualization elements which provide keys to understanding the prehistoric works photographed.

The exhibition is aimed at all audiences and favors the emotion aroused by this double artistic work: that of the Magdalenian hunter-gatherers and that of Claire Artemyz. It is not an addition of two gazes but a homogeneous construction, an invitation to live an experience based on the importance given to the imagination. The photographs, although they are interpretations that can take liberties with scientific knowledge, are always deeply respectful of Paleolithic thought. The fully restored Romanesque church offers an ideal setting for this dialogue between poetic knowledge and scientific knowledge. The nave unveils large-scale prints (3x1 meters) made up of photographic montages combining different angles of view of the horse sculptures in a daring cinematographic approach. Conversely, photographs of smaller formats (60x40 centimeters) are presented in the transept and the apsidioles. Contrary to the nave and the apse where a strong artistic bias unfolds, the more intimate spaces of the transept and the two apsidioles leave more room for scientific explanations, whether through notices or a thematic presentation and/or inventory (the meaning of the horse; the human remains of Duruthy; the bestiary of Sorde; the geometric art of Sorde). The prehistoric works revealed in the photographs come from the collection of the Abbey of Arthous but also from the collection of the National Archeology Museum, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which includes most of the other emblematic prehistoric works of the Pyrenees. (Isturitz, Lourdes, Mas-d'Azil, Bruniquel). The prehistoric remains of Sorde-l'Abbaye preserved in Arthous are thus placed within the Magdalenian of the Pyrenees.

Photo Valériane Alexandre.


The departmental site of Arthous Abbey houses an important prehistoric collection from four rock shelters located about ten kilometers from Arthous, in the town of Sorde-l'Abbaye: Duruthy, Dufaure, Grand Pastou, Petit Pastou. Known and explored since the 19th century, the prehistoric site of Sorde is a reference in the prehistory of the Pyrenees. In 1961, the prehistorian Robert Arambourou made important discoveries at Duruthy: Paleolithic human remains and three horse sculptures in stone and mammoth ivory dated to around 17,000 years old. Numerous remains were unearthed during its excavations: engravings of reindeer, ibex, bison, flint, animal bones, etc. In 1972, to commemorate the centenary of the discovery of the Duruthy shelter, a first archeology museum designed by Robert Arambourou was inaugurated at Arthous Abbey. The archaeological furniture from its own excavations is then presented in the west wing of the abbey. From this first museum, only about sixty pieces have been preserved in the current museography from the early 2000s, including the three horse sculptures, jewels of the Arthous Abbey collection. In 2020, the temporary exhibition “Au grand galop” highlights some significant pieces from this collection. It accompanies and extends a project to modernize the presentation of these three sculptures in a new permanent space known as the "treasure room", which is scheduled to open for the European Heritage Days in September.


With the aim of enhancing these precious remains, the Landes Department initiated, in 2019, an artistic partnership with photographer Claire Artemyz. For more than 10 years, this artist has taken a unique look at objects from prehistory, based on originals from museum collections. His technique, based on tight planes and a meticulous use of light and chiaroscuro, sublimates the choice of materials made by Paleolithic artists and reveals the vitality of their works of art. The artistic photographs of Claire Artemyz seek to transmit the sensory experience, generate dreams and give free rein to the imagination. Under his lens, the intimacy of the archaeological object is exposed in its most significant form. The presentation of the object, often on a black background, and the frequent use of background blurs make it possible to disregard the context. This short depth of field is reminiscent of observation under a microscope. His refined art and the most current scientific research find a convergence in the quest for the essence of the object. As part of this exhibition, Claire Artemyz was invited to explore some twenty archaeological pieces from the Arthous Abbey collection: items of adornment, animal representations, human skull, etc. This selection gives an overview of the diversity of the remains discovered. However, particular attention was paid to the three horse sculptures. The photographs taken express their full evocative potential thanks to the assemblage imagined by the artist (for example the large friezes presented in this exhibition) or suggested by the bringing together of the images.

Aurelien Simonet

Departmental archaeologist

Curator of the exhibition

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