Exhibition ORIENT-EXPRESS & CIE: itinerary of a modern myth

Exhibition from 17 March to 21 May 2023
Curators: Eva Gravayat, Arthur Mettetal
Exhibition co-produced by the Fonds de dotation Orient-Express
and the Rencontres d’Arles festival 

A mechanical object turned cultural icon, the Orient-Express has been the source of a multitude of stories and representations based on facts, both real and invented. However, before becoming a literary and cinematographic object, the Orient-Express is first and foremost the train of a railway company: the Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits (CIWL). In operation between 1883 and 1977 and linking Paris to Constantinople, later Istanbul, it was the first in a series of international luxury trains. Its creation was a diplomatic and economic exploit at a time when railroads were used as tools to demonstrate the political power of empires and states.

The works and photographs displayed in the Orient-Express & Co. Itinerary of a Modern Myth exhibition come from the archives of the former Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits. Photographic prints, but also plans, maps, technical drawings and advertisements from that period, the exhibition brings together more than 200 exhibits that place the Orient-Express in its broader historical context. While most of the photographs are anonymous, there are others signed by famous studios such as Paul Nadar, Albert Chevojon or Sébah & Joaillier. Beyond the myth, the exhibition reveals all the engineering of a luxury train that was made possible by an impressive network of workshops and services (launderers, cabinetmakers, boilermakers, etc.).

One train can hide another

Along with the Orient-Express, the Rome-Express is one of the most prestigious large trains of the Compagnie des wagons-lits. Put into service in December 1883, it travels the 1446 kilometres between Paris and Rome, first along the French Riviera, then the Italian Riviera du Ponant and du Levant. Presented today at Villa Medici, archives and photographs bear witness to this Franco-Italian railway adventure.

The exhibition also presents a new work by the French photographer Sarah Moon, produced as part of a grant from the Orient-Express Endowment Fund. The artist has travelled on the railroad tracks of the Orient-Express on several occasions, following its routes, both real and imaginary.

The exhibition explores the train as a place of all possibilities, somewhere between history and fiction. Mathias Enard, a writer who won the Prix Goncourt in 2015 for his book Boussole (Actes Sud) and a former fellow of Villa Medici in 2005-2006, has taken up the myth to take visitors on a sound docu-drama specially produced for the exhibition, in partnership with France Culture. The author, whose work constantly delves into the meeting points between East and West, offers a new tale told along the line of the Rome-Express: each episode can be listened to as you walk from room to room to discover the myth, or replayed on the France Culture website and app.

This exhibition features documents from the Orient-Express Endowment Fund, the Pierre de Gigord Paris Collection, the SNCF Fund, SARDO, the Centre National des Archives Historiques, the French Ministry of Culture, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine and the Fondazione FS Italiane.

→ Listen to Mathias Enard podcast on France Culture.

The curators

Eva Gravayat

Born in Paris in 1985, lives in Berlin since 2012. Eva Gravayat holds a degree in Exhibition Science and Techniques from Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne University and is a cultural project manager. She has overseen the organisation of numerous exhibitions and photography festivals in France and Germany (Rencontres d’Arles, Fotobookfestival Kassel…) and regularly takes part in portfolio readings, judging panels and round tables. Between 2014 and 2018 she worked on the conservation and distribution of the Hein Gorny Estate with the Collection Regard. In 2017, she co-founded thephotoexhibitionarchive.com, a collection of exhibition images for students, artists and curators.

Arthur Mettetal
Born in 1985 in Besançon, France, he lives and works in Ivry-sur-Seine, France. Arthur Mettetal is an historian who specialises in the history and heritage of luxury goods and transport. He wrote his thesis on the Orient-Express at the Centre de Recherches Historiques of the EHESS. His work focuses on the material and immaterial traces of industries and companies and makes extensive use of the photographic, archival or contemporary medium. Curator of several documentary exhibitions, he is currently the general delegate of the Orient-Express Endowment Fund.

The Orient-Express programme

As an extension of the exhibition, a series of events invites various authors and artists to explore the theme of travel.

#1 : Thursday 30 March at 7.30 pm
Meeting and lecture with the writer Charif Majdalani

#2 : Thursday 13 April at 5pm
Writing workshop with Anne Reverseau

#3 : Thursday 13 April at 8pm
Concert by Malik Djoudi and Gaspar Claus

#4 : Friday 5 May at 9pm
Dj set by Acid Arab

In order not to miss any of this programme, please consult our agenda regularly.

Practical information

Opening time of the exhibition:
Monday to Sunday (closed on Tuesdays) between 10am and 7pm (last entry at 6.30pm) 

Prices :
Full price: 10€ / Reduced price: 8€
TRIBU card holders: 2€ / Free for SOLO or DUO card holders

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Online ticketing

Young visitors

Themed tours and workshops will be offered during the exhibition for families and school groups. 

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The French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici would like to thank the sponsors and partners who support its artistic programming and in particular this exhibition:


With the support of

Media partners

Cover image: baggage tag for the Paris-Rome-Express route by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, 1920s-1930s.
View exhibition : Daniele Molajoli