Recapping the Récamier Exhibition and Colloquium in Lyon

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, Member News by Editor on October 2, 2009


Juliette Récamier, muse et mécène

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, 27 March – 29 June 2009

Colloquium: Historiennes et critiques d’art à l’époque de Juliette Récamier, international colloquium organised by the Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, 26 June 2009


J. Chinard, "Portrait of Juliette Récamier," 1805-06 (Lyon: Musée de Beaux-Arts)

Juliette Récamier: Muse et mécène, recently mounted by the Musée de Beaux-Arts in Lyon, was surely one of the highlights of this past summer’s exhibition season. Thoughtfully conceived and beautifully executed, this show did much to restore Récamier to her rightful place as a key arbiter of taste in post-Revolutionary France. Upon entering the foyer, one was immediately transported to the refined and graceful realm of this cultural luminary. Art, fashion, and furnishings were disposed so as to emphasize her various powers. This exhibition compellingly argued that Récamier not only inspired some of the most enchanting art of the period (one thinks immediately of the portraits of this figure by Jacques-Louis David and François Gérard—neither of which were able to travel, unfortunately), but that she also figured as a formidable patron of the arts. The most exquisite space in this show was the re-creation of Récamier’s salon, as detailed in François Louis Dejuinne’s painting of 1826. To see in conversation some of the most iconic paintings of the age, including Anne-Louis Girodet’s Portrait of Chateaubriand, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s Portrait of Mme de Staël as Corinne, and Gérard’s Corinne at Cape Miseno, was a truly captivating experience. Attesting to the enduring interest in the figure of Recamier was the 1928 film of Gaston Ravel that played in an adjacent room, along with the twentieth-century works by René Magritte that paid homage to ‘la dame au sofa’. The accompanying catalogue (available here via Amazon.ca) was as exquisitely crafted as the exhibition, with contributions by the curator, Stéphane Paccoud, as well as other notable French and American scholars including Laura Auricchio. The essays attest to the complexities of Récamier’s roles as muse and patron and point to the need to reconsider conventional characterizations of such well-positioned women in the fashioning of artistic sensibilities. In sum, I must concur with Didier Rykner’s assessment of the exhibition made in La Tribune de l’Art: it did indeed approach perfection.


Robert Smirke, "Chambre de Juliette Récamier,” 1802 (London: Royal Institute of British Architects Library)

In conjunction with the exhibition, Historiennes et critiques d’art à l’époque de Juliette Récamier, a colloquium dedicated to the women writing about the arts in France, c. 1800, was held on June 26 in Lyon. This international colloquium was sponsored by the Institut national d’histoire de l’art and convened by Mechthild Fend (University College, London), Melissa Hyde (University of Florida), Anne Lafont (INHA), and Stéphane Paccoud (MBA-Lyon). Many of the presenters discussed the place of individual figures in the construction of the post-Revolutionary art world. American scholars were well represented. Mary Sheriff (University of North Carolina) argued for Vigée-Lebrun’s position as an art historian and addressed her Souvenirs as a critical historical enterprise. Susan Siegfried (University of Michigan) gave careful consideration to the role of la presse féminine in the formation of female subjectivity, and Sarah Betzer (University of Virginia) engaged Marie d’Agoult’s critical work. In my own paper, I discussed the significance of Julie Candeille’s activities as critic and agent in the career of Anne-Louis Girodet. That no one treated the contributions made to art writing by the uncontested doyenne of the era, Germaine de Staël, was much commented upon. The lively discussion that ensued after the presentations testified to the need for a continued dialogue regarding women as art historians and critics at this historical juncture. There are plans to publish the proceedings.

Heather Belnap Jensen received her Ph.D. in 2007 from the University of Kansas. She is currently assistant professor of art history at Brigham Young University. For more information about her recent scholarly activities, click here». Images are drawn from the exhibition website; other HECAA members who participated in the exhibition or colloquium are indicated with bold type.

Latest Count

Posted in opinion pages by Editor on October 2, 2009

Thanks so much to all of you for getting Enfilade off to such a fine start! During the first four months, the reader count has continued to grow. September saw over 2500 visits! For readers new to the Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art & Architecture, let me stress that anyone with interests in the period is most welcome to join. Annual dues are entirely reasonable, and it’s easy to pay via PayPal (click here for more information).

In light of the numbers, I hope HECAA members will continue to send news items, personal updates, and larger contributions. Your colleagues are genuinely interested in what you’re doing, and there are readers out there! Please feel free to share suggestions, too. The site is still certainly a work in progress. Thanks, in particular, to Heather Jensen, whose account of the Juliette Récamier exhibition and colloquium will appear in tomorrow’s posting, and thanks again to all of you for reading.

-Craig Hanson

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