Call for Papers | Political Portraiture in the United States and France

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on September 6, 2013

Political Portraiture in the United States and France
during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776–1814

National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 25–26 September 2014

Proposals due by 15 November 2013

Organized by Todd Larkin and Brandon Brame Fortune

Peale, Washington at the Battle of Princeton

Charles Wilson Peale, Washington at the Battle of Princeton (Princeton)

In August 1814 British troops under General Robert Ross sacked Washington, D.C., and burned the Capitol, together with some splendid state portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the French monarchy’s gift to the American Congress some thirty years earlier. The approaching bicentennial of this event will provide scholars of the United States and France a rare occasion to meet and share expertise on aspects of late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century portraiture.

The premise of this conference is that in the period between the War of Independence and the War of 1812 the United States maintained a complicated political alliance with France, which had an impact on patterns of cultural representation and consumption on both sides of the Atlantic. The transition from monarchical to republican forms of government was accompanied by a shift from aristocrats to citizens as the primary patrons, subjects, and viewers of portraits. Yet portraits of American and French heads of state, delegates, and families often reveal an uneasy integration of traditional aristocratic forms and new republican values.

The first half of the conference, titled “Dialect[ic]s of Diplomacy,” will treat with single-person portraits (and portrait pairs) that suggest an individual invested with high status, extraordinary power, martial strength, or diplomatic duty on behalf of the nation; the second half of the conference, “Representative Bodies,” will examine group portraits that suggest a shared commitment to collective governance, family harmony, or equitable representation within the nation. How effective were state portraits in promoting the authority of a hereditary monarch, group portraits in promoting the authority of an elected assembly? To what extent did American artists reference or adapt the paintings and prints of French artists, and vice versa? What formal arrangements and symbolic repertories were invented to invest politicians, merchants, and workers with ideals of “patriotism” and “republicanism”?

This line of inquiry is meant to challenge or complicate persistent claims that the United States remained culturally dependent on Great Britain throughout the period, that its portraits reflect a kind of “Anglo-American synthesis.” Although the British flooded North America with royal paintings and celebrity prints in the general expectation that these would encourage fidelity to the Crown and taste for English goods, the French deployed images of sovereigns, ministers, and generals more precisely to seal diplomatic agreements, to celebrate military victories, and to rally public support. Indeed, so appealing were French productions that American artists freely borrowed from them to commemorate the first Presidents of the United States.

There will be six sessions, each lasting approximately two hours and consisting of three to four participants. (more…)

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