Enfilade

Exhibition | Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 17, 2014

Press release (4 August) from The Fitzwilliam:

Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 14 October 2014 — 25 January 2015
Musée Bourdelle, Paris, 31 March — 12 July 2015

Curated by Jane Munro

Fashion doll with costume and accessories, 1755–60; wood, gesso, paint, glass, human hair, knitted cotton, satin, silk, gilt braid, wire, silk gauze, linen, cotton, and silk satin, 60 x 42 x 43 cm (London: V&A Museum)

Fashion doll with costume and accessories, 1755–60; wood, gesso, paint, glass, human hair, knitted cotton, satin, silk, gilt braid, wire, silk gauze, linen, cotton, and silk satin, 60 x 42 x 43 cm (London: V&A Museum)

Every picture tells a story … but it does not always give away its secrets. For much of its existence, the artist’s mannequin, or lay figure, was one of art’s best-kept.

Now, for the first time, Silent Partners will unveil the mannequin’s secret life to show how, from being an inconspicuous studio tool, a piece of equipment as necessary as easel, pigments and brushes, the lay figure became the fetishised subject of the artist’s painting, and eventually, in the twentieth century, a work of art in its own right.

A common figure in the studios of painters and sculptors from the Renaissance onwards, this ‘artful implement’ was used to study perspective, arrange compositions, ‘rehearse’ the fall of light and shade and, especially, to paint drapery and clothing. But, while even the very greatest artists condoned its use, the mannequin best served its purpose by remaining ‘silent’: too present or visible in the finished picture, the mannequin could make figures appear stiff and unnatural, and so betray the tricks of the artist’s trade.

The nineteenth century was a turning point. Mannequin-making became a profession in its own right and Paris, especially, became a leading centre of production. Competition was fierce to create and perfect the ‘naturalistic’ mannequin, one that was life-size with an articulated skeleton that could move in realistic ways and an exterior finish that was painted and padded to look—sometimes eerily—human.

And as the mannequins became an increasingly sophisticated human replica, so they emerged from the anonymity of the studio to take their place, centre stage, on the canvas. At first the mannequin featured humorously, in witty visual games of ‘hide and seek’ and double entendre. However, throughout the course of the nineteenth century, painters such as Degas began to represent it in more troubling ways, playing on the unnerving psychological presence of a figure that was realistic, yet unreal, lifelike, yet lifeless. Others—photographers especially—explored in more voyeuristic terms how the relationship between male painter and female mannequin played out behind closed doors, revealing the studio as a place of potent erotic encounter.

Paul Huot,  Female Mannequin, ca. 1816; wood, metal, horsehair, wax, silk, cotton and painted papier-mâché head, 163 x 65 cm, (Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Sammlung Angewandte Kunst)

Paul Huot, Female Mannequin, ca. 1816; wood, metal, horsehair, wax, silk, cotton and painted papier-mâché head, 163 x 65 cm, (Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Sammlung Angewandte Kunst)

By the end of the century, innovations in the manufacture of mannequins shifted to the shop window dummy, the lay figure’s closest kin. Again, Paris led the way, and the fashion mannequin was transformed by firms such as Pierre Imans and Siégel from a schematic approximation of the human form into an uncannily realistic surrogate that inspired both consumerist longing and sexual fantasy.

This distinctively modern mannequin—one that reflected the life and elegance of its era—set a new challenge for twentieth-century painters and photographers. Featureless and expressionless, they haunted the paintings of the Italian metaphysical painters Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, while the Surrealists celebrated the ‘modern’ mannequin as a manifestation of the ‘marvellous’, an object that could reveal the artist’s—and our—secret unconscious desires.

One of the most wide-ranging and ambitious shows ever hosted at the Fitzwilliam, the exhibition will feature over 180 paintings, drawings, books and photographs as well as fashion dolls, trade catalogues, a series of extraordinary patent documents and videos that will surprise and at times disturb. There will be paintings and drawings by Fra Bartolommeo, Cézanne, Poussin, Gainsborough, Millais, Ford Madox Brown, Courbet, Wilhelm Trübner, Kokoschka and Degas as well as photographs by and of Surrealist artists such as Bellmer, Raoul Ubac, Dalì and Man Ray; two works by Jake and Dinos Chapman will form a twenty-first-century coda. But among the most striking and fascinating exhibits will be the mannequins themselves: from beautifully carved sixteenth-century figures to haunting wooden effigies once belonging to Sickert (and maybe Hogarth) and painted dolls of full human height, top-of-the range models that were highly sought after by artists throughout Europe.

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From Yale UP:

Jane Munro, Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 280 pages, ISBN: 978-0300208221, $65.

9780300208221The articulated human figure made of wax or wood has been a common tool in artistic practice since the 16th century. Its mobile limbs enable the artist to study anatomical proportion, fix a pose at will, and perfect the depiction of drapery and clothing. Over the course of the 19th century, the mannequin gradually emerged from the studio to become the artist’s subject, at first humorously, then in more complicated ways, playing on the unnerving psychological presence of a figure that was realistic, yet unreal—lifelike, yet lifeless.

Silent Partners locates the artist’s mannequin within the context of an expanding universe of effigies, avatars, dolls, and shop window dummies. Generously illustrated, this book features works by such artists as Poussin, Gainsborough, Degas, Courbet, Cézanne, Kokoschka, Dalí, Man Ray, and others; the astute, perceptive text examines their range of responses to the uncanny and highly suggestive potential of the mannequin.

Jane Munro is a curator in the Department of Paintings, Drawings and Prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum and director of studies in history of art at Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge.

 

HBA Travel Award for Graduate Students

Posted in graduate students by Editor on August 17, 2014

Historians of British Travel Award
Proposals due by 15 September 2014

HBA is accepting applications for this year’s Travel Award. The award is designated for a graduate student member of Historians of British Art who will be presenting a paper on British art or visual culture at an academic conference in 2015. The award of $750 is intended to offset travel costs. Applicants must be current members of HBA. To apply, send a letter of request, a copy of the letter of acceptance from the organizer of the conference session, an abstract of the paper to be presented, a budget of estimated expenses (noting what items may be covered by other resources), and a CV to Renate Dohmen, Prize Committee Chair, HBA, brd4231@louisiana.edu. The deadline is September 15, 2014.