Exhibition | Out of the Ordinary: Living with Chinese Export Porcelain

Posted in Art Market, books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 31, 2014

From Jorge Welsh:

Out of the Ordinary: Living with Chinese Export Porcelain
Jorge Welsh, London, 1–8 November 2014
Jorge Welsh, Lisbon, 14 November — 6 December 2014

JW_OOTO_catalogue-cover-3d-420x420The exhibition Out of the Ordinary: Living with Chinese Export Porcelain will take place at the newly refurbished London gallery from the 1st of November, coinciding with the late night opening of Asian Art in London. The exhibition then travels to our Lisbon gallery, where it will be on view from the 14th of November until the 6th of December.

The exhibition and catalogue will focus on the most unusual forms of Chinese export porcelain produced in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Truly out of the ordinary, most of these items were copied from Western prototypes made in metal, wood, ceramics or glass. Jorge Welsh will present more than 100 objects including egg cups, strainers, cutlery handles, pudding moulds, custard pots, ladles, funnels, bulb pots, snuff boxes, cane handles, barber’s bowls and chamber pots, amongst others. Commissioned according to the latest fashions, they provide an insight into the scope of the European orders and the sophistication of contemporary consumer society in Europe at this time.

Out of the Ordinary: Living with Chinese Export Porcelain (London: Jorge Welsh Books, 2014), 344 pages, ISBN 978-0957354715, £100.


New Book | Bertrand’s Toyshop in Bath: Luxury Retailing, 1685–1765

Posted in books by Editor on October 31, 2014

From the flyer (via Oblong Creative) . . .

Vanessa Brett, Bertrand’s Toyshop in Bath: Luxury Retailing, 1685–1765 (Wetherby: Oblong Creative, 2014), 364 pages, ISBN: 978-0957599246, £48 / $89 / €69.

101564Toys were expensive luxuries such as gold snuffboxes, buckles, watches, canes, and porcelain. Toyshops also sold children’s playthings, theatre tickets, elixirs and scientific instruments—and much more. Paul Bertrand was born in America of Huguenot parents. He worked in London as a goldsmith until his second marriage linked him to the family of England’s most successful toyshop owners, and took him to Bath.

With over 230 illustrations and 364 pages, this hardback book takes a fresh approach to the history of retailing and of Bath. Through the topography and society of Bath and London in the early eighteenth century, and through Bertrand’s newly-discovered bank account, it reveals how shopkeepers, craftsmen and merchants rubbed shoulders with actors and lawyers, courtiers and soldiers. Bertrand’s customers included royalty, the ‘middling sort’, country dwellers and townsfolk. The book is about commerce, about people, about the objects that were part of their daily lives, and the development of a fashionable resort.

Whereas many books on retailing, and books on Bath, focus on the last decades of the eighteenth century due to the availability of material, this book is about the first half of the century. The newly discovered bank account of this luxury shopkeeper is an important addition to the handful of known business archives relating to retailers of the period. It reveals the names of nearly 900 people of all social levels and over 100 trades and occupations. Paul Bertrand was at the centre of Bath life, not only because of his toyshop but also through the assembly rooms and carrier’s business of his partners. Illustrations include portraits, landscapes, maps, the paperwork on which banking and businesses depended, and the stock of a toyshop. The book will appeal to all those with an interest in the eighteenth century and the central role of trade and luxury goods.

Vanessa Brett was brought up in the City of London and now lives near Bath. She is a former editor of The Journal of the Silver Society.

Exhibition | In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 30, 2014

Press release (15 September 2014) from PEM:

In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, 15 November 2014 — 29 March 2015


Chest of Drawers, 1758–66, attributed to Nathaniel Gould. Marblehead Historical Society and Museum. Photographed in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion (ca. 1766–68), 170 Washington Street, Marblehead. © 2014 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Dennis Helmar Photography.

At the dawn of the American Revolution in a city bustling with trade, politics and commerce, a craftsman of unusual ability was working tirelessly to create fine furniture for his wealthy patrons. Nathaniel Gould (1734–1781) established one of the region’s most sought-after workshops, producing thousands of technically sophisticated and aesthetically refined works for clients at home and for export. With an astute business sense, Gould thrived in one of the most tumultuous political and economic eras in American history. Despite all of this, until recently, Gould’s life and legacy was largely unknown. Masterworks sat in anonymity in the halls of major museum collections, unsigned by their maker and identified only vaguely by their geographic origin. In 2006, everything changed.

In the vaults of the Massachusetts Historical Society, among the records of Gould’s estate lawyer, researchers discovered documents that cast fresh light onand forever enhance our understanding ofAmerican furniture history. Three of Gould’s bound ledgers kept between 1758 and 1783 document in detail the production of almost 3,000 pieces of furniture in his Salem workshop. Painstaking analysis has revealed the identity, preferences, and transactions of more than 500 of Gould’s patrons as well as the names of his journeymen and probable apprentices. This veritable data dump of information has led museums, antique collectors, and the general public to examine their collections with fresh eyes and piqued interest. Works whose significance was obfuscated by the passage of time and lack of provenance are now being reconsidered and reappraised.

Attributed to the shop of Nathaniel Gould, Side Chair, 1770. Mahogany, maple, birch, and pine. H. 3811⁄16, W. 21½, D. 21 inches. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. Paul Moore (39.88.2).

Attributed to the shop of Nathaniel Gould, Side Chair, 1770. Mahogany, maple, birch, and pine, 39 x 21 x 21 inches (NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. Paul Moore, 39.88.2)

In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gouldon view at PEM from November 15, 2014, through March 1, 2015is the first exhibition to definitively unpack this discovery and describe the signature characteristics of Gould’s work. In Plain Sight also invites exploration into the life, times and social mores of early America through the lens of one of the country’s earliest and most successful woodworkers. Stately desks, bombé chests, and scalloped-top tea tables made of the finest imported mahogany are presented alongside paintings, archival materials, decorative arts, and an interactive workbench and desk provide insight into the makers and consumers of 18th-century American design and culture. The exhibition is accompanied by an exquisite publication of photographs and detailed essays from PEM curators and principal researchers Kemble Widmer, Joyce King, and Betsy Widmer.

“Possessing extraordinary woodworking skills and a refined sense of design, Gould created works that rank among the finest produced in 18th-century New England,” says Dean Lahikainen, PEM’s Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Art. “This jewel-like exhibition celebrates the best of Gould’s furniture in a format that invites contextual exploration and rewards close looking.”

Gould’s work is distinguished by its careful attention to graining, distinctive carved ball-and-claw feet, extended knee returns, and superbly carved pinwheels and scallop seashells. Clients could choose from a range of design forms, including desks and chests of drawers, tables, chairs, beds, and miscellaneous pieces, such as cradles, coffins, and fire screens. Gould built his career on his ability to translate London’s latest designssometimes gleaned from British pattern books, including Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Directorinto a more conservative style that pleased the tastes of the region’s wealthy elite.

The Gould ledgers reveal a high percentage of domestic furniture produced to fill wedding orders, mostly from members of the merchant class. Within a highly competitive social environment, newlywed couples aspired (as they do today) to own status symbols that communicated the family’s wealth and social position.

At the time, Salem was the hub of coastal trade and, as the ever-wise businessman, Gould saw opportunity. His ledgers reveal 616 pieces of furniture that were sold in the Caribbean and of this inventory, 62 percent were desks, half of which were made of cedaran aromatic wood prized for its ability to deter insects in the semitropical regions. Gould’s participation in the export business also allowed him to become Salem’s principal importer of cedar and mahogany logs and allowed him to reserve the best pieces for his own magnificent workshop.

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From Giles:

Kemble Widmer and Joyce King with essays by Dean Lahikainen, Glenn Adamson, Daniel Finamore, and Elisabeth Garrett Widmer, In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould (London: Giles, 2014), 284 pages, ISBN: 978-1907804335, £45 / $70.

9781907804335In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould is the stunning result of happy accident and indefatigable, dedicated research. In the field of early American furniture made in Massachusetts, Nathaniel Gould has loomed as something of a mystery—believed to have been prolific, handsomely skilled, and exceptionally enterprising, yet considered elusive because of a scarcity of known works, lack of documentation, and difficulties of attribution. Accident—the unexpected discovery of Gould’s day books and account book in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society—and analysis—painstaking and inductive—have produced an invaluable, multifaceted case study.

This book establishes Gould unquestionably as Salem’s leading cabinetmaker before and during the period of the American Revolution. He made substantial and often expensive furniture, including case pieces of bombé form embellished with carving. The number of works that can be attributed to Gould remains small, but the foundation for increasingly assured connoisseurship lies within these pages and Gould’s archival records. The scale of his workshop, his impressively large, diverse clientele, and his successes in Salem’s furniture export trade attest to his achievements as an entrepreneur.

This book illuminates not only a particular individual, but the Salem/Boston/New England spheres in which Gould operated during a tumultuous time in American history. The scrupulously recorded notations in his ledgers are precious clues to emerging concepts of style and taste, cultural mores, business practices, socio-economic circumstances, and familial histories with local, regional, and national relevance. In Plain Sight presents a choice array of forms confidently assigned to Gould’s shop and makes accessible the ledgers themselves, meticulously analyzed and interpreted to facilitate present and ongoing scholarship regarding Nathaniel Gould, Salem, early New England furniture, and colonial America.

Kemble Widmer has applied his training and career as an industrial engineer to his examination of early furniture in Boston and Essex County, Massachusetts. Over twenty-five years, by rigorously documenting and comparing like forms, he has determined places of origin and even individual craftsmen. His research on Nathaniel Gould has disclosed an unparalleled amount of information about cabinetmaking, customers, and colonial life. Joyce King, an eleventh generation inhabitant of Salem, Massachusetts, is an expert in genealogical research. She has collaborated closely with her co-author on numerous issues of provenance that have enabled attributions of furniture to Nathaniel Gould. Glenn Adamson, formerly Head of Research, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is The Nanette L. Laitman Director of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. He is the founding co-editor of The Journal of Modern Craft and the author of Inventing Modern CraftDaniel Finamore is The Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Dean Lahikainen is The Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. His publications include Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style and In the American Spirit: Folk Art from the Collections of the Peabody Essex MuseumElisabeth Garrett Widmer, formerly director of Sotheby’s American Arts course and a Senior Vice President at Christie’s, New York, and director of Classes in Connoisseurship, is an authority on American eighteenth- and nineteenth-century decorative arts and social history. Her publications include At Home: The American Family, 1750–1870.


Exhibition | Tables from the Great Gallery of The Wallace Collection

Posted in exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on October 30, 2014


Pier table, Italy, ca. 1770 (London: The Wallace Collection)
A high resolution image is available here»

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Now on at The Wallace:

Collaboration, Conservation and Research: Furniture from the Great Gallery
The Wallace Collection, London, 19 September 2014 — 27 September 2015

Two pairs of monumental tables have been on display in the Great Gallery for more than a century. The recent Great Gallery refurbishment project provided the perfect opportunity for all four tables to undergo full cleaning and conservation treatment. To address the treatment needs of the tables, the Wallace Collection teamed up with Buckingham New University, City and Guilds of London Art School and West Dean College and several students undertook the work as an integral part of their degree course. Now, some two years later, the tables have returned from treatment and look stunning in their former locations, much as they would have looked in Sir Richard Wallace’s day.

During the course of their treatment conservators and curators were able to analyse the tables forensically, discovering, for example, that the two in the centre of the gallery (F510-511) are not in fact a pair, instead one is a later copy of the other. To learn more about our new findings, as well as the techniques which the students used in their conservation work on these and the pair of pier tables (F514-515), come and visit the display from 19 September in the Conservation Gallery at the Wallace Collection.


All talks start at 1pm in the Conservation Gallery.

Monday, 22 September: John Slight, a former student from Bucks New University, will discuss the treatment of a grand nineteenth-century Italian table.

Monday, 20 October: Hans Thompson, a former student from City and Guilds of London Art School, will discuss the treatment of the Italian eighteenth-century Pier table.

Thursday, 20 November: Kate Aughey, a former student from West Dean College, will discuss the treatment of the Italian eighteenth-century Pier table.

Monday, 8 December: Dr. Marina Sokhan, Head of Conservation at City and Guilds of London Art School, will discuss the treatment of the Italian eighteenth-century Pier table as well as the conservation course at City and Guilds of London Art School.

Exhibition | Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces, 1650–1789

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 29, 2014


André-Charles Boulle, Louis XIV’s commode; made of resinous wood, ebony veneer, tortoiseshell and bronze inlay, gilt bronze, griotte marble; Paris, 1708, H. 88 x 131 x 65 cm (Versailles, National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon; Inv. VMB 14279.1) 

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From the Château de Versailles:

Eighteenth Century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces, 1650–1789
18e, aux sources du design, chefs-d’œuvre du mobilier 1650 à 1790
Château de Versailles, 28 October 2014 — 22 February 2015

From 28 October 2014 to 22 February 2015, the Palace of Versailles is hosting the exhibition 18th Century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces from 1650 to 1790 in the Africa and Crimea Rooms. The exhibition offers a glimpse of the ingenuity of a bygone era viewed from a present-day perspective and showcases the innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations, and materials used in 18th-century furniture. The exhibition includes around 100 major works from collections at the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Palace of Fontainbleau, and the Getty Museum, alongside works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time. Cabinets, desks, writing tables, commodes, and console tables, but also sofas, armchairs, folding chairs, and seating chairs will testify to the revolution that the 18th century brought about in the history of furniture, a reflection of the evolving tastes of a society enamoured by modernity and wanting to live in comfort and luxury.

Jacques Gondoin and François II Foliot, Chair from the Pavillon du Rocher at the Petit Trianon; carved, gilded beech; 1781, 89 x 56 x 56 cm (Versailles, National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon, Inv. V 5358)

Jacques Gondoin and François II Foliot, Chair from the Pavillon du Rocher at the Petit Trianon; carved, gilded beech; 1781, 89 x 56 x 56 cm (Versailles, National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon, Inv. V 5358)

Concept of Design

In 1712, Shaftesbury introduced the term and concept of design to art theory. It contains the dual meaning of ‘plan’ and ‘intention’ and unifies the processes of conceiving and shaping a work. For the first time, furniture was planned with forethought, created with specific intention and shaped for both functionality and comfort. 18th-century furniture was produced according to design sources, both in its overall conception and its quest for harmony between form and function.

The Transformation of Furniture

The quest for the ideal shape and form hit its peak in the 18th century, when the shape of furniture began to change. Inventiveness and creativity abounded and new outlines began to take shape, from console tables to commodes to secretary and armoire desks. Rigid outlines began to soften, then morphed into rounded curves, subsequently giving way to curved legs—sometimes four, six or even eight of them. Furniture became multi-purpose and featured mechanisms that allowed it to transform into something else.

Boldness of Materials and Colours

The same quest characterised the use of materials: furniture was covered with exotic woods, lacquers, varnishes, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, bronze, brass, lead, porcelain, straw, steel and stone marquetry. Cloth, bulrush and copper began to be used in chairs. Long before the garish colours afforded by plastic in the 20th and 21st centuries, the 18th century saw the birth of furniture in red, daffodil yellow, turquoise blue, apple green, partially gilded or silvered, etc. At the same time, other colour palettes were limited to the black and gold of lacquer and bronze, and patterns were reduced to natural ones made out of quality materials such as mahogany.

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The catalogue is available in both French and English:

18th Century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces, 1650–1790 (Dijon: Éditions Faton, 2014), 280 pages, ISBN 978-2878441949 (English) / 978-2878441901 (French), 42€.

D8CECD6E-6A77-817F-9E0F-3A1AD567A06EFileThe sole purpose of this book, published to tie in with the magnificent exhibition at the Palace of Versailles, is to lay bare the incredible inventiveness of the century of Enlightenment, a century in which, for the first time, furniture became an art. Architects, artists and dealers as well as ordinary craftsmen set about organising furniture and elaborating it as never before.

The eighteenth century was to turn three everyday acts—sitting, sitting at table, storing things—into an art. Furniture changed its skin and shape. For the first time, it explored new materials, sought out new forms. It broke free of architecture, but went on playing with some of its styles. It became movable and occasional, and the notion of comfort came into being. Furniture found its identity in everyday actions to which it was closely linked. The connection between the individual and furniture became obvious. From its disposition to its ingenuity, and through the matchless quality of its incomparable workmanship, furniture in the eighteenth century came to be an integral part of daily life and fashion, quick to respond to changing moods and styles. Having thus secured both a new status and recognition, it became for ever a distinct element in the intellectual process of creation.

Daniel Alcoufe, conservateur général honoraire
Gérard Mabille, conservateur général honoraire
Yves Carlier, conservateur en chef au Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Patrik Hourcade, photographe et designer
Patrick Lemasson, conservateur en chef au Musée du Petit Palais

Call for Papers | Charles de La Fosse and the Arts in France, ca. 1700

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on October 29, 2014

As noted at Le Blog de L’ApAhAu:

Charles de La Fosse et les arts en France autour de 1700
Château de Versailles, 18–19 May 2015

Proposals due by 15 December 2014

Charles de la Fosse Clitia changed in sunflower 1688< Oil on painting. H. 128; L. 156 cm Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon; MV 7256

Charles de la Fosse, Clitia Changed into a Sunflower, 1688, 128 x 156 cm (Versailles: Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon)

En complément de l’exposition Charles de La Fosse qui se tiendra au Château de Versailles du 23 février au 24 mai 2015, l’établissement public du château, du musée et du domaine national de Versailles et le centre recherche du Château de Versailles organisent un colloque sur l’artiste, les lundi 18 et mardi 19 mai 2015.

L’exposition, organisée en cinq grandes sections (les commandes pour les maisons royales ; La Fosse dessinateur ; la tradition académique ; le triomphe du coloris ; un précurseur du XVIIIe siècle) sera en effet de l’occasion de faire le point sur un artiste majeur de la seconde moitié du règne de Louis XIV.

Le colloque voudrait être à la fois un approfondissement et un élargissement du propos de l’exposition et permettre de mieux situer La Fosse dans les enjeux de la pratique artistique autour de 1700. Il s’articulera donc en quatre grandes sections, chacune avec plusieurs thématiques possibles (indiquées ici à titre d’exemple), qui pourront accueillir entre trois et cinq communications d’environ 20/25 minutes:
• L’art de La Fosse (la question du dessin; les artistes contemporains élèves ou collaborateurs de La Fosse)
• Le grand décor au temps de La Fosse (quadratura et plafond; le grand décor religieux)
• La mythologie vue par La Fosse et ses contemporains (Apollon- Soleil; Clytie et les fleurs; les amours des dieux)
• La Fosse et le rayonnement des capitales artistiques (Venise à Paris; le séjour Londres; le cercle Crozat)

Toute personne qui souhaiterait présenter une communication doit envoyer un synopsis de celle-ci en 300–500 mots pourvu d’un titre, avec un curriculum vitae d’une page avant le 15 décembre 2015 à
beatrice.sarrazin@chateauversailles.fr et olivier.bonfait@u-bourgogne.fr. Les réponses seront données autour du 10 janvier. Le colloque devrait pouvoir être publié.

Direction scientifique
Béatrice Sarrazin (Conservateur général au Château de Versailles et de Trianon) et Olivier Bonfait (professeur à l’Université de Bourgogne)

Comité scientifique
Olivier Bonfait (professeur à l’Université de Bourgogne), Adeline Collange-Perugi (conservateur au musée des beaux-arts de Nantes), Clémentine Gustin-Gomez (historienne de l’art), Béatrice Sarrazin (Conservateur général au Château de Versailles et de Trianon).

Call for Papers | After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth Century

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on October 29, 2014

While this conference falls outside of art history, some readers may find it useful, and it got me thinking, by way of analogy, about the relationship between printed texts and manuscripts, on the one hand, and prints and drawings on the other. Might there be a productive way of thinking about all four together? If someone has just written a brilliant book, dissertation, or article on the topic, I would be glad to learn about it. CH

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From the ASECS listserv:

After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth Century
The University of California, Santa Barbara, 24 April 2015

Proposals due by 15 December 2014

Co-sponsored by the Mellon Fellowship in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School and the UCSB Early Modern Center

This one-day conference at UCSB will bring together junior and senior scholars to explore the continued vitality of manuscript publication and circulation in the eighteenth century. Scholars now often take for granted that the eighteenth century constituted an established ‘print culture’, whether that culture was inherent in the technology or forged by its users. By the age of Addison and Pope, this narrative contends, the spread of print and lapse of licensing had rendered superfluous a manuscript world of scurrilous libels, courtly poetry, and weekly newsletters. But a growing body of research is arguing for the ongoing importance of manuscript production and publication into the Romantic period, and for a critical stance that questions the solidity of the print-manuscript binary. In texts from diaries and journals to notes, letters, sheet music, scientific observations, and hybrid multimedia documents, scholars are turning their attention to the manuscript traditions and innovations that were also central to eighteenth-century literature. And they are drawing connections to our own moment of protracted media shift, focusing on aggregative, iterative steps rather than a single ‘revolution’.

After Print will join this exciting subfield by exploring a range of manuscript practices in the long eighteenth century. Margaret Ezell, distinguished professor of English and Sara and John Lindsay Chair of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University—whose works Social Authorship and the Advent of Print (1999) and The Patriarch’s Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (1987) have been foundational to the field—will deliver the keynote lecture on Friday evening. Proposals are solicited for papers on any aspect of eighteenth-century studies related to the theme; in particular, proposals are welcomed from junior scholars (graduate students, postdocs, and untenured faculty) for a special panel on new methods. Limited travel support for junior scholars may be available. Please send paper proposals by December 15 to Rachael Scarborough King (Asst. Prof. of English, UCSB), rking@english.ucsb.edu.

Exhibition | Caspar Wolf and the Aesthetic Conquest of Nature

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 28, 2014


Caspar Wolf, Panorama of the Grindelwald Valley with the Wetterhorn, Mettenberg, and Eiger, ca. 1774 (Aarau: Aargauer Kunsthaus, photo by Jörg Müller)

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From the Kunstumuseum Basel:

Caspar Wolf and the Aesthetic Conquest of Nature
Kunstmuseum Basel, 19 October 2014 — 1 February 2015

Curated by Bodo Brinkmann and Katharina Georgi

The Alps as magnificent spectacle of nature—a surprisingly recent opinion. It was only during the course of the 18th century that people began regarding jagged mountain ranges as ‘sublime’ and aesthetically pleasing. The Swiss landscape painter Caspar Wolf (1735–1783) was one of the first to conquer this largely undeveloped Alpine landscape on his extensive treks and made it available as subject matter for artistic treatment. In his galvanizing compositions, massive boulders, thundering mountain torrents, and bizarre glacier formations impede the viewer’s path. The human being, standing in awe, is reduced to a tiny figure before expansive panoramas. Wolf stands well apart from the idyllic Baroque landscapes with his radical formations and as one of the most significant precursors to European romanticism. But the same time, his work breathed the spirit of enlightenment. The exhibition includes 126 works by Caspar Wolf and his contemporaries as well as a selection of recent photographs taken at these respective locations in the Alps. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Kupferstichkabinett at the Kunstmuseum Basel will present highlights from its wealth of drawings and prints by Caspar Wolf.


Caspar Wolf, The Staubbachfall in Winter, ca. 1775
(Bern: Kunstmuseum)

A fluke of history can be credited for Caspar Wolf ascent from impoverished childhood in Muri as carpenter’s son and moderately successful painter to artist of standing in European art history: the most important pioneer of Alpine painting and one of the most significant precursors to European Romanticism.

The fluke in question is Caspar Wolf’s encounter with the influential Bernese publisher Abraham Wagner (1734–1782). Wagner, one year his senior, had an ambitious project: to issue an encyclopedic publication of the Swiss Alpine landscape complete with illustrations of the highest artistic standard; and more to the point, these illustrations would be worked immediately from nature. The landscape that Wagner had in mind as motif was the rarely travelled and difficult to reach high Alpine region. The idea was to offer viewers a new conception of the Alpine landscape in images of previously unparalleled precision and magnificence. To author the written sections of this publication, Wagner engaged the Bernese priest and eminent natural philosopher Jacob Samuel Wyttenbach. Wolf was to accompany the two men on their extensive treks through the Alpine mountains. His task was to document and depict in paintings these unique encounters with nature.

What resulted was a comprehensive picture cycle of the Swiss Alps. Working in his studio from the nature studies completed on location, Wolf created some 200 paintings of imposing quality that bring together spontaneous observations and highly artistic formulations. Wolf invents astute painterly formulations to depict mountain ranges and glaciers, waterfalls and caves, bridges and raging torrents, lakes and high plateaus, sometimes rendering these in expansive panorama views, sometimes in close, claustrophobic compositions. His paintings include many prominent natural monuments, some no longer existent due to the environmental destruction of recent centuries: hence, the famous ‘séracs’ (pinnacles of glacier ice) of the Lower Grindelwald Glacier, evident in two exceptionally powerful paintings by Wolf, have long since melted, for instance.

Wolf’s paintings can neither be grouped with the vedute, a type painting popular at the time, nor can they be described as explicitly documentary images. Instead, they speak to a more fundamental subject matter: they consider the relationship between the mountain as rational concept and the mountain as sensual perception.

But what was the origin for the remarkable aesthetic assurance with which the artist entered the virginal territory of Alpine painting? Wolf’s intense engagement with French painting while in Paris in 1770/71 proved to be of central importance. This is vividly demonstrated in the exhibition with works by François Boucher, Claude-Joseph Vernet, Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg the Younger, and Hubert Robert. Surprisingly, Wolf profits greatly from his engagement with contemporary marine paintings and their depictions of dramatic storms at sea and shipwrecks.

The exhibition includes 126 works by Caspar Wolf and his contemporaries as well as a selection of recent photographs taken at these respective locations in the Alps. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Kupferstichkabinett at the Kunstmuseum Basel will present highlights from its wealth of drawings and prints by Caspar Wolf.

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The catalogue is available in German and English:

Caspar Wolf und die ästhetische Eroberung der Natur (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-3775738323 (German) / ISBN: 978-3775738330 (English), €58.

00003833The notion of the Alps as a magnificent natural spec­tacle is surprisingly recent. It was not until the eigh­teenth century that its craggy mountain ridges began to be seen as ‘sublime’ and beautiful. The Swiss landscape painter Caspar Wolf (1735–1783) was one of the first to discover the then largely unexplored world of the Alps as a subject of art through his ex­tended forays into the mountains. Trained in south­ern Germany and Paris, Wolf was commissioned to produce a comprehensive series on the Swiss Alps, which he completed between 1773 and 1779. Working in his studio, the artist created some 180 imposing paintings from nature studies done outdoors. The publication demonstrates how he conveyed what he had seen according to his aesthetic criteria. In his dra­matic compositions, paths are blocked by immense boulders, roaring streams of water, and glaciers, or the
view opens up to reveal giant panoramas, which are
observed by tiny, awestruck human figures.

Call for Papers | Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours (1752–1809)

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on October 28, 2014

As noted at H-ArtHist:

Saint-Ours Aujourd’hui
Geneva, 19–21 November 2015

Proposals due by 30 November 2014

À l’occasion de l’exposition rétrospective consacrée à Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours (1752–1809), le Musée d’art et d’histoire (MAH) et le Département d’histoire de l’art de l’Université de Genève lui consacreront un colloque international, à Genève, du 19 au 21 novembre 2015. Ce colloque souhaiterait faire le point de la recherche, passée et présente, sur l’un des peintres les plus importants de l’histoire des arts à Genève.

Invitant des spécialistes confirmés mais aussi de jeunes chercheurs, ce colloque offrira aussi l’occasion de réinterroger les relations que les peintres genevois ont établies avec les autres artistes européens et la place des arts à Genève à la fin du XVIIIe siècle et au début du XIXe siècle.

Les chercheur-e-s intéressé-e-s sont prié-e-s de transmettre
•    le titre envisagé et un résumé de 300 mots de leur conférence
•    un bref curriculum-vitae, agrémenté d’une éventuelle liste de publications

à Jan Blanc jan.blanc@unige.ch, avant le 30 novembre 2014

An extended Call for Papers with bibliography is available at Le Blog de L’ApAhAu.

Exhibition | Detroit before the Automobile

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on October 27, 2014


Edward Walsh, View of Detroit and the Straits,
Taken from the Huron Church
, 1804
(University of Michigan: William L. Clements Library)

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Now on view at the University of Michigan, as noted at Art Daily:

Detroit before the Automobile: The William L. Clements Library Collection
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 18 October 2014 — 18 January 2015

In spite of the economic reverses of the last few decades, Detroit is still perceived by most Americans as the cradle of the automotive industry and the testing ground for twentieth-century innovations in manufacturing that changed the world. ‘Motown’, however, was already two centuries old by the time the Model T rolled off the first assembly line. Detroit before the Automobile examines the first 200 years of the city’s history using rare books, manuscripts, maps, and graphics from the extensive collection of the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library.

Detroit was founded by the French in 1701 as a trading center and agricultural settlement. In 1760 it passed to the British and became an important post for them during the American Revolution. It was ceded to the United States by the peace treaty of 1783, although the United States did not actually take control of the city until 1796. In 1805, Detroit became the capital of the Michigan Territory, but it was destroyed by fire the same year. Rebuilt to a radical new design, the town and fort were taken by the British at the outset of the War of 1812 and then recovered by the United States in 1813. In 1817 it saw the birth of the University of Michigan. During the nineteenth century, Detroit matured and grew in importance as a shipping center with a developing industrial base of shipbuilding, rail-car construction, stove manufacturing, and similar industries that ensured the city would have the infrastructure and transportation network needed to greet the infant auto industry at the dawn of the twentieth century.

The Clements Library has a rich variety of primary sources documenting the history of Detroit before 1900, from maps outlining the distinctive ‘ribbon farm’ land pattern of the French, to plans of the town, and prints charting the city’s increasing size and the height of its buildings. Together this array of primary documents brings to life the early history of one the oldest cities in the Midwest.

The exhibition is part of the U-M Collections Collaborations series, co-organized by and presented at UMMA and designed to showcase the renowned and diverse collections at the University of Michigan. The U-M Collections Collaborations series is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


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