Bilbao Acquires Paret’s ‘Triumph of Love over War’

Posted in museums by Editor on May 31, 2018

Luis Paret y Alcázar, The Triumph of Love over War (Mars), 1784, oil on canvas, 82 × 160 cm (Bilbao Fine Arts Museum). One of a pair of lunettes, this latest acquisition is reunited with its pendant, which entered the museum’s collection in 1999.

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Press release (29 May 2018) from the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum:

The collector Alicia Koplowitz has donated a painting by Luis Paret y Alcázar (Madrid, 1746–1799) to the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It will be presented to the public within the context of the exhibition 110 Works 110 Years as a tribute to the generosity and philanthropic spirit of the individuals whose donations have contributed over the years to the creation and growth of the collection.

With this donation the museum has increased its already outstanding representation of the artist’s work, comprising eight paintings: The Divine Shepherd (1782), View of Bermeo (1783), The Triumph of Love over War (two lunettes forming a pair) (1784), View of El Arenal in Bilbao (1783–84), Scene with Villagers (fragment) (1786), View of Fuenterrabía (fragment) (1786), and The Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ and Saint James the Greater (1786).

These works by Paret entered the collection by different means: through the founding donations made by the City Council of Bilbao (The Divine Shepherd and The Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ and Saint James the Greater in 1913); acquisitions made by the museum (View of Fuenterrabía in 1986 and The Triumph of Love over War in 1999); donations (Scene with Villagers donated by Plácido Arango in 1996—which has been reunited with the other fragment of the same composition, View of Fuenterrabía—and the present donation by Alicia Koplowitz); the donation in lieu of tax by BBVA presented to the museum by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia (View of El Arenal in Bilbao in 1996); and the acquisition made with funding from BBK and from contributions by the Friends of the Museum (View of Bermeo in 2017).

Luis Paret y Alcázar lived in Bilbao between 1779 and 1789 during part of his exile ordered by Charles III as a consequence of his participation in the licentious lifestyle of the King’s younger brother, the Infante don Luis de Borbón. During that time Paret produced a body of mature work that included religious commissions, allegorical compositions, and the series of views of Cantabrian ports, which began with View of Bermeo (1783)—acquired by the museum in December 2017—and continued from 1786 with a commission from Charles III.

Luis Paret y Alcázar, The Triumph of Love over War (Venus), 1784, oil on canvas, 82 × 160 cm (Bilbao Fine Arts Museum).

This period saw the execution of The Triumph of Love over War, which now enters the museum as a donation and will once again form a pair with another work of the same title and characteristics. Both were previously in a private English collection. The one that entered the museum first was sold on the art market in the late 1990s, shortly after which it was acquired by the museum. In 2017 its pendant, now donated by Alicia Koplowitz, went on the market. The two lunettes are now reunited after two decades, “in one of those happy coincidences that are rare in the museum world” in the words of Manuela Mena in the book published by the museum to mark this donation.

The two paintings are unusual within Paret’s output due to their format and dimensions (two lunette-shaped canvases each measuring approximately 81 × 160 cm), which are notably different to his easel paintings, all of small size. The recent cleaning undertaken in the museum’s Conservation and Restoration Department has revealed a grey strip added around all sides of the canvas in a previous restoration. It would seem that it was probably added when the lunettes were separated from their first location as it seems likely that they were originally set into the wall in a room within white stucco frames with decorative gilt motifs in the 18th-century taste.

The pictorial technique also differs from that of the artist’s small, Rococo-style paintings which are characterised by a delicate, transparent brushstroke and an emphasis on detail. Here Paret’s handling is much freer and more energetic, undoubtedly because the lunettes were conceived to be hung high up, facing each other and with a di sotto in sù (from below to above) perspective. The use of similar tonalities and pictorial devices in the two works (such as the modelling of the volumes through small brushstrokes) confirms that they were executed at the same time, were intended for the same space, and thus had a complementary iconographic programme. With regard to their subject matter, both compositions depict infant nudes framed by garlands of flowers and on the point of undertaking actions that will connect them: the one on the right is about to let loose a dove which will ‘fly’ towards the sleeping boy in the lunette on the left. On waking, he in turn will ‘shoot’ his arrow with three roses strung on it. The skin colour and more decorous pose of the first figure suggests that she is a depiction of the infant Venus wearing a laurel wreath as a symbol of the triumph of Love over Mars, represented by the boy in the other lunette.

More information is available in this article:

Manuela B. Mena Marqués, “The Triumph of Love,” online available at http://www.museobilbao.com/pro/uploads/salas_lecturas/archivo_in-81.pdf. Original text in Spanish in Luis Paret y Alcázar [1746–1799]: El triunfo del Amor sobre la Guerra: Donación Alicia Koplowitz (Bilbao: Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa = Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018), pp. 6–33.

The Burlington Magazine, May 2018

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, journal articles, reviews by Editor on May 31, 2018

The eighteenth century in The Burlington:

The Burlington Magazine 160 (May 2018)

Agostino Cornacchini, Charlemagne, 1725, marble (St Peter’s Basilica).


• Gloria Martínez Leiva, “Art as Diplomacy: John Closterman’s Portraits of Carlos II of Spain and His Wife Queen Maria Anna of Neuburg,” pp. 381–86.
• Teresa Leonor M. Vale, “Art and Festivities in Eighteenth-Century Rome: Letters from a Portuguese Priest, 1721–22,” pp. 387–93.


• Christopher Rowell, Review of the exhibition Thomas Chippendale: A Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design, 1718–2018 (Leeds City Museum, 2018), pp. 414–16.
• Charles Darwent, Review of the exhibition The Dutch in Paris, 1789–1914 (Paris: Petit Palais, 2018), pp. 420–21.
• Stéphane Loire, Review of Giancarlo Sestieri, Il capriccio architettonico in Italia nel XVII e XVIII secolo (Etgraphiae editoriale, 2015), p. 432.
• Andrew McClellan, Review of Geneviève Bresc-Bautier and Béatrice de Chancel-Bardelot, eds., Un musée révolutionaire: Le Musée des Monuments français d’Alexandre Lenoir (Musée du Louvre, 2016), pp. 432–33.

Exhibition | Canaletto, 1697–1768

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 30, 2018

Now on view at the Museo di Roma:

Canaletto, 1697–1768
Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi, Rome, 11 April — 19 August 2018

Curated by Bożena Anna Kowalczyk

Italy’s capital celebrates Canaletto (1697–1768) by bringing together works from some of the most important museums and galleries in the world. On display, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the artist’s death, is the largest collection of his works ever exhibited in Italy: 67 paintings, drawings, and documents. Outstanding among the masterpieces are two works from the Pinacoteca del Lingotto Giovanni e Marella Agnelli in Turin, The Grand Canal from the North, towards the Rialto Bridge and The Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Carità, on display for the first time together with the manuscript from the Biblioteca statale di Lucca. Also for the first time, the two parts of a single large canvas cut before 1802, depicting Chelsea from Battersea Reach, are brought together. The left part comes from the National Trust property Blickling Hall in the UK; the right part, from the Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes de la Hanana, has been loaned for the first time by the government of Cuba.

Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, Canaletto, 1697–1768 (Milan: Silvana, 2018), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-8836639328 (English edition), €34 / $55.

New Book | Making Majesty: The Throne Room at Dublin Castle

Posted in books by Editor on May 30, 2018

From Irish Academic Press:

Myles Campbell and William Derham, eds., Making Majesty: The Throne Room at Dublin Castle, A Cultural History (Newbridge: Irish Academic Press, 2017), 372 pages, ISBN: 978-1911024736 (hardback), €60 / ISBN: 978-1911024729 (paperback), €60.

The Throne Room at Dublin Castle was the ultimate focus of viceregal ceremony, royal visits and many great state occasions both before and after Irish independence in 1922—a touchstone of British authority and Irish autonomy that can be analysed through the details of its form and furnishing. Making Majesty is an elegant collection of essays by leading Irish art and architectural historians that covers a broad range of perspectives, which help to enhance our understanding of this lavish and highly significant historical space, shedding new light on the major and minor figures who created, ornamented, decorated, and made use of it.

The first output of an ongoing programme of research into the cultural history of the State Apartments at Dublin Castle, Making Majesty presents original findings that offer a new reading of the nature and presence of the British monarchy and the viceregal court in Ireland. With insightful analysis that draws upon uniquely accessed archives, the contributors bring to light every aspect of how Dublin Castle’s authorities wished to be perceived and how that changed according to the whims of imperious viceroys, renowned craftsmen, and an Irish state wishing to secure an image of its newfound self-determination.

Myles Campbell works for the Office of Public Works at Dublin Castle in the recently established Collections, Research and Interpretation Office. He is co-editor of The Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle: An Architectural History (2015) and has contributed peer-reviewed articles and chapters to books by various academic publishers. His work on Making Majesty has earned him the inaugural George B. Clarke Prize.
William Derham works for the Office of Public Works at Dublin Castle in the recently established Collections, Research and Interpretation Office. He is co-editor of The Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle: An Architectural History (2015) and is author of Lost Ireland: 1860–1960 (2016).


Foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales
Preface by Mary Heffernan, OPW
Contributors and Editors
Editors’ Acknowledgements
Editors’ Note
Editors’ Introduction

• Jane Fenlon, The Presence Chamber at Dublin Castle in the Seventeenth Century
• Patricia McCarthy, ‘Trophys and Festoons’: The Lost Presence Chamber, 1684–1788
• Myles Campbell, ‘Sketches of their Boundless Mind’: The Marquess of Buckingham and the Presence Chamber at Dublin Castle, 1788–1838
• Graham Hickey, ‘Quite Like a Palace’: The Presence Chamber at Dublin Castle, 1838–1911
• Ludovica Neglie, ‘Admirably Calculated for the Object’: Gaetano Gandolfi’s Paintings in the Throne Room at Dublin Castle
• Sylvie Kleinman, Where Crown Met Town: The Presence of Lay Catholics and the Uncrowned Monarch of Ireland in the Chamber, c. 1795–1845
• Kathryn Milligan, Royal Visits to Dublin, 1821–1911: Pier, Procession, Presence Chamber
• Éimear O’Connor, (Ad)dressing Home Rule: Irish Home Industries, the Throne Room and Lady Aberdeen’s Modern Modes of Display
• William Derham, (Re)making Majesty: The Throne Room at Dublin Castle, 1911–2011
• Christopher Warleigh-Lack, The Creation and Evolution of Hillsborough Castle’s Throne Room: What’s in a Name?


Note (added 30 May 2018) — The original posting included an incorrect table of contents.


New Book | A Princely Pursuit

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 27, 2018

Part of a promised gift to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, approximately 100 works from the Malcolm D. Gutter porcelain collection were exhibited at the Legion of Honor in 2015 and 2016. Published by Hirmer and distributed by The University of Chicago Press, the catalogue of the collection is now available.

Maria Santangelo, ed., A Princely Pursuit: The Malcolm D. Gutter Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain (Munich: Hirmer Publishers, 2018), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-3777429847, $65.

Through tremendous grit and research, Malcolm D. Gutter has been forming a remarkable porcelain collection over several decades, primarily on a professor’s salary. A Princely Pursuit presents more than one hundred significant pieces from the collection, which focuses primarily on early Meissen, particularly the royal collection that Augustus II (1670–1733) commissioned for the Japanisches Palais, his pleasure palace in Dresden, and the porcelain works he had imported from China and Japan. In addition to reproducing many documented pieces from the royal collection, this volume includes numerous ‘collector’s stories’ which capture, in Gutter’s own voice, his determined and painstaking hunt for Meissen porcelain around the world, as well as the legendary figures he has met and worked with along the way. Pairing Meissen history with exemplary objects from the German manufactory, A Princely Pursuit makes an essential contribution to the field of decorative arts.

Maria Santangelo is curator of fine arts for Ann and Gordon Getty.

Conference | Sir Richard Wallace and His Age

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on May 26, 2018

Alexandre Desgoffe, Works of Art from the Collection of Sir Richard Wallace, 1880
(Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe)

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From the registration page:

Sir Richard Wallace and His Age: Connoisseurs, Collectors, and Philanthropists
The Wallace Collection, London, 15–16 November 2018

This year the Wallace Collection is celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sir Richard Wallace. Taking Sir Richard Wallace and his collection as its starting point, our two-day international conference will look at aspects of collecting and collections in London and Paris in the wake of the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune in 1870–71, considering essentially the period between 1870 and 1900. The first day of the conference will consider the impact on the Anglo-French art market of the political and social upheavals in France in 1870–71, including the dispersal of collections and the movement of collectors, as well as the curatorship of private art collections. The second day will focus on two themes: the subject of the morning session will be loans to exhibitions from distinguished collections and the motivations that drove them; the afternoon will showcase works of art in the Wallace Collection acquired by Sir Richard Wallace.

T H U R S D A Y ,  1 5  N O V E M B E R  2 0 1 8

9.30  Registration and coffee

10.00  Xavier Bray (Director, The Wallace Collection), Welcome and introduction

10.15  Suzanne Higgott (Curator, The Wallace Collection), Setting the scene, or Why Sir Richard Wallace subscribed towards the proposed submarine tunnel between England and France in 1872

10.30  Olivier Hurstel (Curatorial Fellow, European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Philadelphia Museum of Art), Hertford-Wallace properties in Paris based on the information available in the French archives

10.40  Morning Session
Chair: Adriana Turpin (IESA International)
• Robert Tombs (Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge), The Rise and Fall of the New Babylon
• Thomas Stammers (Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Durham), Salvage and speculation: The London art market after the Franco-Prussian War (provisional title)
• Anthony Geraghty (Department of History of Art, University of York), An Imperial Collection in Exile: The Empress Eugénie in Farnborough, 1880–1920
• Mathieu Deldicque (Conservateur du Patrimoine, Musée Condé, Chantilly), ‘Wishing to preserve the complete estate of Chantilly for France’: The duc d’Aumale and the settlement of Chantilly on the Institut de France

12.30  Lunch break

13.45  Afternoon Session
Chair: Alastair Laing (Curator Emeritus of Pictures and Sculpture, The National Trust)
• Suzanne Higgott (Curator, The Wallace Collection), Sir Richard Wallace as the custodian of his collection
• Joseph Friedman (Honorary Visiting Fellow of the Department of History of Art, University of York, and Senior Research Fellow in the History of Art and Architecture, University of Buckingham), ‘Inhabited Museums’: London’s treasure houses in the age of Sir Richard Wallace
• Helen Jones (Research Librarian, Wallace Collection Library), More than mere ornaments: Female visitors to Richard Wallace’s art collection
• Mathieu Deldicque (Conservateur du Patrimoine, Musée Condé, Chantilly), The picture hang devised by Henri d’Orleans, duc d’Aumale, at Chantilly
• Natalie Zimmer (Curatorial Assistant, The Wallace Collection), Captured for eternity: Visual recording of collections in the nineteenth century
• Olivier Hurstel ( Curatorial Fellow, European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Philadelphia Museum of Art), Edouard Lièvre (1828–1886), From art books editor to designer: On the importance of art books in shaping taste in the nineteenth century (provisional title)
• Silvia Davoli (Research Curator Strawberry Hill, The Horace Walpole Collection), Richard Wallace and the acquisition of the Nieuwerkerke and Both de Tauzia collections: The Parisian network (provisional title)

16.40  Discussion

F R I D A Y ,  1 6  N O V E M B E R  2 0 1 8

9.45  Registration and coffee

10.15  Morning Session
• Lindsay Macnaughton (PhD researcher, Durham University/The Bowes Museum), Displaying philanthropy and patriotism: The Wallaces in focus
• Suzanne Higgott (Curator, The Wallace Collection), Good intentions, mixed motives: Sir Richard Wallace’s loan exhibition at the Bethnal Green Museum, 1872–75
• Kathryn Jones (Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, Royal Collection Trust), ‘Successful designs ought not to be restricted to the palaces’: Victoria, Albert and the exhibitions
• Eloise Donelly (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Candidate, University of Cambridge and the British Museum), ‘The Expansion of Art’: The English Rothschilds and loan exhibitions, 1850–97
• Suzanne Higgott (Curator, The Wallace Collection), From loans to legacy: The transformation of the Wallace Collection from a private collection into a national museum

12.30  Lunch break

13.45  Afternoon Session
• Helen Jacobsen (Senior Curator, The Wallace Collection), Sir Richard Wallace: Shaping a national collection
• Suzanne Higgott and Tobias Capwell (Curators, The Wallace Collection), Two paintings by Blaise-Alexandre Desgoffe of works of art and arms and armour in Sir Richard Wallace’s collection
• Tobias Capwell (Curator, The Wallace Collection), Armour and the man: Three triumphs of Sir Richard Wallace, collector of arms
• Speaker to be announced, Fragonard’s A Boy as Pierrot
• Ada de Wit (Assistant Curator, The Wallace Collection), Collecting the World: An Asante trophy head and Chinese Imperial wine cups
• Stephen Duffy (formerly Senior Curator, The Wallace Collection), Sir Richard Wallace and contemporary painting
• Jeremy Warren (Honorary Curator of Sculpture, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and Sculpture Research Curator, The National Trust), Sir Richard Wallace and small bronze sculptures

16.35  Discussion

17.30  Round-table discussion with Xavier Bray (Director, The Wallace Collection), Christian Levett (Private Collector), Olivier Gabet (Director, Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris), Ian Wardropper (Director, The Frick Collection, New York), and Emilie E.S. Gordenker (Director, Mauritshaus, The Hague)

18.30  Drinks reception in the Porphyry Court at the Wallace Collection

Symposium | Silver in Georgian Ireland

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on May 25, 2018

From the Irish Georgian Society:

Silver in Georgian Ireland
National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, 30 May 2018

Organized by Alison FitzGerald, Emmeline Henderson, and William Laffan

The Irish Georgian Society, Maynooth University, and the National Museum of Ireland are partnering to deliver a symposium on Wednesday, 30th May 2018 focusing on silver in Georgian Ireland. The symposium will showcase new research by established and emerging scholars and examine the circumstances in which silver objects were made, used, valued, and displayed in Georgian Ireland.

The symposium will appeal to both a specialist audience and the general public. It seeks to offer a variety of engaging perspectives on one of Dublin’s foremost artisanal trades during a period when new commodities, novel technologies, and fashionable imports were transforming the market for luxury goods. The programme of talks will be complemented by a tour of the National Museum of Ireland’s silver galleries, an unrivalled display of Irish silver from the period, which will allow both experienced and novice silver scholars the opportunity to consider the artefact evidence at first hand.

2018 marks the 21st anniversary of the opening of the silver galleries at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. It thus represents a timely moment to reflect on one of the highlights of the decorative arts collection, which has not been explored before in the context of such a focused study day. The inclusion of speakers from the United Kingdom and Europe allows for a nuanced view of silver in Georgian Ireland, considering how the movement of people, patterns, and plate in the early modern world affected what was crafted and coveted in Irish towns and cities.

Silver in Georgian Ireland has been made possible through sponsorship from an anonymous donor, Ecclesiastical Insurance, Paul Mellon Centre for the Studies in British Art, and Weldon of Dublin. The symposium has been convened by Dr Alison FitzGerald, Lecturer, Maynooth University, who is responsible for providing the academic programming; Emmeline Henderson, IGS Assistant Director and Conservation Manager; and William Laffan, IGS Committee Member. The symposium forms an action of the Irish Georgian Society’s Conservation Education Programme, which is supported by Merrion Property Group and Heather and John Picerne.


9.30  Registration

10.00  Welcome from Audrey Whitty (Keeper of the Art and Industrial Division, Decorative Arts and History, National Museum of Ireland)

10.10  Session One
Chair: David Fleming (Irish Georgian Society Committee Member and Lecturer, Department of History, University of Limerick)
• Alison FitzGerald (Lecturer, Department of History, Maynooth University), Changed Utterly? Continuity and Change in Dublin’s Silver Trade during the Long Eighteenth Century
• Toby Barnard (Emeritus Fellow in History, University of Oxford), ‘Making the Grand Figure’: The Social Currency of Silverware in Georgian Ireland
• John Bowen (Master Warden, The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin), Smaller Cities: Irish Provincial Silver in the Georgian Era

11.40  Coffee Break

12.05  Session Two
Chair: Donough Cahill, Irish Georgian Society, Executive Director
• Damian Collins (Postgraduate student, Department of History, Maynooth University), ‘The Metal Stamp’d by Honest Fame’: The Production and Consumption of Gold and Silver Boxes in Georgian Dublin
• Bert De Munck (Department of History, Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp), Marks of Craftsmanship? An Historical View on the Politics of Branding and Hallmarks

1.20  Lunch and Tour of the NMI silver galleries with Michael Kenny (Former curator in the NMI’s Art and Industrial Division)

2.50  Session Three
Chair: Alison FitzGerald (Lecturer, Department of History, Maynooth University)
• Thomas Sinsteden (Independent Scholar), Plate Inventories as Evidence: The Dukes’ of Ormonde Plate
• Jessica Cunningham (Independent Scholar), ‘Taken or Destroy’d’: The Household Silver of Castlecomer House, 1798
• Zara Power (Independent Scholar), The Magnetism of Fine Gems: Jewellery in Eighteenth-Century Ireland
• Tessa Murdoch (Deputy Keeper, Department of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass, V&A), Elite Gift Exchange: A Case Study of Emily Lennox’s Christening Bowl

5.00  Closing Remarks by Emmeline Henderson (Irish Georgian Society, Assistant Director and Conservation Manager)

Exhibition | Canova’s George Washington

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 24, 2018

In February, we noted the exhibition (which opened at The Frick Collection yesterday), but the original posting did not include details for the catalogue, which is now available from Giles Ltd and Artbooks.com:

Xavier Salomon with Guido Beltramini and Mario Guderzo, Canova’s George Washington (London: Giles, 2018), 188 pages, ISBN: 9781911282174, $45.

In 1816, the North Carolina State House in Raleigh commissioned a full-length statue of George Washington to stand in the hall of the State Senate. Thomas Jefferson, believing that no American sculptor was up to the task, recommended Antonio Canova (1757–1822), then one of Europe’s most celebrated artists. The first and only work Canova created for America, the statue depicted the nation’s first president in ancient Roman garb, per Jefferson’s urging, drafting his farewell address to the states. It was unveiled to great acclaim in 1821, and people traveled from far and wide to see it. Tragically, only a decade later, a fire swept through the State House, reducing the statue to just a few charred fragments.

Canova’s George Washington examines the history of the artist’s lost masterpiece, probably the least well known of his public monuments. It brings together for the first time Canova’s full-sized preparatory plaster model (which has never left Italy), four preparatory sketches for the sculpture, and related engravings and drawings. The exhibition also includes Thomas Lawrence’s 1816 oil portrait of Canova, which, like the model and several sketches, will be on loan from the Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno, Italy, the birthplace of the artist.


Ian Wardropper, Director’s Foreword
Preface and Acknowledgments

Xavier F. Salomon, ‘The Boast and Pride of North America’: Antonio Canova’s George Washington
Mario Guderzo, The Classical Conception of Antonio Canova
Guido Beltramini, Jefferson, Italy, and Palladio

Photography Credits

Note (added 29 May 2018) — The original posting did not included the contents.

Exhibition | The Art of Iron

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 24, 2018
Florist’s Sign and Bracket, 18th century, France, wrought iron and rolled iron, cut, polychromed, and gilded; fastened with rivets and rings. Sign: 28 × 21 × 5 inches (71.5 × 52.6 × 12.5 cm), bracket: 33 × 52 × 2 inches (84 × 132.5 × 6 cm) (Rouen: Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, inv. LS 2011.0.199)

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Some of the objects included in the exhibition opening soon at The Clark were also included in the 2015 exhibition at The Barnes Foundation. From the press release (8 May 2018). . .

The Art of Iron: Objects from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy
The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 9 June — 16 September 2018

Curated by Kathleen Morris

The Clark Art Institute is the exclusive venue for the exhibition The Art of Iron: Objects from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy. The exhibition presents thirty-six historic objects in an installation celebrating the craft and beauty of wrought iron. Salvaged by the founders of the Musée Le Secq during the second half of the nineteenth century, when wrought iron was being rapidly discarded and replaced with modern materials, these pieces tell stories of preindustrial times.

The Musée Le Secq des Tournelles’s celebrated collection originated with Jean-Louis-Henri Le Secq Destournelles (1818–1882), a painter who studied in Paris and Rome and became one of the first photographers in France. In the 1850s while photographically documenting various French monuments for a government project, he developed an appreciation for the ironwork adorning towns and ancient cathedrals. This inspired him to begin his own collection, much of which contained objects he salvaged as buildings were renovated or torn down. His son Henri (1854–1925, who changed the spelling of his last name to des Tournelles), continued to add to the collection, and in 1900 he loaned nearly a thousand objects to the Paris Universal Exhibition before donating the collection to the city of Rouen.

“We are so pleased to bring this wonderful collection of decorative arts to the Clark,” said Olivier Meslay, the Felda and Dena Hardymon Director of the Clark. “While wrought iron has long been an intrinsic part of the architecture of most European capitals, the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles collection encourages us to consider this work for its beauty—and to appreciate the exceptional ingenuity of the blacksmiths and ironworkers who took a humble material and elevated it to an art form. The Musée Le Secq is a colleague museum in the French American Museum Exchange (FRAME), a consortium of thirty-one major museums in France and North America that promotes cultural exchange through museum collaborations, and we are eager to share this wonderful collection with our visitors.”

The Art of Iron features a myriad of signs, masterful locks and lockboxes, a variety of utilitarian household objects, and architectural grilles, gates, and balcony railings. The objects are at once strange and familiar, inviting the viewer to marvel at the creative inventiveness and technical skill of their makers as well as reflect on earlier ways of life.

The works included in the exhibition represent a variety of the methods used in creating objects from iron. Much of the work is the result of a blacksmith working at his forge to bend, twist, and hammer rods of wrought iron into shape. Sheets of rolled iron were cut to shape and could be decorated by embossing designs from the back and by chiseling on the surface. Small objects might have been hammered or cast in molds and then welded into place. Many objects incorporate all of these techniques.

“The first time I visited the Musée Le Secq, the collection and its display took my breath away,” said Kathleen Morris, the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Exhibitions and Curator of Decorative Arts at the Clark. “The opportunity to work with this collection has been incredible, compelling me to look closely at the extraordinary craftsmanship and design of these handmade creations. The sophistication and skill on display in these objects is phenomenal—and our dynamic installation will both captivate and delight our visitors.”


Shop, inn, and tavern signs make up an important part of the collection of the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles. Prior to widespread literacy, in an era before buildings were given numbered addresses, businesses depended on pictorial signs for identification and advertising. The Art of Iron contains fifteen signs representing a variety of business from taverns and inns to drapers, florists, and fishmongers. In many cases these signs hung on equally elaborate and well-crafted wrought iron brackets, which are also included in the exhibition.

Henri Le Secq des Tournelles salvaged many such signs, but he was more concerned with preserving them than with documenting their original locations. However, the location of some shops, such as one advertising a draper, is known. A sign known as “The Dry Tree” once stood on the Parisian street that still carries the name of its shop, rue de l’Arbre-Sec (Street of the Dry Tree). Drapers, or cloth merchants, often used the tree as a symbol of their business, evoking legends from the ancient Near East, a source of luxury fabrics. “The Dry Tree” refers to a specific tree that stood alone in a vast desert and was said to grow on the exact spot where Alexander the Great and Darius fought a great battle in the fourth century BCE. Marco Polo reported having seen this legendary tree during his travels.

A lighted bat-shaped sign that once hung outside the entrance to a cabaret or tavern is a remarkable example of nineteenth-century French ironwork. The bat is a clever reference to the nocturnal nature of this business and suggests a dim and mildly dangerous atmosphere within. The light cavity was later fitted with a lightbulb and electrical wiring—probably in the early twentieth century.

Grilles, Gates, and Balconies

Ironsmiths did not necessarily design the objects they created. In particular, wrought-iron grilles, gates, and railings for buildings were often conceived by architects, and in many cases the smith was probably working from a pre-existing drawing. This in no way diminishes the technical and creative skill of ironsmiths, who often infused their works with individual flourishes. The contrast between the strength of the material and the airy, often delicate lines and scrolls that form the composition gives these objects a presence that hovers between the sculptural and the graphic.

The Art of Iron contains many examples of these architectural elements that served a multitude of practical purposes. Window and transom (over-door) grilles, as well as door and balcony railings, allow light and air circulation while offering security against intrusion or protection from falls. An eighteenth-century Italian grille is one of many objects in the exhibition that includes this elaborate scrollwork.

A magnificent eighteenth-century French round grille, finished on both sides, features the symmetrical monogram GBM surrounded by an elaborate array of scrolls and volutes. It was originally installed in a building on the rue des Vergeaux in Amiens, France, perhaps to echo the spectacular rose windows of a nearby cathedral.

Locks and Lockboxes

Before the advent of banks, personal wealth was largely represented by items such as jewels, property deeds, and objects made of silver or gold. Safekeeping these items with locks or lockboxes was essential to financial security. These utilitarian objects, as well as their keys, were often highly decorated.

An eighteenth-century German strongbox and key is a spectacular example of the locksmith’s skill. The keyhole on the front of this chest is a decoy. The real keyhole is on the top of the box, concealed under the body of the double-headed eagle. Pushing on the eagle’s right talon releases a hinge and reveals the keyhole. The locking mechanism is visible on the underside of the box’s lid. The lock’s functional parts, including eighteen sliding bolts, are embellished with decorative flowers, leaves, and scrolls.

A French safe door (1823), signed by a maker named Poifol, is fitted with a complicated mechanism made of wrought iron and brass, including a mounted English pistol by the manufacturer Wilson. Attempts to tamper with the lock caused the gun to discharge, acting as an alarm system.

Household Objects

The durability of wrought iron made it a common material for many household objects, from cooking and kitchen utensils to wares for the bedroom and garden.

Before the invention of modern stoves, food was prepared over open fires in large kitchen fireplaces using cooking pots and pothooks. The ratchets on the pothook could be adjusted to hold the pot nearer to or further from the flame. Cast-iron pots were essential items in any kitchen and were often given as wedding gifts.

In contrast to the unadorned cooking pot, coffee and spice mills were specialty items sometimes elaborately decorated. The Musée Le Secq des Tournelles has extensive holdings of early spice and coffee grinders, including an eighteenth-century mill crafted by Benoit Tivelier the Elder included in the exhibition. The mill was made in the city of Saint-Étienne, France, a center of production for grinders.

The Art of Iron is co-organized by the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Réunion des Musées Métropolitains, Rouen, Normandy. Generous contributors to the exhibition include Sylvia and Leonard Marx and the Selz Foundation, with additional support from Richard and Carol Seltzer.

Kathleen Morris, with contributions by Alexandra Bosc and Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, The Art of Iron: Objects from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy (Williamstown: The Clark Art Institute, 2018), 112 pages, ISBN: 978-0300237047, $35.

Published by the Clark and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalogue for the exhibition combines stunning photography with fresh and engaging scholarship. An essay by Kathleen M. Morris offers a contemporary perspective on these extraordinary works of art, while current and former curators of the Musée Le Secq provide fascinating insights into the magnificent holdings of the museum’s renowned collection.

The Clark Acquires Lethière’s ‘Brutus Condemning His Sons’

Posted in museums by Editor on May 24, 2018

Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death, 1788, oil on canvas, 23 × 39 inches
(Williamstown: The Clark Art Institute)

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Press release (22 May 2018) from The Clark:

The Clark Art Institute today announced the recent acquisition of Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death, an important early work by neoclassical French artist Guillaume Guillon Lethière (1760–1832), marking a significant addition to its permanent collection.

Completed in 1788 when Lethière was at the French Academy in Rome, and subsequently displayed at the Salons of 1795 and 1801, the painting depicts a dramatic scene featuring the decapitation of one of the sons of Lucius Junius Brutus. Brutus led the 509 BC revolt to overthrow the last king of Rome and establish the Roman Republic, swearing a sacred oath before its citizens that Rome would never again be subject to the rule of a king. When his two sons were later discovered to be among the conspirators attempting to restore the monarchy, Brutus demonstrated his commitment to the Republic by ordering and then witnessing the execution of his own children. Painted before the onslaught of the French Revolution, Lethière’s composition is eerily prescient in its moralizing message and its brutal iconography. Brutus’s willingness to prioritize the interests of his country above his own made him an exemplar of Republican duty and stoicism. The tale inspired Voltaire and other leaders of the French Enlightenment to establish Brutus as a foundational hero of the French Republic. Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death is the first of two paintings on the subject executed by Lethière. The second version is in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

“We are truly thrilled to add this magnificent painting to our permanent collection,” said Olivier Meslay, the Hardymon Director of the Clark. “This is Guillaume Guillon Lethière’s masterpiece, and it is a transformative moment for our collection. Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death is important both for its masterful execution and for its place in the canon of world and art history. It is an iconic and prophetic painting that struck a chord with the French public at a moment when history’s role in understanding and interpreting contemporary issues was perhaps never more instructive or imperative.”

The painting has been in private hands for more than two centuries. A preparatory drawing by Lethière (ca. 1788) and a stipple engraving dated 1794 by Pierre Charles Coqueret (Paris 1761–1832) after Lethière’s painting were also acquired. The purchase, made at auction, was approved by the Clark’s Board of Trustees according to the Institute’s acquisitions policies, and funded through a special art acquisition fund.

Noted scholar Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, said of the acquisition, “I was delighted to hear that the Clark has acquired an important painting by Guillaume Guillon Lethière, who is widely recognized as the first major French artist of African descent. His celebration as an artist of great skill and significance is long past due.” Gates edits The Image of the Black in Western Art (Harvard University Press and the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research) along with David Bindman, professor emeritus of art history at University College London. The landmark research project and publication series is devoted to the systematic investigation of how people of African descent have been perceived and represented in art. A synopsis of Lethière’s career is featured in Vol. 3.3 of the publication.

“The significance of this painting cannot be overstated,” said Esther Bell, the Clark’s Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture. “Completed early in Lethière’s career, this is an icon of French painting and French history. By 1788, the twenty-eight-year-old Lethière was already in full command of his talent. Lethiere likely could not have imagined it at the time, but his painting would be publicly exhibited during the height of the French Revolution, and would inspire his contemporaries to contemplate the democratic principles at the heart of their tumultuous society. Like his contemporary, Jacques-Louis David, Lethière played a critical role in promoting the artistic tenets of the Enlightenment.”

Bell led the Clark’s effort in pursuing the acquisition of the Lethière painting and related works on paper.

“It is an exhilarating moment for the Clark,” Bell noted. “I look forward to installing the Lethière in our galleries and sharing the story of this painting and this important artist with our visitors.”

While the unlined painting is “in remarkably good condition,” Bell said the objects will undergo examination and conservation before going on view in the Clark’s galleries later this year.

Future programmatic plans include an exhibition related to Lethière’s work and an introductory lecture by Bell when the painting goes on view in the Clark’s galleries.

About Guillaume Guillon Lethière

The life and career of Guillaume Guillon Lethière (1760–1832) are extraordinary. Born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, he was the son of Pierre Guillon, a French government official, and Marie-Françoise Pepayë, an emancipated African slave. He was called “Le Thière,” a reference to his status as his father’s third illegitimate child. Lethière moved to France with his father at the age of fourteen, studying with Jean-Baptiste Descamps in Rouen for three years before entering the studio of Gabriel-François Doyen at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris. He submitted works for the Prix de Rome in 1784 and 1786 and secured a Roman pension in 1786.

Lethière remained in Rome until 1791 before returning to Paris, where he opened a studio that competed with that of Jacques-Louis David. His ethnicity caused Lethière’s contemporaries to refer to him as a “man of color” and “l’Americain.” Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte was his close supporter, and he was rumored to have fathered an illegitimate child with Lethière’s wife while on a group trip to Spain in 1801. On his return to Paris, Lethière killed a soldier during a dispute, and as a result, his studio was closed by government officials. Despite this, Lucien Bonaparte interceded on the artist’s behalf, helping him to secure an appointment as the Director of the Académie de France in Rome at the Villa Medici. Pensionnaires at the academy during Lethière’s tenure as director from 1807–1814 included Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Merry-Joseph Blondel, and David d’Angers, among others. During this time, Ingres sketched Lethière (Morgan Library & Museum) as well as members of his family, as evidenced in the beautiful sheet, Madame Guillaume Guillon Lethière and her son Lucien Lethière (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

With the Bourbon Restoration, Lethière lost his position as director in Rome and returned to Paris, where he took on private students. After initially being rejected—likely on the basis of either his race or his political alignments—Lethière was admitted to the Institut de France in 1818. He was awarded the Légion d’honneur in the same year. In 1819, he became a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he worked until his death. His studio included several students from Guadeloupe, notably Jean-Baptiste Gibert and Benjamin Rolland. Despite living the majority of his life in France, Lethière’s strong identification with his place of birth never diminished.

In 1822 Lethière sent a monumental canvas measuring thirteen by ten feet, Oath of the Ancestors, as a gift to the Haitian people commemorating the nation’s independence and resistance to colonization. The painting represents the alliance of a black officer and a slave leader standing under God; it hung in the cathedral of Port-au-Prince until it was moved to the presidential residence. Although the painting sustained significant damage as a result of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, it has since been restored and is one of Haiti’s most celebrated cultural assets. Lethière signed this work with his name and dual-national identities, noting both his birthplace as Guadeloupe and his then-current residence in Paris.

Lethière, along with Jacques-Louis David and Jean Germain Drouais, ranks as one of the most important neoclassical artists of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries.

About the Acquisition

The Clark’s acquisition includes three works:

Guillaume Guillon Lethière (Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe 1760–1832 Paris)
Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death, 1788
Oil on canvas
23 × 39 inches (59.4 × 99.1 cm)

Guillaume Guillon Lethière (Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe 1760–1832 Paris)
Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death, c. 1788
Black chalk, brush with brown and gray washes
14 × 24.5 inches

Pierre Charles Coqueret (Paris 1761–1832) after Guillaume Lethière
Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death
Stipple engraving on laid paper, 1794
Image: 22.5 × 39 inches, Sheet: 27 × 42.5 inches

Raymond collection, 1801
Private collection, Paris, from whom acquired by the present owner

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