Enfilade

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.

C O N T E N T S

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

Appendix
Bibliography
Index
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.”

Signs

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

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

New Book | Jacques-François Blondel, architecte des Lumières

Posted in books by Editor on May 24, 2018

From Classiques Garnier:

Aurélien Davrius, Jacques-François Blondel, architecte des Lumières (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018), 955 pages, ISBN: 978-2406072843, 84€.

Jacques-François Blondel (1705–1774) est célèbre pour ses écrits et son enseignement qui servirent dans la formation des élèves architectes à l’École des beaux-arts pendant le xixe siècle et au début du xxe siècle. Cet ouvrage retrace la vie d’un professeur de talent qui forma toute une génération d’architectes européens.

S O M M A I R E

Introduction

I. Du Cabinet à l’école des Arts, les Débuts d’une Carrière
• Les origines rouennaises de la famille Blondel
• Se faire un prénom
• Premier mariage et amitiés (1729)
• Au service du bonheur privé: Le traité De la distribution des Maisons de Plaisance (1737–1738)
• Les édifices privés
• La plume, le burin et l’équerre: Les débuts d’une carrière d’auteur
• 1737–1754, « L’École des Arts », ou les choix de l’enseignement
• Les décors éphémères
• Blondel dans L’Encyclopédie (1748–1757)
• Une anthologie à la mesure de Blondel: L’Architecture françoise (1752–1756)
• 1754–1755, de l’École des Arts à l’Académie royale d’architecture
• Une campagne contre le rocaille

II. Dans le Grand Atelier Royal du Louvre
• Premiers pas à l’Académie et premières commandes
• « Un nouvel hymen pour pouvoir mettre à couvert mon mobilier »
• Projet d’une Académie des beaux-arts à Moscou (1758)
Parva sed apta, ou une rare collaboration entre belles-lettres et architecture au xviiie siècle: Jacques-François Blondel, Jean-François de Bastide et Élie-Catherine Fréron
• Première commande officielle: Le « Manuscrit de Blois » (1760)
• Les édifices sacrés: Blondel théoricien du « gothique des Lumières »
• Les édifices publics: Commandes et plans de prestige
• La place d’Armes de Metz: Le chef-d’œuvre de Blondel
• Le projet d’embellissements de Strasbourg
• 1762–1774, Blondel professeur royal, une décennie entre succès et inimitiés
• Mort de Blondel

III.  Legs Blondélien et élèves
• Le Cours d’architecture: Son opus magnum
L’homme du monde éclairé par les arts (1774): L’œuvre ultime
• Un francophile chez les Anglais: Le cas de William Chambers
• Les principaux élèves du « fameux Blondel »

Conclusion