Mount Vernon Symposium | Decorative Arts in the French Atlantic World

Posted in conferences (to attend), online learning by Editor on March 27, 2023

French porcelain tea and coffee service made for George and Martha Washington, and gifted by the Comte de Custine de Sarreck, ca. 1782.

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From Mount Vernon:

‘Very elegant & much admired’: Decorative Arts in the French Atlantic World
George Washington Presidential Library, Mount Vernon, Virginia, 2–4 June 2023

After the American Revolution, George Washington resolved that he would no longer “send to England (from whence I formerly had all my goods) for anything I can get upon tolerable terms elsewhere.” He instead turned to the United States’ greatest ally, France, where he found the furniture, ceramics, textiles, and decorative objects to be “very elegant” and “much admired.”

The symposium will take place at the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, in Virginia. The library opened in 2013.

The 2023 Mount Vernon Symposium will examine George and Martha Washington’s adoption of the French taste, as a catalyst to further explore the complex interchange of culture, decorative styles, and objects in the French-Atlantic World. Join leading curators and historians as they examine the diffusion of French style, from the Ancien Régime through the French Revolution to the French Empire, and from Paris to London, Philadelphia, Port-au-Prince, and New Orleans, to 20th-century Los Angeles. In-person participation cost is $400 ($375 for members and donors), which includes all lectures, meals, and tours. Virtual participation (in real-time or through recordings available until 4 July 2023) is $40.

F R I D A Y ,  2  J U N E  2 0 2 3

1:00  Registration

1:30  Welcome and Introductions

1:45  The Garde-Meuble de la Couronne: From its Creation to Revolutionary Sales — Stéphane Castelluccio
The Garde-Meuble de la Couronne was the administration in charge of furnishing the apartments of the members of the royal family in the residences of the French sovereign. King Henry IV created it in 1604 as part of his policy to reorganize the kingdom after the Wars of Religion. This talk will present the management, exercised by only three different families during a century and a half, as well as the functioning of this administration which took an increasing importance throughout the 18th century. It will explain the changes in its organization during the Revolution, and end with the reasons, principles and organization of the revolutionary sales of the Crown’s furniture, decided by the new Republic from 1793.

2:45  ‘A little French ease adopted would be an improvement”: Lessons in Sociability and Decorative Arts from 1780s Paris — Amy Hudson Henderson
After the American Revolution, an increasing number of American diplomats, businessmen, students, artists, and tourists found themselves in Paris mixing amongst themselves in the upper echelons of French society. It was a heady time, ripe with opportunities for forging new relationships and identities. Here, in 1784, a young Nabby Adams observed that Americans would do well to adopt “a little French ease” as an antidote to the stiffness and reserve that seemed to mar their social circles back home. What did she mean? This paper answers that question by exploring extant correspondence and household furnishings. By focusing on the acquisitions and behaviors of the prominent Americans who spent time in Paris during the 1780s, we deepen our understanding of the role of French decorative arts in both sociability and diplomacy and discover why these objects appealed to George and Martha Washington.

3:45  Break

4:00  Adam T. Erby – TBA

5:00  Henry Auguste: A Goldsmith in Revolutionary Paris — Iris Moon
This talk explores the unlikely career trajectory of the Parisian goldsmith Henry Auguste (1759–1816) during the French Revolution, drawing on new research published in Luxury after the Terror. Crafty, wily, and untrustworthy, but obviously talented with a hammer and chisel, Auguste started off as an apprentice to his well-known goldsmith father, who worked for Louis XVI. Beyond the French court, Auguste acquired a number of prestigious clients, including the British connoisseur William Beckford, for whom he fashioned an ewer made out of pure gold. Just as the volatile politics of the French Revolution sought to overturn the values of the Ancien Régime in favor of new ones, Auguste sought to refashion himself as more than a goldsmith during a moment of tremendous opportunity—and great risk.

6:30  Reception

7:15  Dinner

S A T U R D A Y ,  3  J U N E  2 0 2 3

7:30  Breakfast

8:45  Welcome and Introductions

9:00  Emerging Scholars’ Panel

10:00  Break

10:15  Revolutionary Things — Ashli C. White
During the late 18th century, a wide range of objects associated with the American, French, and Haitian revolutions crisscrossed the ocean. Furniture and ceramics; clothing and accessories; maps, prints, and public amusements—all circulated among diverse actors who wrestled with the political implications of these items. In this presentation we will examine the unique ways that transatlantic revolutionary things shaped how people understood contested concepts like equality, freedom, and solidarity. And, we will explore how these objects became a means through which individuals—enslaved and free, women and men, poor and elite—promoted, and sometimes tried to thwart, the realization of these ideals on the ground.

11:15  À la française: Designing French North America, 1700–1820 — Philippe Halbert
At its height, New France extended from eastern Canada, across the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi River to Louisiana. Although its population remained small, French North America was no less dynamic in terms of artistic originality or creative output. Even after New France’s fall in 1763, areas of French settlement held fast to creole syntheses of Gallic aesthetics and vernacular tradition. This presentation will introduce a cross-section of objects and buildings whose stories reveal the vibrant legacies of French cultural identity as it took root in North America before 1800.

12:15  Lunch

1:45  An American in Paris: Walt Disney and France — Wolf Burchard
Walt Disney was about to turn 17 when he first set foot in France in December 1918. The buildings, the art and the atmosphere had a lasting impact on the animated world he would go on to create. Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts, an exhibition shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Wallace Collection in London and the Huntington Art Gallery in Pasadena, brought together the seemingly disparate worlds of 20th-century hand-drawn animation and 18th-century decorative arts, which upon closer inspection reveal remarkable similarities. Wolf Burchard will relate how the exhibition explored Disney’s fascination with European art and the impact it had on the studio’s output, especially the three French fairytales retold in hand-drawn animation: Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Beauty and the Beast (1991).

2:45  Break

3:15  A Passion for Porcelain: Sèvres in the Wallace Collection — Helen Jacobsen
Ever since the early days of its development in the mid-18th century, the porcelain produced at the Sèvres Manufactory outside Paris has been a magnet for collectors, attracted by its vibrant colours, rich gilding, and innovative designs. The Sèvres collection at the Wallace Collection was put together in the 19th century, but its collectors were no less beguiled by its flamboyant luxury and exquisite craftsmanship. This lecture will follow the evolution of some of the most celebrated pieces ever produced at the manufactory and will explore the passions that gave shape to what is now one of the finest collections of Sèvres porcelain in the world, a testament to its enduring fascination.

4:15  James Monroe’s Use of French Furnishings in the White House and the Restoration of the Bellangé Suite — Melissa Naulin
Following its burning during the War of 1812, the President’s House required almost all new furnishings before it could reopen for President James Monroe’s use in 1817. Relying on his extensive knowledge of fashionable home goods gained through his two European diplomatic appointments, Monroe worked to secure a large number of these new furnishings from Paris. My talk will focus on these government-purchased French goods, many of which remain amongst the most-treasured objects in the White House collection. I will also detail the recent effort to restore the furniture suite made by Pierre Antoine Bellangé and purchased for Monroe’s “large oval room” (today’s Blue Room) to its original splendor.

5:45  Reception

7:00  Dinner

S U N D A Y ,  4  J U N E  2 0 2 3

9:00  Breakfast

9:30  From West to East: Huguenot Craft Communities in London’s Soho and Spitalfields — Tessa Murdoch
Drawing on research undertaken for her recent publication, Tessa will speak about the formation of Huguenot artisan communities in Soho and Spitalfields. Leading personalities, include engraver Simon Gribelin, resident in West London who married into the Spitalfields based Mettayer family. The complex history of the Courtauld family, established in West London, gravitates from silversmithing in Soho and the City to textile production in Spitalfields and beyond. Craft communities centered on conformist and non-conformist French speaking churches and were gradually assimilated into Anglican churches. Huguenot refugees developed mutual support systems, friendly societies, the French Hospital which still flourishes as almshouses and the Westminster French Protestant Charity School. These Huguenot charities document the contribution of Huguenot craftsmen and women to British culture.

10:15  Forging a New Vernacular: The Transformation and Triumph of a French Ébéniste in Federal New York — Peter M. Kenny
Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779–1819) arrived in New York in the spring of 1803 a thoroughly-trained Parisian ébéniste who, according to his inaugural newspaper advertisement, had “worked at his trade with the most celebrated Cabinet Makers of Europe.” Well-versed in the elegant forms of the late Louis XVI period, which still held sway during the earliest period of his training in Paris, Lannuier’s design vocabulary at the time of his arrival also included the harder edged yet brilliant neoclassical style of post-Revolutionary France known as Directoire (1795–99), and the Consulat (1799–1804), a heavier more monumental style featuring the more archaeologically correct forms of le goût antique. This was Lannuier’s Parisian stylistic legacy. How he transformed this legacy, ultimately becoming one of the two principal leaders of the New York school of cabinetmaking alongside his greatest rival, Duncan Phyfe, is an inspiring and uniquely American story.

11:00  Break

11:15  Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and the Material Creation of an Imperial Legacy — Alexandra Deutsch
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (1785–1879) is often remembered for her short, but remarkable marriage in 1803 to Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte. Although their mésalliance resulted in divorce, their union set her and future generations of American Bonapartes on a path that allied them with France and an imperial legacy. Drawing from thousands of documents and a collection of more than 600 objects associated with the Bonapartes, this lecture charts the history of Elizabeth’s long life during which she meticulously created and documented a material world tethered to France. From her fashion to her silver, jewels, and furniture, Elizabeth’s self-presentation proclaimed her French connection. Her obsessive documentation of her possessions reveals a fascinating and complex narrative that spans multiple generations and reaches far beyond Baltimore.

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