Exhibition | Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 9, 2020

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Mountain Landscape at Sunset, ca. 1765, oil on paper, 8 × 13 inches
(Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Fund, 1997.22.1)

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From the press release (6 December 2019) for the exhibition:

True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 2 February — 3 May 2020
Fondation Custodia, Paris, 13 June — 13 September 2020
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6 October — 31 January 2021

Curated by Mary Morton, Ger Luijten, and Jane Munro

An integral part of art education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, painting en plein air (‘in the open air’) was a core practice for artists in Europe. Intrepid painters—developing their abilities to quickly capturing effects of light and atmosphere—made sometimes arduous journeys to study landscapes at breathtaking sites, ranging from the Baltic coast and Swiss Alps to the streets of Paris and ruins of Rome. True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870 presents some 100 oil sketches made outdoors across Europe by artists such as Carl Blechen, Jules Coignet, André Giroux, Anton Sminck Pitloo, Carl Frederik Sørensen, and Joseph Mallord William Turner. On view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from February 2 through May 3, 2020, the exhibition presents dozens of recently discovered studies and explores issues of attribution, chronology, and technique.

“The Gallery is fortunate to have one of the finest public collections of landscape sketches by 18th- and 19th-century European painters, largely due to acquisitions made by the late Philip Conisbee during his time as the Gallery’s senior curator of European paintings from 1993 to 2008,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “True to Nature builds on recent scholarship as well as the discovery of paintings that have come to light since the 1996 exhibition organized by Conisbee, In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-Air Painting. That exhibition sparked curatorial and collector interest in this genre, and True to Nature continues to expand our understanding of this relatively unstudied, yet central, aspect of European art history. The Gallery is grateful to work with the Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, and the Fitzwilliam Museum to bring together highlights from the best collections of European landscape sketches from this period.”

True to Nature begins as European artists would have in the late 18th and early 19th century—in Rome. The study of ancient sculpture and architecture, as well as of Renaissance and baroque art, was already a key part of an artist’s education, but Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes’s influential treatise on landscape painting, published in 1800, went further to recommended that young artists develop their skills by painting oil sketches out of doors. Valenciennes advised exploring the Roman countryside, as he had in Study of Clouds over the Roman Campagna (c. 1782/1785). This section includes examples by a range of European artists who followed his advice, such as Michel Dumas, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, and Johan Thomas Lundbye. Also included is The Island and Bridge of San Bartolomeo, Rome (1825/1828) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Corot was a key figure in 19th-century landscape painting, bringing the practice of open-air painting back to France and inspiring a younger generation of impressionist painters.

Other sections focus on both natural and man-made features that proved challenging to painters, such as waterfalls, trees, skies, coastlines, and rooftops. Examples include rare studies by well-known artists such as John Constable’s Sky Study with a Shaft of Sunlight (c. 1822, Fitzwilliam Museum), Jean Honoré Fragonard’s Mountain Landscape at Sunset (c. 1765), and Odilon Redon’s Village on the Coast of Brittany (1840–1916, Fondation Custodia) as well as sketches by lesser-known painters like Louise-Joséphine Sarazin del Belmont, one of the few known women artists active during this period. True to Nature illustrates how pervasive plein-air painting became across Europe with examples by many Belgian, Danish, Dutch, German, Swiss, and Swedish artists who studied in Italy before returning home to paint their native surroundings. Sketches by Carl Blechen include an example from his time in Italy, View of the Colosseum in Rome (1829, Fondation Custodia), as well as a study made at home in Germany, View of the Baltic Coast (1798-1840), Fondation Custodia).

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The exhibition is curated by Mary Morton, curator and head of the department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Ger Luijten, director, Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris; and Jane Munro, keeper of paintings, drawings and prints, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Ger Luijten, Mary Morton, and Jane Munro, eds., with additional contributions by Michael Clarke, Ann Hoenigswald, and Anna Ottani Cavina, True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870 (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2020), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1911300786, £45 / $55.


Exhibition | Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints, 1792−94

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on January 8, 2020

Jean-Joseph-François Tassaert, after Fulchran Jean Harriet, The Night of the 9 and 10 Thermidor, Year II, ca. 1794–1805
(London: UCL Art Museum, LDUCS-10581)

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Opening next week at UCL:

Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints, 1792−94
UCL Art Museum, London, 14 January — 12 June 2020

Curated by David Bindman, Colin Jones, and Richard Taws

The period of the French Revolution known as the Terror, which lasted from 1792 until 1794, gave rise to many of the most memorable and dramatic images of this crucial moment in modernity. These images were central to revolutionary attempts to regenerate all aspects of life—from clothing and speech to money and maps, and with the introduction of the Republican Calendar, to remake even time itself. In our contemporary political context, in which ‘Terror’ has taken on a variety of disturbing meanings, and in which the proliferation of images plays an increasingly significant role in how we comprehend acts of political violence, it is ever more important to examine this radical period in French history.

Tracing the tumultuous period from the trial and execution of Louis XVI to the fall of Robespierre, Witnessing Terror includes a variety of printed images representing key events and personae. From portraits of revolutionary martyrs to dramatic scenes of Parisian crowds, these prints give us insight into how people understood life during the Terror. As well as a number of caricatures, street scenes, and more overtly artistic prints, the exhibition displays everyday objects, such as paper money, well-worn passports, and playing cards. Drawing out the contemporary relevance of this revolutionary iconography, Witnessing Terror also shows work by the renowned conceptual artist, poet, and gardener Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925−2006) that engages with the long-term legacy of the Terror.

The Terror remains a vexed term that has for many become synonymous with the French Revolution, clouded by myths that emerged in the years that followed. A system of political institutions and practices, the Terror was accompanied by new rhetorical and cultural strategies. It did not happen overnight but developed as a tactical response to a series of military crises, rumours, and fears. Images played a crucial role in the operation of Terror, as well as in its subsequent representation. This exhibition considers what it means to witness Terror, then and now. In particular, it features extracts from the recently discovered letters of Catherine-Innocente de Rougé, duchesse d’Elbeuf (1707−1794), who maintained a correspondence with an unknown friend throughout the Revolution. Living in her private residence, the Hôtel d’Elbeuf, which was located only metres from government offices during the Terror, the duchesse d’Elbeuf commented freely on the situation in Paris in a way that would have sent her to the guillotine, had her correspondence been found.

This exhibition is part of a programme of ongoing engagement with UCL Art Museum’s unique holdings of prints related to the French Revolution, acquired via the Cultural Gifts Scheme. It follows Revolution under a King: French Prints, 1789−92 (UCL Art Museum, 2016) and Rousseau 300: Nature, Self and State, an exhibition in collaboration with UCL Centre for Transnational History (UCL Art Museum, 2012).

Exhibition | Dutch Drawings of the Eighteenth Century

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 7, 2020

Jan van Huysum (1682–1749), A Crab, 18th century, watercolour and pencil on laid paper, 18 × 29 cm
(Frankfurt am Main: Städel Museum)

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Opening in the fall at the Städel Museum:

Dutch Drawings of the Eighteenth Century / Niederländische Zeichnungen des 18. Jahrhunderts
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, 1 October 2020 — 10 January 2021

Curated by Annett Sandfort

With nearly 600 works, the Städel Museum has one of the most extensive and artistically significant collections of eighteenth-century Dutch drawings outside the Netherlands. From 1 October 2020 to 10 January 2021, the Stadel is for the first time dedicating an exhibition to this valuable collection. On display will be eighty representative drawings by artists who are hardly known today, but who were often very successful in their time, as well as by art-loving amateurs who drew at a high level. The exhibition will bring together preparatory drawings for large-format wall and ceiling decorations by Jacob de Wit; book illustrations by Bernard Picart; Dutch topographies by Cornelis Pronk, Paulus Constantijn la Fargue, and Hendrik Schepper; atmospheric landscape drawings by Jacob Cats, the brothers Jacob and Abraham van Strij, and Franciscus Andreas Milatz; decorative floral and fruit still lifes by Jan van Huysum and his numerous successors; as well as depictions of exotic animals by Aert Schouman and satirical genre scenes by Cornelis Troost and Jacobus Buys. The selected works impressively illustrate the revaluation and emancipation of the drawing in the Netherlands in the eighteenth century, as well as the preference for picturesquely executed, coloured drawings and the repeatedly sought-after examination of the art of the seventeenth century, the Netherlands’ Golden Age. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue of holdings impressively illustrate the spectrum and quality of the collection of eighteenth-century Dutch drawings in the Städel Museum.

Curated by Annett Sandfort (Collection of Prints and Drawings, Städel Museum), with support from the Stiftung Gabriele Busch-Hauck.

Cornelis Troost (1696/1697–1750), Suijpe Steijn, 1742, gouache paint on laid paper, 41 × 62 cm
(Frankfurt am Main: Städel Museum, photo by U. Edelmann)

Exhibition | The Gosford Wellhead

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on January 6, 2020

Opening in the summer at The Met:

The Gosford Wellhead: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1 June 2020 — 14 February 2021

Puteal (wellhead) with Narcissus and Echo, and Hylas and the Nymphs, 2nd century, Roman, marble, 41 inches hight (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019.7).

An ancient Roman marble wellhead (puteal) of the second century AD is the focus of an exhibition—along with some two dozen works, primarily from The Met collection—that will explore a wide range of topics, including virtuoso Roman sculpture; the Roman adaptation of Greek art and mythology; Greek and Latin literature; early excavations of Rome and its port; the restoration of antiquities in the late eighteenth century; the Grand Tour and the British collecting of antiquities in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and the rediscovery of a masterpiece that was lost to scholars for centuries. Excavated in the Roman port of Ostia in 1797, the wellhead entered a private collection in the nineteenth century and was recently acquired by The Met. The acquisition is part of The Met’s 2020 Collections Initiative in celebration of the Museum’s 150th anniversary.

The press release (17 May 2019) announcing the acquisition is available here»

Exhibition | Goya: Avant-Garde Genius, the Master and His School

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 4, 2020

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Woman with a Fan, detail, ca. 1805–10
(Paris: Musée du Louvre)

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Now on view in Agen, as described in the press kit:

Goya: Avant-Garde Genius, the Master and His School
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Agen, 8 November 2019 — 10 February 2020

Curated by Adrien Enfedaque, Juliet Wilson-Bareau, and Bruno Mottin

The City of Agen and its Fine Arts Museum, located between Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest of France, will present, over the winter of 2019–2020, an outstanding exhibition with a fresh and unexpected view on Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) and his work. Through a selection of works in several media (paintings, drawings, engravings), the exhibition will demonstrate the essential characteristics that remain constant in Goya’s work and reveal the role played by his collaborators in his studio.

The Museum’s scientific team is assisted in this project by one of the specialists of Goya’s work Juliet Wilson-Bareau and the event has received personal support from the French Minister of Culture. Nearly 90 works loaned by museums and private collections around the world (France, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA) will be on display in the Jacobins’ Church (Église des Jacobins), an Agen architectural jewel and an emblematic place for the Museum’s temporary exhibitions.

In the late nineteenth-century, Count Damase de Chaudordy (1826–1889) bequeathed a substantial collection to his birthplace Agen. As French ambassador to the court of Madrid, he bought many works, such as five of six paintings by Goya from the private collection of Federico de Madrazo, former first painter of the queen and director of the Prado Museum. These paintings had already been catalogued by Charles Yriarte in 1867 and came directly from the collections of Goya’s son Don Xavier (1784–1854) and grandson Don Mariano (1806–1874) Marquis of Espinar.

This ambitious project is reminiscent of the blockbuster exhibition organized in 1993 From Fortuny to Picasso, which attracted more than 25,000 visitors. It was the first major exhibition at the Jacobins’ church and the result of a collaboration with the Prado Museum in Madrid. It has been the origin of precursory research on Spanish painters of the 19th century. The curator at the time, Yannick Lintz, now Head of the Department of Islamic Arts at the Louvre museum, keeps a benevolent eye on Agen’s projects and supports this exhibition.

As part of the Catalog of Desires, a device set up by the Ministry of Culture to facilitate the circulation in France of iconic works of national collections, the Agen Museum has been designated as a pilot museum. It has the honour to present to the public Woman with a Fan, a famous painting by Goya which has been on loan from the Louvre since April 27, 2019. In the picture, the artist depicts a buxom young woman with great subtlety. The minimalist shades of gray, celadon greens, and whites are remarkable, especially in the delicate work of the long mittens. The identity of the young woman remains uncertain today. The painting is original in its intimate approach focusing on the character’s psychology.

Goya: Avant-Garde Genius, the Master and His School is based on research from the Louvre and the Research and Restoration Centre of the Museums of France (C2RMF). The exhibition benefits from the technical and scientific advice of this latter institution, where two paintings of Goya’s followers (Goyesques) from the Museum of Agen are currently being studied and restored for the exhibition. It is a new approach to Goya’s work that will be proposed to better underline the singularity of his art and his way of working, from drawing to painting. This project could, in the long term, better define the artistic approach of Goya and the implication of the collaborators in his workshop. The aim of the exhibition is to provide both the large public and the painting connoisseurs with a unique opportunity to enjoy and admire many masterpieces that will also be analyzed in detail (through documentation and technical analysis).

General Commission
Adrien Enfedaque (Curator of the Museum of Fine Arts)

Scientific Advisers
Juliet Wilson-Bareau (Art Historian, London)
Bruno Mottin (Chief Curator of Heritage, Research and Restoration Centre of the Museums of France)

Goya: Génie d’avant-garde, le maître et son école (Paris: Snoeck Édition, 2020), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-9461615602, 25€.

For additional coverage, see Dalya Alberge’s article from The Observer (28 December 2019), available here»

Exhibition | A Grand Tour: Images of Italy from the Jundt Art Museum

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 3, 2020

From the Jundt Art Museum:

A Grand Tour: Images of Italy from the Permanent Collection of the Jundt Art Museum
Jundt Art Museum, Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, 18 January — 9 May 2020

In his book Italian Hours, Henry James often commented on the tourist sites of urban Italy. In 1882, he noted, “The only way to care for Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you often—to linger and remain and return.” James and other late-nineteenth-century Americans were continuing the British tradition of the Grand Tour in Italy, centered on its most important cultural cities and historic sites. This exhibition functions as a visual travelogue of the Italian peninsula using works of art from the collection of the Jundt Art Museum at Gonzaga University.

Both the exhibition and an accompanying book begin with sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century European prints, byproducts of artists’ visits mostly to the urban centers of Rome and Florence, and conclude with twenty-first-century images. Significant portions of the objects in this exhibition result from the Bolker Collection and from the Fredrick and Genevieve Schlatter Endowed Print Fund. A Grand Tour utilizes the Jundt Art Museum’s collection to present artistic imagery of the canals of Venice, the Renaissance architecture of Florence, and the classical remains of Rome, but also sites in Milan, Pisa, Assisi, Naples, and Palermo as well as other cities and towns. We hope that this selection of 76 images of Italy will give pleasure as one introduction to a wide-ranging and astonishing topic and as an opportunity, as James writes, “to linger and remain and return.”

Exhibition | Master, Pupil, Follower

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 3, 2020

Pietro Giacomo Palmieri (1737–1804), Two Figures in a Landscape, red chalk on cream paper, 18 × 24 inches
(Collection of Jeffrey E. Horvitz, Boston, inv. no. D-I-43)

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From the Georgia Museum of Art:

Master, Pupil, Follower: 16th- to 18th-Century Italian Works on Paper
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, 21 December 2019 — 8 March 2020

Curated by Randy Coleman, Nelda Damiano, and Benedetta Spadaccini

Circle of the Gandolfi, Standing Academic Male Nude, Seen from the Rear, ca. 1775, charcoal on white paper with some foxing and repairs, 17 × 12 inches (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; extended loan from the collection of Giuliano Ceseri. GMOA 1995.184E).

This exhibition showcases approximately 30 drawings and prints dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries and drawn from the collections of Giuliano Ceseri of Lafayette, Louisiana, the Georgia Museum of Art, and the Jeffrey Horvitz Collection. Curators selected drawings and prints to represent specific artistic styles and Italian regional schools. An examination of the drawings has revealed some previously erroneous assumptions. In a few cases, new attributions have resulted; in others, authorship remains unresolved. The museum will publish a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue containing this scholarship and publishing important drawings by Giulio Romano, Claudio Ridolfi, Palma il Giovane, and Guercino for the first time. Other artists include Giulio Benso, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Salvatore Rosa, and followers of Veronese and Tintoretto. The exhibition is curated by Robert Randolf Coleman, professor emeritus, Renaissance and Baroque art history, University of Notre Dame; Nelda Damiano, Pierre Daura Curator of European Art, Georgia Museum of Art; and Benedetta Spadaccini, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milano.

Exhibition | Classic Black: The Basalt Sculpture of Wedgwood

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 30, 2019

Bacchanalian Triumph, Wedgwood black basalt rectangular plaque, late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Copied from a bas-relief by Claude Michel Clodion (1738–1814).

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From The Mint:

Classic Black: The Basalt Sculpture of Wedgwood and His Contemporaries
The Mint Museum Randolph, Charlotte, North Carolina, 8 February — 30 August 2020

Featuring more than 100 ceramic objects, with loans from notable public and private collections in the United States and England, this exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. The works of art on view include life-size portrait busts, statues, vases, and other fully three-dimensional, ornamental forms, as well as works in low relief, such as large plaques, portrait medallions, and medals.

Among the ceramic bodies produced in great numbers in Staffordshire, England in the late eighteenth century was black basalt. Josiah Wedgwood perfected this fine-grained stoneware in 1768, creating its dark color by adding manganese and carr, a slurry rich-with-iron oxide obtained from coal mines, to the clay body. Basalt was soon produced by many other Staffordshire potters as well. Although Wedgwood and the other potters used black basalt to create so-called ‘useful wares’, such as teapots and bowls, this exhibition showcases basalt sculpture, especially works with classically inspired themes or ornament.

Many of the basalt objects on view in the galleries were copied directly from works of art made in ancient Greece and Rome, such as busts of Homer and Socrates, gems and statues depicting gods and other mythological creatures, and coins with portraits of Julius Caesar and his successors.  Other basalt pieces derived from works made much later. Among the many artists represented in the exhibition by basalt versions of their creations are Michelangelo from the sixteenth century, Gian Lorenzo Bernini from the seventeenth century, and sculptor Louis François Roubiliac from the eighteenth. The Staffordshire potteries also hired modelers and other craftsmen to create new designs for their basalt wares.

Whatever the design source, the basalt sculpture made by Wedgwood and his contemporaries was well-crafted, refined, and perfectly suited for the neoclassical interiors so popular among style-conscious consumers, both in England and beyond, in the last few decades of the eighteenth century. Classic Black proudly highlights this fascinating chapter in the history of ceramics.

The catalogue is published by Giles:

Brian Gallagher, ed., with contributions by Gaye Blake-Roberts, Robin Emmerson, M.G. Sullivan, and Nancy Ramage, Classic Black: The Basalt Sculpture of Wedgwood and His Contemporaries (London: D. Giles, Ltd., 2020), 248 pages, ISBN: 978-1911282358, £45 / $60.

Classic Black explores classically inspired sculpture and other ornamental wares in black basalt. This famous stoneware was perfected by Josiah Wedgwood in 1768 and then went on to be produced by other prominent Staffordshire potters. Wedgwood, with prescience, said of his new creation, “Black is Sterling and will last forever.” This volume presents approximately 120 examples of ornamental black basalt, including portrait busts, statues, and vases, ewers and other fully three-dimensional, ornamental forms. It also features works in low relief including tablets, plaques, medallions and cameos. Essays by renowned subject specialists enhance the fully illustrated catalogue entries, which are grouped into three chapters. These each focus on an era of the design sources used by Wedgwood and his contemporaries to create their basalt wares: Classical Antiquity, the 16th and 17th centuries, and the 18th century.

Brian Gallagher is the curator of Decorative Arts at The Mint Museum. His recent projects include the publication, British Ceramics 1675–1825: The Mint Museum, which highlights over 225 examples from the Mint’s renowned British ceramics collection, and the reinstallation of that collection in a long-term display called Portals to the Past: British Ceramics 1675–1825.
Gaye Blake-Roberts is curator of the Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston.
Robin Emmerson is the former curator of Decorative Arts, National Museums, Liverpool.
Nancy H. Ramage is the Charles A. Dana Professor of the Humanities and Arts Emerita, Ithaca College.
M.G. Sullivan is an independent scholar, York University.


Foreword by Todd Herman, President and CEO, The Mint Museum

Robin Emmerson, Classicism and the Design Business
Gaye Blake-Roberts, Wedgwood’s Customers for Ornamental Black Basalt
M.G. Sullivan, Wedgwood’s Basalt and the Sculpture Market

Catalogue by Brian Gallagher
I. Works Based on Sources from Classical Antiquity
Rome and Pompeii: Fountains of Inspiration
Introduction by Nancy Ramage
II. Works Based on 16th- and 17th-Century Sources
From Renaissance Italy to the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic and Restoration England
III. Works Based on 18th-Century Sources
Enlightened Thinkers, Contemporary Events, and New Interpretations of the Classical Past
Concordance (by Object Type)

Selected Bibliography
Photography Credits

Exhibition | La Chine rêvée de François Boucher

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 29, 2019

Press release (via Art Daily) for the exhibition:

A Province of the Rococo: François Boucher’s Idealised China
Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie de Besançon, 9 November 2019 — 2 March 2020

Besançon’s Museum of Fine Art and Archaeology presents Une des provinces du Rococo: La Chine rêvée de François Boucher (One of the Provinces of the Rococo: François Boucher’s Idealised China), an exhibition that embarks the visitor on an enchanting voyage of discovery.

The Chinese Garden, 1742, oil on canvas (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie de Besançon).

The illustrious François Boucher (1703–1770) was one of the key figures of eighteenth-century painting along with Watteau and Fragonard, and was one of the artists displaying the greatest talent in his efforts to renew the decorative arts. At a time when China, an ancient and distant civilisation, was drawing closer to France thanks to the trade in objets d’art, Boucher offered a window into this fascinating world, creating numerous Chinese subjects that were almost instantly adopted as part of Parisian decorative schemes and print collections and, inevitably, in the decorative arts: porcelain, furniture, and particularly tapestries.

The Museum of Fine Art and Archaeology in Besançon—which for the last two centuries has been home to the sketches produced in 1742 for the Beauvais Manufactory, a producer of tapestries—presents an ambitious exhibition with one hundred and thirty international loaned items, offering a poetic take on a theme never before presented to the public: the creative process of an artist who successfully created an exotic and original repertoire through his outstanding curiosity and creativity and who, in the words of the Goncourts Brothers, “made China one of the provinces of the Rococo.”

Tipsy Boats

One of the exhibition’s objectives is to help the visitor understand Francois Boucher’s keen artistic eye, finely honed during his visits to Parisian traders dealing in exotic items, a trade which was booming at the time. The exhibition begins with a series of items sold by marchands-merciers around 1730–1740 (lacquered screens, wallpaper, porcelain, etc.), presented in a specially laid out scene resembling the interior of a shop.

Produced for a pair of exotic item enthusiasts, the Chinese décor created by Antoine Watteau around 1710 at the Muette hunting lodge on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne also decisively influenced the way Boucher came to view Chinese subjects as ornamental features. He was among the artists who visited the site in 1731, to etch the subjects. Dismantled in the eighteenth century, this decor is represented by twelve prints produced by Boucher and by the two surviving paintings by Watteau.

Taste’s Hidden Surprises

The research conducted for the exhibition confirms that Boucher was one of the most ambitious collectors of Asian items in his day. His collection, which was dispersed in 1771 after his death, included around 700 Asian items. It stood out from contemporary collections thanks to its size and above all its virtually boundless diversity. A selection of some fifty items matching descriptions of this collection are presented with a view to presenting its richness and variety, while at the same time giving visitors some idea of the proportions of the different categories of items and forms involved including statuettes, mounted porcelain items, lacquered butterfly-shaped boxes, locks, and musical instruments from China, etc. Very early on, Boucher used this collection as a visual meaning but also as a means of getting himself better known as an artist but also as an enthusiast. He arranged for Gabriel Huquier, the famous print merchant who went on to become his business partner in the field of chinoiseries, to publish a collection of figures drawn by himself based on items from his collection. In the exhibition, these etched prints are compared with Asian models to highlight the changes of form through which the artist succeeded in bringing his collection to life.

China in Silk

His mastery of the vocabulary of forms, something which he alone managed so effortlessly, inevitably saw Boucher emerge as the artist of choice for the tapestry cartoons from the second Chinese series. An initial series had been woven at the Beauvais Manufactory in the late seventeenth century, but the cartoons gradually became worn and their subjects outdated. Boucher was therefore asked by Oudry, the Manufactory’s manager, to supply new models. He created ten ‘mini-cartons’ converted into larger works by the painter Dumons, for the weavers in the low-warp workshops. Eight of these cartons were presented at the 1742 exhibition and six were finally used for the series. The series became one of the greatest successes in the French tapestry industry of the eighteenth century with ten follow-up works being woven between 1743 and 1775. For the first time since the eighteenth century, the exhibition brings together the six tapestry items, forming a set which is truly spectacular in terms of its size and the exotic yet lively nature of its subjects.

China’s Gallantry

Presented in an elegant and intimate atmosphere resembling an art enthusiast’s lounge, this section examines Boucher’s Chinese paintings. The artist produced no easel paintings in this register although he was perfectly able to do so. China was simply a ‘sideline’ in his painted work but a side-line of outstanding quality. It can be seen firstly through the insistent representation of Asian objets d’art like those he had the opportunity to see and collect at first hand, in four interior scenes or ‘fashion pictures’ produced in the late 1730s and put together for this exhibition. These paintings, produced in small sizes for an impeccable result, demonstrate the artist’s great familiarity with the Parisian luxury goods market, which was undergoing profound change at the time, and of which these pictures were part. Three lintel pieces also reveal another function of painting, this time a decorative one. Two of these paintings, delicate blue-and-white monochromes, are seen near the chest of drawers and corners of the Comtesse de Mailly’s blue apartment at the Château de Choisy as research suggests that they came from this same sumptuous decor designed as an outstanding blue and white symphony.

Copyright Boucher

Even more so than through painting, Boucher’s creativity in the Chinese register is also expressed through paper: the artist is the author of almost a hundred print models, mostly distributed by the printmaker and merchant Gabriel Huquier. They both developed a significant repertoire of subjects inspired by Chinese models and adapted to European tastes, which were then reused by craftsmen for screens and for decorating porcelain or furniture. The number of prints featuring Chinese subjects produced by Boucher is extremely impressive for someone who was not a professional ornamentalist and their influence on the decorative arts in France and elsewhere was immense. The drawings and prints exhibited here therefore allow for a better understanding of the transition from one technique to the other, along with several luxury items produced by the manufactory of Vincennes Sèvres and by the best Parisian cabinetmakers, demonstrating their adaptation and use in the decoration of European objets d’art.

One hundred and thirty European and Asian works loaned by numerous museums and private collections also feature in the exhibition, as part of a poetic exhibition experience highlighting a unique approach, one which encompasses the history of art and the history of taste. Objets d’art, drawings, prints, paintings and tapestries, including some never before seen, make it possible to appreciate François Boucher’s keen eye and to demonstrate his central decisive contribution to the growing enthusiasm for China which developed in France back in his day. The manner in which this artist, collector, and enthusiast incorporates the exotic items he knows so well in his paintings and drawings suggests a link with the transformation and re-creation methods used at the same time by the marchands-merciers. We should consequently consider Boucher as an inventor and even as an entrepreneur with a highly developed awareness of the social and artistic challenges of his time, looking beyond the all too convenient label of painter or draughtsman. His idyllic China marks an incredibly creative ten-year interlude in an immense career, the effects of which left their mark on the age of Enlightenment.

The catalogue is published by In Fine éditions d’art:

Nicolas Surlapierre, Yohan Rimaud, Alastair Laing, and Lisa Mucciarelli, eds., Une des Provinces du Rococo: La Chine Rêvée de François Boucher (Paris: In Fine éditions d’art, 2019), 288 pages, ISBN: 978-2902302291, 29€. Contributors include Nicolas Surlapierre, Pierre Rosenberg, Vincent Bastien, Maël Bellec, Adrien Bossard, Stéphane Castelluccio, Claire Délery, Guillaume Faroult, John Finlay, Anne Forray-Carlier, Françoise Joulie, Alastair Laing, Lisa Mucciarelli, Jamie Mulherron, David Pullins, Béatrice Quette, Yohan Rimaud, Marie-Laure de Rochebrune, Kristel Smentek, Perrin Stein, Jean Vittet, and Sylvia Vriz.

More information on the catalogue, including the full table of contents, is available as a PDF file here»

Exhibition | Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Portraits of Americans

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on December 27, 2019

Now on view at the DIA:

Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Portraits of Americans in the Age of Enlightenment
Detroit Institute of Arts, 6 October 2019 — 3 May 2020

Jean-Antoine Houdon, Busts of Benjamin Franklin (left), 1778, and George Washington (right), 1786, terracotta (Paris: Musée du Louvre).

The Detroit Institute of Arts presents a dossier exhibition featuring two masterworks of French eighteenth-century portrait sculpture lent from the Musée du Louvre. Created by the greatest sculptor of the Enlightenment, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), the portraits depict two of America’s most iconic founders, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. As ‘Guests of Honor’, the busts are displayed in the company of selected works that similarly depict Franklin, Washington, and Robert Fulton, another early American icon, as among the first to reach celebrity status as enlightened leaders of a new nation. Drawing from the DIA’s own holdings and the important loans from the Louvre, the exhibition gives audiences a unique opportunity to explore and compare images of these very familiar personae through art in a variety of media. Presented in our gallery dedicated to the early American republic, the exhibition sets Houdon’s masterful terracotta portraits alongside painting, sculpture, textile, and work on paper, with significant examples of furniture and decorative arts already on view in the gallery providing a greater context of visual culture in the early American republic.