Enfilade

New Title: Facing Beauty, Painted Women and Cosmetic Art

Posted in books, interviews by Editor on February 19, 2012

From Yale UP:

Aileen Ribeiro, Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 256 pages, ISBN: 9780300124866, $45.

Throughout the history of the Western world, countless attempts have been made to define beauty in art and life, especially with regard to women’s bodies and faces. Facing Beauty examines concepts of female beauty in terms of the ideal and the real, investigating paradigms of beauty as represented in art and literature and how beauty has been enhanced by cosmetics and hairstyles.

This thought-provoking book discusses the shifting perceptions of female beauty, concentrating on the period from about 1540 to 1940. It begins with the Renaissance, when a renewed emphasis on the individual was reflected in the celebration of beauty in the portraits of the day. The fluid, sensual lines of the Baroque period initiated a shift toward a more “natural” look, giving way in the 18th century to a more stylized and artificial face, a mask of ideal beauty. By the late 19th century, commercial beauty preparations had become more readily available, leading to new technological developments within the beauty industry in the early 20th century. Beauty salons and the wider availability of cosmetics revolutionized the way women saw themselves.

Ravishing images of some of the most beautiful women in history, both real and ideal, accompanied by illustrations from costume books, fashion plates, advertisements, caricatures, and cosmetics, bring the evolving story of beauty to life.

Aileen Ribeiro is Professor Emeritus in the history of art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

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Kimberly Chrisman Campbell recently interviewed Ribeiro for Worn Through (15 February 2012). A sampling:

KCC: Was it a natural progression from writing about dress to writing about beauty?

AR: Beauty and cosmetics are intimately linked with clothing. In the Renaissance, the word “cosmetic” was defined in the broadest way as the enhancing of body and face. Painting the face can be equated with dressing the body, and both are about appearances and their meanings. . . .

The full interview is available here»

From Student to Art Historian: Transitioning into Professionalism

Posted in graduate students, interviews by Editor on December 1, 2011

As Enfilade’s internship program continues to develop and finds its way, I’m happy to give a large public word of thanks to Amanda Strasik as her two-months with us draws to an end. She’s done a fantastic job tracking down material — much of which was posted under her name (though plenty of things appeared generically under the ‘editor’ label). Even more, she patiently put up with my hectic fall schedule. Here, in her final posting, she, as a first-year Ph.D student, contemplates what the end of her graduate training might bring — all with the help of Amber Ludgwig, whom she interviewed for the essay. Many thanks, Amanda! -CH

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In ruminating over the development of academic identity, I’m grateful to Dr. Amber Ludwig for her insights. — AS

s a new Ph.D. student immersed in the world of the classroom, I’ve already noticed that it’s easy to become absorbed in my own research and neglect greater thought to the existence of the professional world of art history—the very world I’m striving to join. While the completion of my graduate work lies in the distant future, I’ve begun to consider the evolution of my own identity as a young scholar, progressing toward the “transitional phase” that all successful graduate students eventually face, the period when one looks to the job market but still has not entirely shed the identity of a student. In an effort to help demystify the “transition” from student to professional in terms of the development of scholarly identity, Dr. Amber Ludwig, a 2011 doctoral graduate of Boston University, kindly volunteered to share some of her experiences as she went from a “deferential graduate student to a commanding ‘doctor.’” Currently a Curatorial Assistant at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Interim Co-Director of the University of Hawaii Art Gallery, Dr. Ludwig has, through her own insights, encouraged me to conjoin, rather than separate, my identity as a student-professional, in the course of pursuing my own career as a young art historian.

During our interview, Amber mentioned that the dissertation writing process was a period of time when she felt very much alone with her thoughts. As a student, she worked independently on topics of her choosing, and she was really responsible only to the professors on her dissertation committee. In addition to the personal enjoyment she found in her subject matter, the notion of introducing new ideas to the field of eighteenth-century art history was inspiring in itself. Now as a museum professional, she’s been forced to adapt to a more “team-like” setting that is constrained by budgetary restrictions and the specific interests of the university audience. While this framework alleviates much of the “what comes next” pressure, it’s a very different working environment than graduate school.

Amber notes, for instance, that whereas her audience was previously dominated by her adviser, it’s now large and varied in terms of scholarly backgrounds — and she adds, “surprisingly more critical!” She credits the dissertation defense as an “incredibly helpful exercise” for instilling confidence in one’s work. She also stresses that the dissertation process is the beginning of one’s career, not the end. Thus, the dissertation is not simply about exhibiting expertise on a particular subject; rather, one is expected to “use the lessons learned throughout the process to improve one’s scholarship and professional practice.” In Amber’s case, she found herself constantly evaluating and re-evaluating how she could improve both her argument and the process itself in order to transition into the professional world more confidently confidently.[i]

As I evaluate my own development of scholarly identity and moments of academic self-discovery, I asked Amber if she had any advice that might make the transition from grad student to professional a little less intimidating. In response, she emphasized the value of presenting at conferences. The experience not only builds students’ confidence to speak authoritatively about their work, but also facilitates networking among others with similar interests.

She concluded our interview with a thought that has made a real impression me: don’t take criticism too personally. For a quasi-sensitive graduate student like me, criticism of one’s academic performance is both necessary and terrifying. And so I’m going to do my best to keep her words in mind: “if you were already perfect, there would be no need for education. Think of it as money well spent.”

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[i] For an interesting take on the dissertation as the beginning of one’s academic career, see Karen Kelsky’s article, “Dissertation Limits,” from InsideHigherEd.com (12 September 2011). Kelsky explains how little, in her opinion, the dissertation itself matters in the bigger picture for a prospective academic job candidate. It’s an intriguing perspective when thinking about the formation of a graduate student’s scholarly identity.

Historical Paint, Interview with Color Consultant Patrick Baty

Posted in interviews by Editor on August 12, 2011

As we seem to become increasingly detached from the materiality of paint (at least in many quarters), there’s a tendency to view the substance of eighteenth-century paint anachronistically, ignoring the tangibility and the finite possibilities of these historical mixtures. As a corrective, Enfilade contributor Courtney Barnes (author of her own ever-interesting blog, Style Court) offers the following insightful interview with leading color consultant Patrick Baty. As soon becomes clear, Baty is a vocal champion of the understated ‘common colors’ — creams and various stone colors — and, not surprisingly, he has previously raised questions over some of John Fowler’s most expressive restoration projects (one thinks of the famous yellow walls of the staircase at Sudbury Hall). The interview is full of fascinating links, and I think there’s plenty here to satisfy the full range of Enfilade readers. My warm thanks to both Patrick and Courtney for their participation. -CH.

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The Color Field: A Look at Paint Then and Now with Historian Patrick Baty
By Courtney Barnes

Pouring over bolts of sumptuously embroidered fabric, shopping for colorful ribbons, planting a garden—these activities I recall seeing portrayed in various period films. But characters discussing house paint? This seems much less familiar. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House provides one notable movie example, with Mrs. Blandings (played by Myrna Loy) describing her desired hues in a famous paint-related scene. The emphasis of the 1948 comedy is, however, on shaping the present, not conjuring the past. And yet, we know that people living in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were themselves very interested in color.

In her book, The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe, Sarah Lowengard emphasizes the wide-ranging appeal: “Throughout the eighteenth century, people from all social and economic backgrounds thought about color, experimented with color, and offered their own notions of how to explain it, how
to use it, and how to improve it.”

A stroll through any twenty-first-century home-and-garden center or a glance at the array of decorating tomes on the shelves of your local bookstore, suggests that the same holds true for us today. Few people grasp the subjective allure and associations of color as fully as Patrick Baty, a London-based historic paint consultant and owner of the shop Papers and Paints.

PB: Certainly when many customers start to describe colors to me it often takes a while to appreciate what they are actually looking for. Indeed, rather like the color that I am often asked for—French chateau shutter blue—perhaps the name is purely an idea that encompasses a certain combination of light, texture,
and an indeterminate range of hues that is in the eye of the beholder alone.

In advising heritage organizations such as English Heritage or the National Trust, analyzing paint to solve an architectural puzzle, or working with a homeowner interested in determining the original colors of her old walls, Baty must piece together more concrete bits of evidence. Drawing upon his expertise as a historian along with a basic bag of forensic tools (above all, paint samples and microscopy) he works to uncover a building’s decorative evolution from past to present.

Descended from artists and a respected paint specialist, Baty has color in his genes. Beginning his professional life as an officer in the British Army, he decided in the early 1980s to join his father, Robert Baty, at the family shop, ultimately taking the helm of Papers and Paints in 1990. Already, the several-decades-old small business in Chelsea had a well-established reputation for color matching. The son came on the scene just as paint mania gripped England—special decorative effects including various glazing techniques were becoming all the rage.

Immersed more deeply in this complex world of paint, Baty found his curiosity growing about a much earlier color explosion, paint in the eighteenth century – to the point, in fact, that he earned an academic degree focused on the ‘colormen’ of the past. Combining his historical knowledge with hands-on professional expertise, Baty was soon regularly to be found in the field, climbing and crouching in all sorts of historical locations as he gathered his vital samples of paint (along the way, he’s
also published a couple of dozen articles and contributed to five books).

With Catherine Hassall, Baty completed the paint analysis of the Painted Room at Spencer House, finding that the walls were originally paler than the colors used in the 1980s refurbishment.

As of 2011, Baty’s broad consulting portfolio includes houses, palaces and other structures in the United Kingdom and United States. To name a handful: Kensington Palace, Queen Charlotte’s Cottage at Kew, London’s Tower Bridge, Blenheim Palace, Headfort House (Ireland), Calke Abbey, Spencer House, the Richard Bennehan House (at Stagville, near Durham, North Carolina), and the jewel-box-like Khadambi Asalache House in South London. In 2007, Papers and Paints received a Royal Warrant of Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen.

During Baty’s thirty-year career, there have been important shifts in the understanding of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century color. In particular, evidence that highly saturated colors were in vogue has led to changes at famous historic sites. Due to a recently revealed, much-buzzed-about restoration at Monticello, it’s much more widely known, for instance, that Thomas Jefferson selected for his own dining room walls in 1815 a then-cutting-edge (and extremely costly) chrome-yellow. Monticello curator Susan Stein tells design journalist Mitchell Owens (writing for Elle Decor in July 2010) that Jefferson selected the eye-popping hue just six years after it was developed in France, and press materials note that the egg-yoke-like yellow would have cost Jefferson $5 per gallon, more than 33-times the price of white lead paint. Until 2010, modern school children touring Monticello saw a muted, post-Jefferson blue.

Paint sample showing the lowest (earliest) fifteen color schemes, from a house in Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster. It can be seen immediately that white or off-white (“pale stone colour” in eighteenth century painters’ terminology) was employed on nearly every occasion.

Thinking about Jefferson’s luminous yellow, as well as George Washington’s intimate verdigris-green dining room at Mount Vernon, I asked Baty about the era’s lively, saturated hues. He was quick to point out that not everyone lived with such vivid walls. Clear, intense colors, underscores Sarah Lowengard, were in high demand but difficult and typically expensive to produce. At the same time, intentionally drab shades had fans among the fashionable set as well (interestingly, Jefferson lived with unpainted plaster walls before the costly yellow went up). Baty cautions us against imagining most walls as jewel-like, noting that in some instances
they tended to be more colorful than the ‘mock historic’ colors offered by some of the well-known paint companies (sadly, our view as to what is authentic has been much distorted by the rash of these ranges that have appeared over the last twenty years)… I would certainly say that a small collection of colors tended to be seen more than any other. These were known as the Common Colors and were cheap and applied in all sorts of houses throughout the century: Cream color, Lead color, Pearl color, Stone color, Wainscot / Oak color, White. It may surprise you to hear that the most commonly used type of color in the past was that described as Stone. This encompassed the warm, honey-colored sandstones to the greyer limestones. The use of color was much more limited than one might believe.

And where would one go to buy paint centuries ago?

PB: In eighteenth-century London, ready-mixed paint would have been bought from a colorman, such as Alexander Emerton “at the Bell over against Arundel Street near St Clement’s Church in the Strand, London.” The original pricelist from the 1730s survives, and from this we learn that he was selling the Common Colors at 4d per Yard, but extraordinary colors, such as Olive Colors and Prussian blue, were offered at 8d per Yard. Greens, however, were sold at 12d per Yard. The everyday Common Colors continued unchanged through to the twentieth century. As new (successful) pigments were introduced they were adopted and the range of colors used widened.

Baty takes issue with today’s commercial ranges of paint, tweaked to suit current fashion or reinterpreted to appear aged and then inaccurately marketed as historical rather than labeled with what he views would be a more appropriate tagline such as “loosely inspired by.”

By contrast, his own company is known for two ranges with specific links to the past: Papers and Paints’ Historical line, originally released in 1988, consists of 112 colors based directly on those used in the applied arts (like porcelain and tapestry) while the Traditional range is made up primarily of colors matched to the earliest known set of paint sample cards prepared by a house painter for a client in 1807 (while doing academic research, Baty struck gold with the discovery of these cards in the archives of a Scottish house destroyed by fire.) Years ago, Baty and his wife spent their evenings hand-painting color cards for the first paint range; today at Papers and Paints, hand-painted sets are still available for purchase.

So, we have a better picture of what paint looked like centuries ago; how long was it expected to last?

PB: On the inside of a building there was no reason for a paint not to last for very many years. Indeed, I have worked in buildings where paint from the second half of the eighteenth century survives. On the exterior of a building it was understood that paint had a finite life. A well-known quote of 1774 illustrates this well:

 The third year the gloss is gone…in the fourth if you rub the painting with your finger, it will come off like so much dust.

 Modern exterior-grade paint may last ten years before needing renewal.

Whilst one can match eighteenth-century paint colors nowadays, legislation and developments in pigment technology mean that paints are compounded in a very different manner. Lead-based paint tends to retain the impression of the brush and doesn’t flow out in the way that a modern oil-based paint does. A water-based distemper can still be made up in the traditional manner, but the number of tradesmen who can do so is small.

Baty also says there is a widespread misconception that eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century paints were invariably environmentally friendly and ‘pure’ when, in fact, arsenic and lead were used in their production.

Is it possible to compare what it cost to paint a room in the eighteenth century with expenses now?

PB: This is a very complicated business as not only has the type of paint changed but inflation has played havoc with the price comparison of similar products. Working from a set of prices and the coverage rate of everyday oil paints in 1770 I was able to show that the cost of the paint for painting an average-sized room in 2002 was about the same – within a Pound or two. The cost for a room 12’x12’x8’ worked out at about £43-£45.  It has since gone up another 20%, but that is largely as a result of recent EU legislation. The cost of carrying out the work was controlled in the eighteenth century by the Guild system in London and had remained remarkably stable for many years. It is less easy to obtain quotes for painting a room nowadays.

How closely was the industry tied to the fine art tradition of painting?

PB: The two branches of the industry were closely related as they were to other wielders of a brush. By the latter half of the seventeenth century, the London-based Painters-Stainers’ Company regarded themselves as consisting of four main groups: the Arms Painters, House Painters, Leather Gilders and Picture Makers. Many of the pigments were identical, although the more expensive and certainly the more fugitive ones saw less use by the housepainter. 

Just as it can be a let down when, as civilians, we learn that spies don’t actually use certain high-tech tools shown in popular movies, Baty has sometimes encountered surprise when describing his methods:

PB: Although new techniques will no doubt help, the basics are fairly low-tech. I remember shocking an audience at Williamsburg some years ago when asked about medium analysis. They wanted to know what equipment I used. I said that context and optical examination generally told me what I needed to know. I can see whether a paint was an oil paint and, understanding how paints were made and used, in most cases this means linseed oil was the medium.  

In a similar vein, I was asked by the conservation scientists at one museum what their findings meant. They could virtually tell me the Atomic Number of the components in a particular eighteenth-century paint layer but didn’t know what it was saying to them. I knew from a study of early source material that white lead with black and a little Prussian blue and red oxide usually indicated a Pearl Color. I also knew that this sort of color saw use in the kind of room being examined and, most importantly, what kind of color it was.

The key thing is to read as much as possible, whether technical works, histories or books on historic design and decoration. It is important to understand who these people were who chose the decoration, what they were trying to achieve and then to know how the paint would have been mixed and applied…One thing that strikes me when I meet other people working in the field is that most have stopped reading and learning. I have now been doing this for over 25 years, but still I am picking up new facts that help me gain a clearer understanding of what I see when I examine a room.

And for anyone wondering, Baty himself is quite fond of that paint selection scene in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. I can only hope for the day when I see Georgians on the big screen weighing the costs of chrome yellow against the deeply satisfying array of common stone colors.

Art History & 18th-Century Studies: Risky?

Posted in interviews by Editor on July 21, 2010

Michael Yonan poses an interesting question in response to the recent interview with Mary Sheriff. In lieu of any new postings for today, I would point readers back to the ‘comments’ section of the interview. Any thoughts?

-CAH

N.B. — We’re up to six replies — lots of interesting material to think about already; thanks to those of you have left comments!

Scholar Profile: Mary Sheriff

Posted in interviews, Member News by jfmit18th on July 18, 2010

To introduce some of the names and faces of HECAA, Craig and I have decided to begin a new Enfilade series that will profile scholars from diverse institutions and varying areas of expertise. We hope that this will not only illustrate the wealth of knowledge shared among the HECAA community at large but also provide individualized snapshots of upcoming projects, common interests, and new directions of research. If you would like to nominate someone to be interviewed or share thoughts on the series, we would be happy to hear from you; send an email to jennifer.ferng@gmail.com.

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Mary Sheriff is the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Art History and Department Chair at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on eighteenth and nineteenth-century art and culture, with an emphasis on issues of creativity, sexuality, gender, and most recently, travel and cultural exchange. She has published three books with the University of Chicago Press J.-H. Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (1990), The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (1996), and Moved by Love: Inspired Artists and Deviant Women in Eighteenth-Century France (2004). This spring, her edited collection of essays, Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art, was published by the University of North Carolina Press.

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Jennifer Ferng: You were awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship earlier this year. Has this acknowledgment validated, sustained, or altered certain conceptions of what you believed about your approaches to the study of art history? What has this recognition personally meant to you?

MS: The fellowship could not have come at a better time. I have just completed seven years as department chair, and I am anxious to devote myself full-time to writing. The fellowship and the time off it represents means that I can now return to my research—which is what brought me to the profession in the first place! Administration was an afterthought and, unfortunately, a necessary evil.

I think the recognition of my work has helped me see that the discipline of art history, like other disciplines, has not only become more open to different approaches and methods, but also to work that engages and interprets material traditionally thought to be outside the domain of the discipline. I’m thinking here not only of diverse texts (novels, plays, travel writing, science treatises, etc.) but also of, for example, material culture, theatrical and operatic performance, contemporary theory. At the same time, I believe that art historians are now more open to different forms of interpretation.

JF: How do you feel eighteenth-century studies has recently changed (in relation to other sub-fields including feminist studies, material culture, and visual culture studies)?

MS : Let me answer this question from a slightly different angle. What I think has changed most about the field of eighteenth-century studies in art history is the number of practitioners. Two decades ago there were precious few of us in the sub-field and even fewer of us in ASECS. New scholars have brought into the field many different perspectives, approaches, and even disciplinary formations – and many of those perspectives, approaches, and formations have mirrored the changes in the discipline at large. Although some of the new scholars studied with those eighteenth-century specialists who had already changed the field – many others did not. When I and others entered the field it was a risk, and I believe it still is. Twenty years ago there was no recognized specialization in «Eighteenth-Century Art» and I think today the CAA categories of specialization still jump from «Baroque» to «Nineteenth-Century».

Now to take things from a different direction: I think that because we were never a venerable old field (like Renaissance Studies), we did not have venerable old ways of doing things; nor did we have the issues that arise from what I might call dynastic succession. So as a field, we have been able to change and adapt more easily to the changes in the discipline. I also like to believe – although it may be a personal myth – that folks who take the risk of specializing in the eighteenth century are also willing to take risks in their work – by which I mean they are willing to use a novel approach, ask a new question, interpret a «frivolous» object, bring together different archives of knowledge, and ultimately to admit the contingency of meaning.

JF: What are some of your upcoming projects and some of the new directions you will be pursuing?

MS: My new project is entitled Enchanted Islands: Picturing the Allure of Conquest in Eighteenth-Century France. I have been working on issues of cultural contact for a while now in my teaching and research. I’ve edited a volume just out from UNC Press called Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art, which is actually designed to be a complementary text for teaching the history of Western art. The volume has essays that range in time from 1429 to 1930, and all the essay consider the effects of cultural contact – from oppressive colonialism to mutually profitable trade – on European art. The volume argues that European art has always been shaped from the outside as well as from the inside, and is never a «pure product». The authors include ASECS members Christopher Johns and Elisabeth Fraser, as well as Claire Farago, Julie Hochstrasser, Carol Mavor, and Lyneise Williams.

My new project on enchanted islands develops in different ways issues of cultural contact and continues my studies of gender and sexuality, in this case as related to royal power and «Frenchness». The «allure of conquest» I mean as both martial and sexual. As the title of the project also suggests, I am interested in the hold that islands and «island-ness» have had on the Western (and especially French eighteenth-century) imagination. The project focuses on a particular sort of island imagined to be ruled by an enchantress, which is a staple of epic literature. A prime example is the island of the Saracen sorceress Armida in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. The story of Rinaldo and Armida on the enchanted island was represented repeatedly in painting, opera, book illustration, and the decorative arts throughout the eighteenth century. Armida’s island is particularly significant for me because it is at once an enchanted, real, and mythical space. Tasso places Armida’s realm in what he calls the Fortunate Islands, which we know as the Canary Islands, and which were in antiquity the imagined site of the Elysian Fields. The whole project, in fact, takes up the larger questions of how mythical paradigms are mapped onto real persons and spaces; how real persons and spaces engender mythical paradigms; how paradigms change over time; and to what ends such paradigms are deployed.

What’s newer, perhaps, is that this project also engages with notions of «enchantment» as a feature of art, love, power, and magic. I’m interested in how the relation between art and enchantment was theorized in the eighteenth century and how it has been theorized today, especially in the work of anthropologist Alfred Gell.

I am also involved in a new project co-authored with Melissa Hyde, currently entitled French Women Artists: Rococo to Romanticism. We envision a book that will be not only a collective history of women artists from the mid-eighteenth century through the mid-nineteenth century, but also a history that considers these artists within their social, personal, institutional, and professional networks. In other words, this project is a history focused on women artists, but one that presents the art world as peopled by women and men together. Histories of that period in French art inevitably focus on select male painters and thus present what one could call the one-sex model. Our history contests that model by putting women back into the picture.

JF: Regarding pedagogical techniques inside and outside the classroom, how do you encourage your graduate students to pursue individual research and dissertation topics? What are some outstanding areas of unstudied eighteenth-century art?

MS: From the beginning of their studies, I encourage my students to find their own areas of special interest. I see my job not as telling them what to pursue but as helping them get where they want to go. My graduate seminars often define an area of research very broadly and offer as group reading some basic theoretical material. I ask students to find their own specialized topics within that area. I stress that finding a good topic is half the game of writing an outstanding essay – and by a good topic I mean one that is both focused and complex: one that can sustain different avenues of interpretation while remaining coherent. Of course, this is a tall order, especially for first-year students, but I meet with them and try to guide them toward an appropriate topic once I know their interests. And I will dissuade them if I think a topic is unworkable. I often suggest focusing on a single object or image that will open itself up to different interpretative strategies or that seems to condense several contemporaneous aesthetic and/or cultural issues.

There is so much understudied in the eighteenth century that I can hardly begin to prioritize. But in no particular order. . . Religious art and ecclesiastical architecture need sustained attention (this is especially true for French art). There are individual artists whose work deserves more study even though the monograph seems to be out of fashion; I’m sure everyone has his or her list, but mine would include Falconet and Meissonnier. France, England, and to a lesser extent Italy are fairly well worked – at least for major artists – but how about Sweden, Russia, and other areas in Europe?

Among the subjects that are the focus of current work, I think that there are many areas of material culture that need attention (here a personal favorite would be the miniature and the idea of miniaturization). Cultural contact in all its forms is now getting attention, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I would also like to see more work on optical devices and displays such as phantasmagoria and magic lanterns. I would add that while we are interrogating these newer areas, we should not ignore all the other, perhaps more traditional, areas of eighteenth-century art that also need work.

JF: In looking back at your development as a senior scholar, who and what were some of the most influential intellectuals and books, which affected the ongoing evolution of your ideas?

MS : I have from the beginning been influenced by my mentor, Barbara Stafford, not so much in terms of any particular method, but in terms of her openness to new ideas, her omnivorous intellectual tastes, and her willingness to let her students go their own way. When I was a beginning assistant professor, and especially in my first years at UNC, I read voraciously in high French theory and French feminist theory, often in informal reading groups with colleagues from art history, literature, languages, and history. We read all the usual suspects – Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Irigaray, Cixous – but we also read the likes of Plato and Augustine for the history of ideas. Over the years I’ve been inspired and influenced by ongoing exchanges with colleagues and students, and participating in ASECS has been extremely important to me as a venue for the exchange and sharing of ideas.

JF: Back in Chapel Hill, what object that you own describes you best as a personality and scholar?

MS: My buoyancy control device (or BCD). I love to scuba dive. Diving is a very visual activit ; the way I dive there is a lot of looking at all sorts of interesting and beautiful things, so it feeds my scopophilia. There is a lot of diversity on the reef, so I like that, and I learn a lot by just observing. The reef is truly another world – for me an enchanted world. Diving, moreover, is an activity that offers solitude and quiet, which is how I work best. No email, no mobile phone, only the sound of your breathing and, for equipment, a computer that tells you how deep you are and a gauge that registers how much air you have left! But at the same time, since in diving you are always with a buddy, there is solitude but not loneliness. I like the physical challenge of diving and buoyancy control. And I like that diving means I am on a real vacation. Too many academics only take busman’s holidays. I think that’s a mistake. I need down time to do my work.

JF: What are some of your favorite places to visit while in Paris, whether for work or leisure?

MS: Musée des arts décoratifs (and the café there), Les Gobelins, Bagatelle gardens and especially the rose garden, Arsenal Library, Club Med Gym, Le Sirocco (my favorite Moroccan resto); any church that’s open and uncrowded.

Interview with Jay Clarke by Nina Dubin

Posted in interviews by Editor on May 13, 2010

While most of the postings featured here at Enfilade originate elsewhere (calls for papers, announcements about conferences, exhibitions, &c.), plans for more original content are in the works. Special thanks to Nina Dubin and Jay Clarke for this informative interview.

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Jay A. Clarke is Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University in 1999 and served as a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1997 through 2009. Author of Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth (Yale, 2009), she has also published on the critical reception of Käthe Kollwitz and Max Beckmann, Munch’s use of repetition, and Julius Meier-Graefe as an art dealer. Jay has received numerous grants and awards from such institutions as the NEA, the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the Marshall Fund, the DAAD, and the College of the Holy Cross, which recently honored her with a Sanctae Crucis Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement. Clarke’s research and teaching focus on late nineteenth-century reception theory, market forces, historiography, and the social significance of printmaking processes and their matrices. She taught graduate courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2001 through 2008 on critical theory, methodology, and the history of art history and is currently a lecturer in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

Nina L. Dubin is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her book, Futures & Ruins: Eighteenth-Century Paris and the Art of Hubert Robert, is forthcoming from the Getty Research Institute in September, 2010.

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ND: Last spring, you were appointed Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute—a position endowed by the Manton Foundation. I understand that this past fall, you gathered a group of historians of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art to discuss the collection and re-imagine different possibilities for what a collection catalogue might be. What came out of this colloquium, and what are your plans for the collection?

Thomas Girtin (English, 1775-1802), "The Gatehouse of Battle Abbey, Sussex," c. 1794. Watercolor, ink and pencil on paper, 10 3/4 x 9 1/4 in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.84 (Photo by Michael Agee)

JC: In 2007, the Manton Foundation donated an outstanding collection of over two hundred eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British paintings, drawings, oil sketches, and prints to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The Clark will publish a catalogue of this collection in 2012, and we are in the process of considering its shape and methodology.

For the colloquium, we invited a small group of scholars with diverse interests and areas of expertise to help us ask fundamental questions about how we could present this material in a scholarly, methodologically-aware, and engaging way and how we could make the collection both visible and vital. The majority of the Manton Collection was carefully documented and catalogued in four privately published volumes between 1994 and 2001 wherein each work was described with full exhibition history, literature, and an accompanying textual entry. That this important foundational work has been done provides us the opportunity to envision a very different kind of collection catalogue. Given recent discussions about the future of collection catalogues and how the basic formula is in need of reconsideration, we asked for the expertise of the visiting scholars, editors, and
publishers to further explore these issues in light of the Manton gift.

The colloquium participants first looked at the collection as a whole to assess its breadth. Then we had a series of discussions about the possible contents of the catalogue, given that we are free to approach the material in a variety of ways. At first the group had a hard time “thinking outside the box,” as such publications are usually under considerable constraints. However, because the Manton Foundation supports not only the Clark’s collection and the museum program but also our lively research and academic program, we felt strongly that the final publication should embrace new ways of approaching what might otherwise be familiar material. In the end, the group came to a consensus that the publication should address both recent theoretical approaches to British art and materially-based inquiry. The book will begin with an essay about the Mantons as collectors, which will be followed by short chapters that explore specific objects and artists from the collection using a range of scholarly approaches by several leading specialists in the field of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century studies. The catalogue will include an on-line component that can be updated after the book is printed.

What are some of the highlights of the Manton collection that scholars of the long eighteenth century should know about?

John Constable (English, 1776-1837), "The Wheatfield," 1816. Oil on canvas, 21 1/8 x 30 3/8 in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.27 (Photo by Michael Agee)

Particular strengths include seventeen Turner watercolors, several Gainsborough drawings, Constable oil sketches, and singular sheets by Girtin, Palmer, and Rowlandson. The entire collection can be viewed on-line at: www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/manton/manton-pages.cfm. In addition to many of the acclaimed “greatest hits” such as Constable’s oil painting The Wheatfield (1816) and several of his cloud studies, there are important pockets of lesser-known works, such as Rowlandon’s small-scale rustic landscapes in watercolor and vermilion ink.

Are there upcoming programs at the Clark that HECAA members should plan to attend?

This fall’s Clark Conference brings together creative writers, publishers, art historians and historians to discuss the many and complex relationships between art writing and creative writing. We will consider fiction as an alternative to art history, art history as fodder for fiction, the various ways in which art history needs and creates narratives, and the use of fiction and fictional devices by critics and contemporary artists. Speakers will include Paul Barolsky, Thomas Crow, Gloria Kury, Maria Loh, Alex Nemerov, Joanna Scott, Ed Snow, Marianne Torgovnick, and Marina Warner. The Conference is convened by Mark Ledbury and Michael Hatt. Program details and registration Fforms will be available at the Clark’s website from late May 2010.

You left a position as Associate Curator of prints and drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, where you curated such blockbuster exhibitions as Becoming Edvard Munch. What were the enticements of relocating to the Clark, and how has your job description changed?

I have great fondness for the Art Institute of Chicago, where I worked for eighteen years and began my career. It is an unparalleled collection with immensely talented curators and I miss the art and my former colleagues. But it was time for a change, time to assume the direction of a department, and time to extend my scholarly range into photography. Whereas at the AIC I was responsible for nineteenth-and early twentieth-century European prints and drawings, here I deal with the history of art from the fifteenth through the early twentieth century, in addition to overseeing the Clark’s significant collection of nineteenth-century photographs. In Chicago I was both a curator and a part-time faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I generally taught critical theory and methodology seminars at the graduate level. But the teaching at SAIC was more of an evening job and, although the faculty there were very welcoming, I felt quite separate. Here I am a lecturer at Williams (the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art is offered in collaboration with and housed at the Clark) but now my courses are deeply embedded within the Clark’s dynamic academic program that hosts symposia, colloquia, and lectures led and attended by an ever-changing roster of fellows, students, and visiting professors, and that is a big bonus. The Clark has a dual mission, part museum and part research and academic institute, which creates an exciting intellectual environment I missed in Chicago or had to work hard to find. Here I can experience this dual mission on a daily basis. In many ways, I am doing the same kind of work but in a more flexible, intellectually charged environment.

You spent most of your career in Chicago. Tell us about the perks of living in Williamstown.

There are many perks to living in Williamstown and, although I was born and raised in the Midwest and worked there for most of my career thus far, I went to high school, college, and graduate school in New England, so I was very glad to return. First and foremost, there are deer and fox in our backyard instead of rats and pigeons, and the three-minute commute to work cannot be beat. I am married to a former professional skier so we enjoy all that the winter months have to offer. Being in a college town with three art museums in close proximity, I find I do more here in terms of attending lectures than I did in Chicago. Our director Michael Conforti says there are more art historians here per capita than anywhere else in the country so that’s a plus. The Clark is in many ways a New York City-oriented museum (we are just a few miles from the New York state border) and I am there about once a month. So, when I need my city fix, it’s just a train ride away.