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Chair: Dr Lisa Gee – Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London
Art / Poétique: Genre in the Art Theory and Literary Criticism of Ancien Régime France
The analysis of Ancien Régime sources reveals a stark contrast between the functions of genre in the literature and painting theories of pre-revolutionary France. First, whereas genre was the chief factor in the categorisation of poetry and prose, the catalogues, histories and collections of painting were structured in accordance with national schools. Second, while literary genre classification encompassed all categories, embracing romance and vaudeville along with tragedy and epic poetry, art theory reduced the wide spectrum of painting genres to an opposition between history painting and all the other painterly phenomena denoted with the umbrella term ‘genre painting’. Finally, in literature, as the paradigmatic L’Art poétique (1674) by Nicolas Boileau testifies, genre was one of the key instruments of formal analysis. In art theory, meanwhile, owing to the ideologically charged distinction between the génie universel of the history painter and the talents particulieres of the artists specializing in other genres, it was used mainly for evaluation. These differences in the understanding of genre in the art theory and literary criticism of Ancien Régime France explain the present-day gap between the disciplines. Whereas in literature studies, genre has long been a major area of concern, in art history it is remarkably under-theorized. Although art historians appeal widely to genres, the discipline has not yet established a methodological framework that would explain the mechanisms of their development, the interrelation between the popularity of certain genres and their sociohistorical context, the role that genre plays in the commission of painting, etc. The aim of my paper is twofold: first, it will redefine the place of genre within French seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theories of painting and literature; second, it will suggest several possible ways of effectively applying the developments of literary and film genre theories in the field of art history.
Marchandes and Revendeuses: Painting Luxury and Paintings as Luxury
The surge in both the production and consumption of goods over the course of the eighteenth century was accompanied by a proliferation of texts—by some estimates well over a hundred in France alone—which conceptualised ‘luxury’ through the social, cultural, and economic vices (or virtues) perceived to be affecting society, and the resulting societal decay (or progress). Despite research into the intellectual debate on luxury, and the social history of consumption, little attention has been paid thus far to how views of art and luxury became entwined in eighteenth-century France. In addition to shared anxieties—with controversy often centred on who was purchasing artworks, how, and why—art and luxury were further enmeshed as ‘images’ both acted as and instigated dialogue and exchanges.
This paper will examine François Boucher’s La Marchande de modes (1746), along with its 1755 engraving by René Gaillard which was circulated with added textual verse by ‘M. Moraine’, as a springboard for addressing these wider issues. Images like La Marchande de Modes can be seen as visual discourse not only symptomatic of but also contributing to the Luxury Debate: the original work’s subject matter of consumption of luxury goods, and being a highly-finished cabinet picture catered to contemporary market demands; the print as mass-produced object to be widely distributed; and the added verse which perhaps altered the work’s original meaning. Through analysing the relationships between these different media, and their audiences, it will be shown how art engaged with and expanded Luxury’s textual and conceptual borders.
Against Intermediality: Alexander Cozens’s New Method and the Self-Assertive Image
Since the Renaissance, debates about the relationship between artistic media have occupied a central place in Western art theory. The paragone between painting and sculpture pitted artforms in competition, while Horace’s dictum ut pictura poesis postulated the similarity of painting and poetry. In both cases a surplus of creative potential was understood to arise from the interaction between artforms. However, over the course of the eighteenth century, this view was gradually blurred, with authors from De Piles to Lessing highlighting the intrinsic differences between media.
Against this background, and through an analysis of British landscape painter Alexander Cozens’s drawing manual A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Designing Original Compositions of Landscape (1785), this paper argues both against and for intermediality. On the one hand, the highly unusual technique of blotting presented in the New Method can be understood to spell the end of ut pictura poesis. Using this technique, the artist smudged black ink onto paper to create abstract inkblots, which he then reworked into landscape compositions. Unlike earlier landscapists who had relied on biblical or mythological narratives to structure their images, Cozens created abstract forms to which meaning was attributed only in a secondary, interpretive act. In the blots, I argue, we can discern a new and self-assertive pictoriality whereby images derive logic from visual form rather than from texts. On the other hand, this paper shows that both Cozens’s artistic practice and his writings can usefully be analyzed through the lens of intermediality. The New Method relied heavily on its 43 illustrations which lent argumentative force to an otherwise awkward text. What is more, Cozens’s conception of blotting developed alongside his engagement with single-sheet prints, and, as I will argue, the blots unfolded their creative potential only in the intermedial space between painting and printmaking.
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