Art in Paris 1789-1848: Commemoration and Contestation

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MA History of Art Special Option

Art in Paris 1789-1848: Commemoration and Contestation


Carle Vernet, Les Incroyables, 1796. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Course Leader: Professor Richard Wrigley

The Revolution of 1789 changed French society, politics, and culture both in the short term, but also in terms of its tangled and discordant legacy. This course will explore a variety of aspects of French art and architecture during the early 19th century, and analyse how different media and institutions were adapted and revised so as to answer the needs of those social constituencies which made up the polarised and contested socio-political landscape. Throughout, questions of memory, the representation of history, erasure and allusion, will figure prominently.

Topics to be discussed will range across media and successive regimes. Indicative examples include: the Louvre and the Musée des Monuments Français, and the construction of art-historical and national cultural narratives, as well as the notion of historical-mindedness.  The ‘new Paris’, before Haussmann, and the creation of new buildings and urban spaces in Paris, not least the arcades (passages) and the associated phenomenon of the flâneur. Commemoration was often interrupted and no more than envisaged on paper, but this constitutes a rich resource for the projection of iconographical vocabulary and imagined spatial transformation. Both sculptural and associated architectural projects will be reviewed. Print culture allowed relatively rapid commentary and caricatural challenge, and flourished during certain phases of this series of historical transitions. From the burgeoning imagery  catalysed by 1789, to the illustrated press of the 1820s and 1830s, we will sample the inventive, eclectic, coded imagery that tracked regime change and its personalities and institutions. Representations of fashion also provide evidence of attitudes to matters of appearance and behavior in public. Fashion also figures in portraiture, a socially sensitive genre par excellence.

The Salon exhibition was an enduring – if intermittent – space for rehearsing the conventions of painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking, be they new hybrid forms, or reiterations of tradition. Those conventions were discussed at length in the well-established but growing genre of art criticism – a means to consider questions of historical change through its symptomatic artistic manifestations, and also to bolster a literary career.

A reading knowledge of French is required.

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