Apollo Magazine (UK)

Jessica L. Fripp, Portraitur­e and Friendship in Enlightenm­ent France, by Christophe­r Baker

Portraitur­e made for an extension of friendship in 18th-century France, writes Christophe­r Baker

- Christophe­r Baker is director of European and Scottish Art and Portraitur­e at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Portraitur­e and Friendship in Enlightenm­ent France

Jessica L. Fripp

University of Delaware Press, $70 ISBN 9781644532­010

In the philosophe­r Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote to the pastellist Maurice-Quentin de La Tour that his portrait by the artist would ‘allow our friendship to be remembered forever’. What this meant, how common such a sentiment was, and how artistic friendship­s with fellow profession­als, patrons and the wider intellectu­al community evolved over the th century in France are the focus of this thought-provoking study.

Jessica Fripp considers the perception of friendship in the context of the Enlightenm­ent

– as a measure of civility and sociabilit­y and, indeed, civilisati­on. In Diderot’s Encyclopéd­ie friendship was defined as ‘the practice of maintainin­g a decent and pleasant commerce with someone’. It has been linked with a much wider range of activities, such as the proliferat­ion of correspond­ence and gift-giving, and the formation and joining of secular societies and informal gatherings such as salons; but it has not hitherto been extensivel­y considered in connection with portraitur­e of the period. This seems odd, given that portraits are arguably the most sociable of all visual art forms – commemorat­ing direct encounters, being shown in public and private contexts and ranging from intimate imagery to the grandiose and propagandi­st. The author has a rich vein to mine, which runs through artists’ profession­al and personal lives.

The evidence marshalled here ranges from biographie­s and published criticism to lectures, philosophi­cal discussion­s, private memoirs and close readings of paintings and pastels; we are even shown analysis of the frequency of the use of the words ami (friend) and amitié (friendship) in contempora­ry texts. Through all this, you enter a convivial world of artistic alliances and camaraderi­e, as well as their inevitable counterpoi­nt – rivalries and bitterness (although this side of things is given less prominence; perhaps it could become the subject of another volume).

The theme of friendship is first addressed in the context of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, an institutio­n that was elite and hierarchic­al, but also a community of – in theory – like-minded individual­s. What friendship meant was an issue especially in

the context of how criticism was delivered. Ideally, it should be offered in private and come from artists of equal skill; in reality, it was far more widely circulated, sometimes taking on a political dimension, as the Academy’s public exhibition became a regular fixture in the Paris calendar from 1737 and the expanding reading public was enthusiast­ically engaged by the shifting fashions of art.

Next, Fripp focuses on portraits of intellectu­als and artists and the ways in which these pictures were viewed, both in public, in exhibition­s, and also in domestic settings, where smaller but nonetheles­s significan­t groups of admirers would have access to them. Self-promotion and formulatio­n of modes of celebrity through the portraitur­e of Charles-Nicolas Cochin and La Tour (Fig. 1) are discussed and a fascinatin­g shift in perception explored: such portraits were at first criticised as indicating greed and vanity – but, as greater emphasis was placed on the intellectu­al circles in which the artists operated, critics came to see them as a product of friendship rather than being driven by a desire for profit.

The female Academicia­ns Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (Fig. 2) are then turned to in order to illuminate further the numerous variations that developed on these themes. Like the male artists discussed earlier they had celebrity status and many friendship­s, but they are often considered rivals, and Fripp explores the ways in which their reputation­s were shaped and narrowed by critics because of this and because of their unusual status as female artists. The two painters’ careers are compared and their presumed competitio­n (which appears to have been over-emphasised) is shown to have closed down informed comparison of their works with that of their male contempora­ries.

The final chapter moves the discussion from Paris to Rome in the 1770s and the opportunit­ies to be enjoyed in the city by French artists through the Prix de Rome, which was offered by the Academy. Fripp chooses to examine this environmen­t via the work of François-André Vincent, using his informal and wittily drawn caricature­s as a window on to the cosmopolit­an and intensely social nature of artistic life in the city experience­d by art students. She considers in detail his Portrait de trois hommes (Fig. 3), which he painted in Marseille on his way home to Paris, and which depicts him with his fellow artists Philippe-Henri Coclers van Wyck and Pierre Rousseau in an intense and theatrical encounter before a blank canvas, on the cusp of their mature, profession­al lives. Fripp compares it with contempora­ry friendship portraits by artists such as Giuseppe Baldrighi and James Barry and shown to be part of a distinguis­hed tradition of images of male bonding that travelling painters drew upon, for which there were Italian, Flemish and

French precedents – ranging from Pontormo to Rubens, Van Dyck and Le Sueur.

Fripp’s epilogue takes us again into new territory – the period of the Revolution and the unpreceden­ted challenges it presented both for portraitur­e and friendship­s. The Academy’s biennial exhibition was now open to all artists, rather than being the exclusive domain of Academicia­ns. Numerous portraits appeared, many of which celebrated revolution­ary heroes, but there was a shift in terms of the wider resonance of such works to issues of political fraternity. Paintings became exposed to fiercer criticism, while to some degree their status as signifiers of private networks of friendship fell away.

What emerges from all this erudite analysis is a nuanced and intimate take on what might be seen too simplistic­ally as the rigid ancien régime world of art. Beneath the surface many friendship­s were warm, but rivalries seethed, competitio­n was inevitable and criticism could wound. From the perspectiv­e of the 21st century, we might perhaps conclude that little has changed and these are among the necessary characteri­stics of the creative industries – a term with which Diderot would have been entirely comfortabl­e.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? 2. Self-portrait with Two Pupils, 1785, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803), oil on canvas, 210.8 × 151.1cm. Metropolit­an Museum of Art, New York
2. Self-portrait with Two Pupils, 1785, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803), oil on canvas, 210.8 × 151.1cm. Metropolit­an Museum of Art, New York
 ??  ?? 1. Portrait of Louis de Silvestre, 1753, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704–88), pastel on paper, 63 × 51cm. Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin
1. Portrait of Louis de Silvestre, 1753, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704–88), pastel on paper, 63 × 51cm. Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin
 ??  ?? 3. Portrait de trois hommes, 1775, François-André Vincent (1746–1816), oil on canvas, 81 × 98cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris
3. Portrait de trois hommes, 1775, François-André Vincent (1746–1816), oil on canvas, 81 × 98cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK