The Period Eye

Notes on Early Modern Visual Culture

January 4, 2017
by tlarkin
Comments Off on Political Portraiture in the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776-1814. Part II

Political Portraiture in the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776-1814. Part II

This column serves as the second of a pair of reflections on portrait exchange between the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776-1814.

II. Representative Bodies

Assemblies and families in the United States and France likewise tested the ability of portraitists to render a shared commitment to collective governance, clan connectivity, or minority representativeness within the nation and commissioned or were incorporated into mostly mid- to large-scale multi-figured paintings. These group portraits had to manage a compromise between history and genre in order to promote the notion of a “representative body”—or presumed political or social consensus. Three forms of production, display, and conveyance shed light on how groups conceived their relationship to the nation: the portrayal of republican assemblies for installation in public buildings, the depiction of patriotic families for private homes, and the laborious replication and delivery of any number of pictures.

Republican assemblies, their internal factions and advocates abroad, rarely commissioned group portraits for legislative chambers, but when they did it was to commemorate a key event that best encapsulated a decisive break with colonial rule or the old monarchy and the formulation of a new democratic process, albeit one that divided over whether the gentry or proletariat best safeguarded liberty.

In his autobiography Trumbull recalled that he had been studying history painting with West in London intermittently for about four years when they discussed the prospect of a series of canvases chronicling significant episodes from the American Revolution; the need to locate a continental engraver prompted him to travel to Paris in late July 1786. In addition to insuring that the artist was accommodated in the legation, Jefferson advised that his next historical composition should be the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Trumbull prevailed upon Jefferson and Adams (then in London) to help him recreate the event: the one sketched a plan (albeit somewhat inaccurately) of the ground floor assembly room of the Pennsylvania State House and the other insisted that all the signers (as well as some dissenters) of the document should be included and that they should be rendered with absolute fidelity to appearance. Determined to avoid the monotony of descending rows of heads, Trumbull in his earliest sketches decided to group men, seated and standing, along two receding lines converging at the middle, to orient all heads toward the half-dozen men approaching the president’s dais in the right foreground, the chamber expanding obliquely around them. The prospect of convincingly locating forty-eight identifiable men in space was daunting, and it was towards the end of a yearlong hiatus to London that he delineated the setting, located the principal figures, and painted Adams from life. At some point between the sketches and painting he decided to shift the vanishing point from the northwest corner of the assembly room to the center of the west wall, which offered the illusion of a shallower, relief-like space. He must have arrived at this solution through consultation of French sources both before his departure for London in the autumn of 1786 and shortly after his return to Paris a year later. He admired Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii at the Salon of 1785 and probably saw Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s exquisitely detailed architectural drawings of the Assemblée des Notables (1787) at the Louvre, the latter in particular possessing a heavy Doric frieze, a double set of reliefs and doors, an abundance of trophies, and orderly rows of observers. Irma Jaffe has even suggested that the central motif of Jefferson flanked by Adams and Franklin handing over the draft of the Declaration to John Hancock was derived from history paintings like Nicolas-Guy Brenet’s The Piety and Generosity of Roman Women (1785). Whatever the source, the result of Trumbull’s synthesis can be seen in a clearly composed historical narrative wherein Jefferson in consultation with a committee is shown to have displayed exemplary virtue in drafting the most impactful document of modern history, a purpose and effort sanctioned by the majority of representatives within a noble interior. The business of tracking down all the others present to achieve a “complete record” consumed several years and suggests a process of memorialization of those founders who designed and governed the nation and came to an understanding with Europe.

Thanks in part to his father’s association with the baron de Breteuil, François Gérard became a pensionary of Louis XVI and a student of his Académie in the early 1780s; he worked hard to earn a place in David’s studio where he cultivated drawing skills and classical aesthetics alongside Jean-Germain Drouais, Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, and Antoine-Jean Gros. Although he lost the Prix de Rome competition to Girodet, he found the means to spend nearly a year in Rome before heeding the National Legislative Assembly’s call to return or be declared an alien émigré, and found David a valuable friend in obtaining lodgings, an atelier, and exhibition opportunities at the Louvre. On 24 April 1794, the National Convention, desirous of reviving public art projects, announced a competition on the theme of “the most glorious episodes of the French Revolution,” with the subject and approach left to the architect, painter or sculptor. Gérard proposed to paint the people storming the assembly and accusing the king of duplicity on 10 August 1792 as a prelude to abolishing the monarchy and instituting a republic more than a year later, and his drawing was selected as one of two winning entries. In preparation for work on the 25 by 30-foot canvas, he visited the Salle de Manège (temporary site of the National Assembly) at the Tuileries, gathered eyewitness accounts of the episode, prints and medals of the principal characters, and made sketches of works by David and his colleagues. Eschewing the high-vaulted chamber ringed with terraced seating and a narrow balcony with large clerestory windows, Gérard imagined the space as confined and crowded to maximize the dramatic confrontation between the lurching mob and the recoiling legislators in the foreground. He may have seen Trumbull’s initial oblique view of the assembly room of the Pennsylvania State House, for he drew a low-vaulted chamber with lines of recession converging on a trio of demonstrators and a banner inscribed “Fatherland, Equality, Liberty” just left of center, with the sitting president, Marguerite Elie Guadet, and three secretaries raised on a dais at right. In a conscious tribute to David’s Oath of the Tennis Court (1791), Gérard rendered the mob pointing accusingly at the royal family glowering from the press box while the deputies stiffen in defiance or recoil in disgust or shame. The king’s, queen’s and president’s likenesses were adapted from prints by Jean Duplessi-Bertaux and Jean-Baptiste Verité, medals by Pierre-Simon-Benjamin Duvivier, Philippe Bordes has pointed to a similarity between a group of sans-culottes carrying one of their dying and John Singleton Copley’s Death of Major Pierson (1782-84), available in printed form from April 1796. Although it has been observed that the radical rebels are not as sympathetically drawn as the moderate deputies, the former agitate the composition in a manner intended to valorize the popular will, in comparison to which the Versailles oath-takers seem calibrated to welcome the dawn of the constitutional monarchy. Gérard had to abandon the project—laying in some of the underpainting for the foreground figures—after the remaining third of the promised stipend failed to materialize.

Patriotic families, a parent with a child or the complete unit along with servants, ordered group portraits for private dwellings to acknowledge inherited wealth, clan connectivity, or, indeed, to embody a shared factional, national, or imperialist ideology. Portraits representing the family engaged in mapping pursuits suggest their relation to the nation and the rest of the world.

In the early years of the American republic there were not firm boundaries between the arts and crafts, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay region where a metalsmith might take a hand in engraving, if only to record his designs. Such was the case with Edward Savage, an itinerant who exchanged the hammer for the burin and then the paintbrush fairly early, turning out copies of John Singleton Copley’s portraits of wealthy Bostonians. In 1789 Harvard University requested that he undertake a portrait of the newly elected President of the United States, for which Washington entertained a sitting in New York, and the work soon evolved into a large family portrait consisting of the president, the first lady, Martha Parke Custis, and two of their four grandchildren, Eleanor and George Parke Custis, at Mt. Vernon, which required another sitting prior to completion in 1796. Betraying a rare facility with the intricacies of clothing and accessories, Savage rendered the president seated in his usual military habit, his left hand resting on the table within reach of an open booklet, tricorne hat, and exquisite sword hilt and his right arm draped over the shoulder of his grandson. For the first lady was reserved a cascade of oyster-colored satin and the operative movement of unfurling Pierre L’Enfant’s map of Washington D.C. and indicating with a fan the central district, an action repeated by her granddaughter. As with much early eighteenth-century French royal portraiture, the setting registers a push-pull between a generic palatial interior complete with columns, drapery, and pavement and an identifiable prospect indicative of state dominions or family acreage; there is a sense that the terrace affords a spectacular view of the Potomac River. The picture is also divided laterally into male and female spheres of activity, the right side a battle-hardened leader and well-read mentor equipped for the defense of the nation and the upkeep of the estate, the left side a cultivated hostess and a fastidious mother prepared to presiding over the court’s social life and the family’s household budget. An accessory to the cartographic work at hand, the variously identified African-American man standing somewhat stiffly with hand in waistcoat at far right is a reminder that slaves and freedmen accompanied generals on campaigns and toiled on plantations, thus subsidizing the cost of war and providing the comforts of home. This ambitious image of the first family was disseminated throughout America and Western Europe in print form. Savage contracted with David Edwin to produce a stipple engraving of the scene complete with English and French titles in the spring of 1798; advertised in Philadelphia and New York papers, it enjoyed considerable success and probably garnered sizeable profits.

The mid-eighteenth-century vogue for Dutch genre painting, combined with progressive theories on French child rearing, had a noticeable impact on portraiture in Paris; artists like Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Nicolas Bernard Lépicié rendered aristocrats in ways that promoted the illusion of tender and conscientious parenting rivaling that of the bons bourgeoises. Louis-Léopold Boilly, a largely self-taught portrait and genre painter on the northern border with the Austrian Netherlands probed the profitability of the Paris market before establishing a studio there around 1785 and eventually won a medal for one of several scenes of middle class social exchange or urban incident at the Salon of 1803. It is unclear when the profit-driven painter became acquainted with the family of M. Gaudry, a paymaster in the imperial administration, but he was on terms friendly enough to paint the father in a dressing gown and slippers seated at a table piled with atlases, maps, and globe and instructing his daughter—likewise casually garbed—in geography. Susan Siegfried, who has written extensively about Boilly’s work, interprets this picture primarily as symptomatic of a new social construction of the post-Revolutionary period in which “fathers assumed new roles as nurturers or guides.” Indeed, the central motif of the father holding a compass and turning his head to query the distance between two points and the daughter leaning on his shoulder and reasoning through a response is subtly framed by intricate paneling that incorporates a large arced bookcase, as if to propound the nobility of learning. The Gaudrys seem to be following Napoleon’s conquests, an activity which has elements of the patriotic and ritualistic. One of the maps has shifted to reveal a cartouche partly framed by a sphinx and pyramid, referring to the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801, and the globe displays territories stretching from the Middle East to the West Indies, pointing up the administration’s attempts to engage Ottoman and American envoys under the Empire. Plotting Napoleon’s battlefield victories, dynastic alliances, and colonial treaties became a patriotic duty that fired a nationalistic ambition to expand the empire as far as that of Britain—and without Louis XVI’s sensitivity to strategic balance and immoral annexations. Displayed at the Salons of 1812 and 1814, preceding and following news of Napoleon’s disastrous Russian expedition, this geography lesson would have prompted viewers to redirect their thoughts from subjugated territories and profitable trading to “exotic” locales and “primitive” societies.

Unidentified workers—the elusive “face” and “body” of the early modern metropolis—were sometimes pressed into state service to copy portraits, to crate and load them into carts, to unpack and hang them in apartments, to clean and safeguard them from damage—important labor that can be gleaned from government correspondence, treasury records, and city plans.

Congress’ strategic solicitation of state portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in 1779 and the French consul general’s guarded presentation of them in 1784 generated considerable hyperbolic rhetoric on the benefits of the alliance, a fanfare that has obscured the labor involved in making copies at Versailles and carting them to Paris and Le Havre, for dispatch by frigate to Santo Domingo, and from thence to Philadelphia, New York City, and back again before finding a definitive place in Washington D.C. The production of the portraits can be traced to the Cabinet des Tableaux (or king’s picture atelier), consisting of a portion of the royal art collection in storage and a small group of largely unnamed copyists housed in the Surintendance des Bâtiments (Superintendence of Royal Projects) in the southeastern quadrant of the palace complex at Versailles. Its guardian was Étienne Jeaurat and his duty was to ensure that pictures within the collection were rotated, repaired or loaned and that copies of royal portraits in the studio were completed on time, transported to Paris for framing and packing, and turned over to the proper recipient. The artists most commonly mentioned in the records were Jean-Martial Frédou, François-Gaspard and Louis-Amadée Van Loo, although women were also employed in the persons of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Mme d’Auvergne. The head joiner-carver was Buteux, who oversaw an extensive woodworking shop on the rue de Selpulchre in Paris. Following the establishment of acceptable portrait models of the king and queen in the late 1770s, the studio and shop were deluged with orders for copies and worker exhaustion was endemic. Jeaurat complained to the directeur des Bâtiments, the comte d’Angiviller, that he was too frail (at eighty-five!) to replace all the paintings (including portraits) in the state apartments without the aid of his colleague Taraval, who had been unexpectedly reassigned to another project. Frédou was afflicted with an ailment that slowed output, and one of the Van Loos renounced copy work altogether, necessitating lengthy searches for replacements. Buteux expressed frustration that a new ordinance restricting the creation of faux surfaces—stone, wood, and vegetation—to a select group of peintres d’impression (decorative painters) was hampering his workers’ ability to complete frames and caused some to flee for fear of imprisonment. The canvas paired with a frame, Buteux ordered packing cases to be built—one for the canvas, another for the frame (or its component parts)—to prevent damage incurred by land or sea. Notwithstanding the care taken by laborers in loading carts and ships, abrasions and punctures to canvases, chipping and breakage to frames, were common. To minimize effort, accident, and cost, d’Angiviller often required nobles, religious or corporate entities, to collect their presents at Versailles or to provide means for their delivery, although he could not expect this of foreign recipients of diplomatic gifts.

Once the royal portraits reached Philadelphia, they were for all practical purposes the responsibility of the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, who had the thankless job of preparing the assembly room, recording proceedings, overseeing correspondence, and certifying documents—that is, up to the adoption of the Constitution when other government bureaus absorbed these functions. Congress, having vacated the State House of Pennsylvania on the pretext of harassment by unpaid local troops in June 1783, entrusted the portraits to the French legation at Carpenter’s Mansion, so the French would have covered the cost of transporting and assembling the portraits. Finally, in January 1785 Congress received word from New York that the City Hall would be placed at their disposal, at which point plans were made to transfer all of Congress’ effects to the new location. The new Secretary of Foreign Affairs, John Jay, had hoped that Thomson would be able carry the crated portraits along with his own possessions on the move north in mid-spring; but the consul general, François Barbé de Marbois, insisted on closing the legation earlier, which compelled Jay to prevail upon resident financier Robert Morris to store them temporarily. Unfortunately, when Morris’ crew arrived at the legation, they attempted to carry the portraits away without dismantling the frames or depositing the components in a protective carton and even blurted out that the portraits would be displayed in a parlor or stored in a loft, so Barbé de Marbois turned them away and made his own arrangements to transport them to Lower Manhattan, probably via a direct coastal route. On 13 May, Congress directed Thomson to have the eastern assembly room prepared for the (current sixth) session, which necessitated moving and arranging the furniture and hanging the royal portraits. Because Thomson’s experience would have been confined to tables, chairs, books, and documents, Barbé de Marbois probably presided over the reassembling of the magnificent objects, which included large canvases and intricate frames held together by a few dozen gilded screws apiece and mounted to the wall via a special mechanism. Apart from the foreignness and ostentation of the forms, a major drawback to sending such gifts to new nations was that their local technicians and heavy lifters could not be expected to know what to do with them. In the end, it is important to acknowledge that a portrait encapsulates in its condition the labor that went into its construction, relocation, and preservation.

This concludes a brief survey of the ways in which French production and consumption of single-figure and group portraits impacted American portrait production and consumption, and vice-versa, between the years 1776 and 1814.


Barbé Marbois, François. Letter to John Jay, 17 April 1785, in Francis Preston Blair, ed., The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Blair & Rives, 1837), 1:139.

Billarderie d’Angiviller, Charles-Claude. Letter to the duchesse de La Vauguyon, 28 February 1777 (no. 70), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1914, Archives Nationales de France.

Billarderie d’Angiviller, Charles-Claude. Letters to Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 22 May 1776 (no. 125) and 10 December 1776 (no. 369), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1914, 18 November 1785 (no. 456), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1918, 31 August 1788 (no. 179), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1920, vol. 1, Archives Nationales de France.

Billarderie d’Angiviller, Charles-Claude. Letter to Joseph-Marie Vien, 3 June 1791 (no. 29), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1920, vol. 3, Archives Nationales de France.

Boime, Albert. Art in an Age of Revolution 1750-1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 437-440.

Bordes, Philippe. Représenter la Révolution: Les Dix-Août de François Gérard et de Jacques Bertaux (Vizille: Musée de la Révolution française, 2010), 84, 88.

Bréjon de Lavergnée, Arnauld. “Meeting of the Assembly of Notables Presided over by Louis XVI and Held in the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs at Versailles,” in William Howard Adams, ed., The Eye of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1976), 148 (no. 235).

Buteux. Letter to Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, Memoire présenté à M. Pierre par le Sr. Butteux sculteur des Bâtimens du roy, pour être mis sous les yeux de Monsieur le comte d’Angiviller, 22 October 1785 (no. 396), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1918, Archives Nationales de France.

Congressional Resolution, 13 May 1785, in Worthington Chauncey Ford, Roscoe R. Hill, and John Clement Fitzpatrick, eds.., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1910), 18:359.

Cooper, Helen A. John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), 76 (no. 25).

Crow, Thomas. Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 195, 197.

Fugier, André. Histoire des relations internationals: La Révolution française et l’Empire napoléonien (Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1954), 362, 364, 365.

Iiams, Thomas M. Peacemaking from Vergennes to Napoleon: French Foreign Relations in the Revolutionary Era, 1774-1814 (Huntington, NY: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1979), 43-44, 131-136.

Jaffe, Irma B. John Trumbull: Patriot-Artist of the American Revolution (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975), 96, 104, 109-110.

Jeaurat, Étienne. Letter to Charles-Claude Billarderie d’Angiviller and d’Angiviller to Jeaurat, 14 May 1784 (nos. 176-177), Maison du Roi, Series O 1 1917, Archives Nationales de France.

Larkin, T. Lawrence. “A ‘Gift’ Strategically Solicited and Magnanimously Conferred: The American Congress, The French Monarchy, and the State Portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette,” Winterthur Portfolio, 44, 1 (Spring 2010): 71-72.

Miles, Ellen G. “The Washington Family,” in Miles, Patricia Burda, Cynthia J. Mills, and Leslie Kaye Reinhardt, American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1995), 151-152.

Moulin, Monique. “François Gerard, peintre du 10 Aout 1792,” Gazette des beaux-arts, 101 (May-June 1983): 199.

Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art, 2nd ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008), 98.

Salmon, Xavier. Peintre des rois, roi des peintres: François Gérard (1770-1837) portraitiste (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais, 2014), 37.

Siegfried, Susan L. The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly: Modern Life in Napoleonic France (New Haven: Yale University Press, Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum, Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1995), 115.

Trumbull, John. Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters of John Trumbull from 1756 to 1841 (New York: Wiley and Putnam, New Haven: B. L. Hamlen, 1841), 95, 96, 109, 147, 150, 163-164.

Wick, Wendy C. George Washington: An American Icon: The Eighteenth-Century Graphic Portraits (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and National Portrait Gallery, 1982), 122-123 (no. 55).

December 30, 2016
by tlarkin
Comments Off on Political Portraiture in the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776-1814. Part I

Political Portraiture in the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776-1814. Part I

On 25-26 September 2014, twenty-four curators and professors from North America and Western Europe converged on the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., to discuss their current research on the theme of Political Portraiture in the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras ca. 1776-1814. Intended to mark the bicentennial of British destruction of the United States Congress’ portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the event was organized by Dr. Todd Larkin and subsidized by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and Montana State University.

Meta Newhouse, Advertisement for the Political Portraiture Conference, 2014.

Meta Newhouse, Advertisement for the Political Portraiture Conference, 2014.

Their premise was that the United States and France shared a political experience that had a distinct bearing on the way identity was configured in portraits. The transition from a monarchical to a republican form of government necessitated a shift from aristocrats to citizens as the primary patrons, subjects, and viewers of portraits. Artists attempted to work through a series of formal and conceptual problems which often resulted in subjects being rendered in ways that revealed an uneasy integration of old aristocratic forms and new republican values. As a complement to the forthcoming anthology of conference essays published by Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, this column serves as the first of a pair of reflections on portrait exchange between the two nations.

I. Dialect[ic]s of Diplomacy

Heads of state, ministers, and their emissaries in the United States and France challenged artists to represent an individual’s political authority, martial strength, or diplomatic reserve and deployed single-figure full- and half-length paintings, engravings, and miniatures abroad to support a “dialect[ic]s of diplomacy”—or strategic symbolic exchange—intended to strengthen ties between nations. Three forms of production and distribution contributed to a dialogue about shared interests: the gift of official portraits to foreign heads of state, the incorporation of distinguished foreigners into publicly viewed or circulated series, and the assimilation of foreign representational conventions into official portraits.

National governments, their emissaries or adherents sometimes gave portraits of heads of state, ministers and militia to foreign authorities for the sake of commemorating a treaty, celebrating a victory, or validating an alliance, thereby underlining a shared history of sacrifice and affirming a future commitment to coordinate policy.

In the United States, Congress alone could authorize expenditure on official portraits to be sent to foreign governments. The process worked something like this: the president, his minister, or a delegate sounded out the administration as to the cordial sentiments or strategic benefits of making such a gift and then prevailed on a member of Congress to introduce a motion, whereupon the matter would be referred to a committee and, pending chamber approval, would specify an established local artist and exact compensation. Because Congress was reluctant to spend tax revenues on portraits for dispatch to France in times of political and economic uncertainty, French officers and envoys often felt compelled to dig into their own pockets. For example, the marquis de Lafayette acquired a copy of the “Hancock” Washington (1776) showing the general standing nonchalantly, his hand tucked in his half-unbuttoned coat, perhaps in November 1776, some months prior to accepting the rank of major general and being wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, or in November 1777, a few weeks before defeating Hessian forces at Gloucester; returning to France in early 1779, Lafayette lobbied for troop reinforcements at Versailles and permitted artists to copy or otherwise disseminate the portrait in Paris. The ambassador Conrad Alexandre Gérard purchased a copy of George Washington after the Battle of Princeton from Charles Willson Peale in mid-July 1779, a few months before he was to embark on a return voyage to France. Peale had a British prototype in view—possibly Robert Strange’s mezzotint after Allan Ramsay’s George III (1761-62) or one of Gainsborough’s or Reynolds’ gentlemanly portraits—when he painted the commander-in-chief of Continental Forces in a buff-and-blue army uniform confidently leaning upon a canon following a decisive victory against the Hessians at the Battle of Princeton. Upon reaching Versailles, Gérard presented it to Louis XVI who received it as a sign of the allied commitment to loosen George III’s grip on North America. The comte de Rochambeau, a seasoned general invested with the command of French expeditionary forces, joined forces with Washington to achieve a decisive victory over Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown; he purchased a version of the “Princeton” Washington in mid-July 1782 and displayed it in the ancestral château at Thoré-la-Rochette in the central Loire, a reminder of the masterful coordination of regiments that forced the surrender of British troops.

In France, Louis XVI and Napoleon I and their intermediaries, the foreign minister and diplomatic corps, were by far the most liberal and sophisticated dispensers of gifts to American heads of state and ministers plenipotentiary involved in negotiating treaties of alliance and/or commerce. Generally, the minister of foreign affairs prevailed upon the minister/quartermaster of the Maison du roi (or royal/imperial household) or his subordinate the Surintendant des Bâtiments (superintendent of entertainments and gifts) for the production of an acceptable portrait model that could be duplicated in a central atelier to promote French power. The royal artist’s chief challenge was to conceptualize national sovereignty in terms of “absolute powers” and “dynastic succession.” Two portrait types were established. Louis XVI’s superintendent the comte d’Angiviller prevailed first upon Joseph-Siffred Duplessis and then Antoine-François Callet to develop acceptable bust and full-lengths of the king in court and ceremonial attire, an undertaking that gratified the progressive inclinations of a modern and highly literate audience and acknowledged the traditional message of Bourbon dynasticism. The foreign minister, the comte de Vergennes adopted Duplessis’ genial bust for miniatures and Callet’s dour full-length for canvases, although he did not always consider whether the imagery was appropriate for its recipient. Vergennes presented Silas Deane and Arthur Lee with gold and enamel tabatières (or snuffboxes) studded with diamonds and affixed with Pasquier’s hazy bust rendering to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on 6 February 1778. He dispatched full-length canvases of the king and queen to Congress to commemorate their acceptance of the Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities between the United States and Britain on 3 September 1783. Vergennes and his successor, the comte de Montmorin, offered diamond-incrusted boëtes à portrait (or portrait pendants) painted by Sicardi (a fusion of Callet’s head and an older ermine bib) to Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to mark the end of their terms as ambassador in 1785 and 1789, respectively. Finally, Montmorin approved six framed and twelve loose leaf grand format engravings printed by Charles-Clément Bervic (after Callet) for his new ambassador Jean-Baptiste Ternant to dispense to George Washington, Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and others as a mark of royal favor upon his arrival in Philadelphia in late July 1791.

Private artist-innovators in major cities exhibited or published portrait series featuring revolutionary worthies, whether military commanders, government officials, assembly delegates, or foreign agents. The incorporation of distinguished foreigners promoted the notion of a comprehensive record, just cause, or shared values.

The largest single collection of portraits featuring “great men of the republic” could be seen in post-war Philadelphia. Conscious of its standing as the most populous city in the nation, several attempts were made to found an art society that would bring together local and visiting artists with an aim to sharing information about the latest trends and thus raise the caliber of American output, and compared to which the academies of Paris and London must have seemed like distant goals. From its opening in 1784 to its removal to more spacious quarters a decade later, Peale’s gallery at Third and Lombard Streets displayed an ever-growing register of oval bust portraits set in rectangular frames. Nearly half of the more than eighty-five pictures survive at Independence National Historical Park, and they suggest that the painter intended to commemorate an equal number of American military and civilian leaders, those responsible for leading soldiers to victory at sea or in the field and those distinguished for administering the state or national government, who had collectively forged the new republic. Peale rendered his subjects’ physiognomies naturalistically at life-size (the artist would later disclaim obsessive precision), from near full-face to profile to evoke the nobility of their characters or the significance of their deeds; he likewise clothed them in attire appropriate to their military, legislative or diplomatic duties. Karie Diethorn, who has catalogued the collection, has characterized Peale’s intention as follows: visitors were to view the wondrously varied portraits in reference to a series of catalog biographies, and thereby to learn how to model personal morality, public spiritedness, and self-sacrifice. There was William Smallwood (1781-82) dressed in the standard army uniform of dark blue with buff facings, the shoulders enhanced with gold epaulettes incorporating two stars to mark him as major general following the battle of Camden, John Adams (early 1790s) garbed in plain green coat, waistcoat, and white cravat to distinguish him as Vice President of the U.S., and Arthur Lee (1785) in a fancy braided silken brown coat and embroidered blue waistcoat befitting a life-long diplomat to Europe and the Indian tribes. Peale also included busts of French and German participants in the war, including ambassador Ann-César de La Luzerne, officers Marie-Joseph de LafayetteJean-Baptiste de Rochambeau, and François Jean de Chastellux, engineers Louis Antoine de Cambray Digny and Louis Le Begue de Presle du Portail, troop trainers and inspectors—most of them indistinguishable from their American hosts due to uniforms of dark blue with buff facings, golden epaulettes, and medals. However, La Luzerne, de Rochambeau, and de Chastellux (all ca. 1782) are distinguished as members of the nobility by more courtly embellishments: the envoy’s splayed coat and waistcoat are covered with gold braid, the commander’s coat bears a large embroidered Order de Saint-Louis and closes on a pink sash, and the general’s covering is edged in a costly spiral or wave pattern. For Peale, these fashion refinements were an essential part of the Frenchman’s identity as representatives of the king.

The Paris print market thrived with the outbreak of the Revolution and the unfettering of the press. Portraits of contemporary political actors—members of the royal family, assembly, military, philosophical and literary circles—enjoyed popularity commensurate with their ascendancy and demise. While print distributors could be found in the heart of the city (for example, the arcades of the Palais Royale), several print makers established studios on the outskirts. In the initial phase of the uprising, François Bonneville had set up shop at 4 rue du Théâtre français, some blocks east of Saint Sulpice, and by the Terror he had relocated to 195 rue Saint Jacques, in the shadow of the Pantheon. His specialty was small- to mid-sized oval stipple engravings of court, civilian, and military personalities adapted from well-known paintings or engravings and inscribed with a name, rank or occupation, and selective biographical data. Although historians have faulted the dark, heavy-handed manner, they also acknowledge the prolific output—four volumes of 50 portraits each of key figures of the Revolution, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Rohan and Lamballe, Marat and Corday, Bonaparte and Desaix between 1796 and 1802—which suggests a desire to stay current, attract a broad audience, and maintain profits. The most famous group, Portraits des personnages célèbres de la Révolution (1796-97), includes images of Washington adapted from an engraving by B.-L. Prevost (after a drawing by du Simitier) of the general posed in stoic profile in wig and uniform and Franklin from an engraving by F. Janinet or Chevillet (after a painting by Duplessis) of the diplomat with natural locks and fir-edged coat candidly reciprocating the viewer’s gaze. Appended texts make clear that while the one is honored as the former commander in chief and current President (of the United States, not Congress), the other is memorialized as a plainspoken friend (to France). Thomas Paine is represented in two prints (ca. 1791, 1793) of varying quality, the first a lifeless doll (after a much better painting by Peale), described as the author of Common Sense and responses to Edmund Burke, and the second a perceptive politician (after a painting by George Romney), with head turned three quarters to the right emerging from deep chiaroscuro, perhaps to suggest an evil portent in the wake of his recent dismissal from the National Convention. These men of virtue, action, and intellect constituted the new political order.

Finally, the most successful artists assimilated foreign portrait conventions in order to achieve an illusion of stately splendor or lifelike naturalism for diplomats desirous of currying favor with a foreign ally or for legislators bent on securing a place in the nation’s history.

Gilbert Stuart’s education was in many ways typical of artists who left America in search of training and patronage, having entered Benjamin West’s London studio in 1775 and having distinguished himself in full-figure portraiture at Royal Academy exhibitions of the 1780s. Returning to the United States in 1793, he settled in a small town in reach of Philadelphia and entertained George Washington to two sittings before achieving an indelible likeness—the so-called Athenaeum portrait (1796), an unfinished droopy-eyed, heavy-jowled presidential half-length meant to serve as the companion to an image of Martha Washington. Retaining it as a reference, Stuart would go on to elaborate it in full- and half-length portraits wherein the bulky frame was clad in black velvet that emphasized the sobriety of the office and accompanied by a ceremonial sword that signified an independence forged in blood. William Bingham commissioned one portrait for the Marquis of Lansdowne (1796) showing the president on his feet addressing an assembly and William Kerin Constable ordered another for Alexander Hamilton (1797) showing the president seated perusing a document. Dorinda Evans has emphasized the artist’s attention to French grand format engravings for the magnificent settings of both images: Pierre-Imbert Drevet’s Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet after Rigaud (1723) for the parapet supporting paired columns and drapery, carved table and chair in the Lansdowne portrait, and the same engraver’s Samuel Bernard (1729) for the nautical vignette in the Hamilton portrait. Rather than adopting Ramsay’s mode of depicting the sovereign in graceful contrapposto amid a table laden with regalia and a curtain looped to a column, Stuart embraced Rigaud’s approach to rendering the prelate and financier with a grave expression, loaded gestures, and workaday implements because it embellished the plain president and asserted his authority with the European monarchies. The reworking nearly made its way to France: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney ordered a copy of Stuart’s “Lansdowne” George Washington prior to embarking for Paris to preside over the American legation in September 1796; he specified that it should be sent to him as soon as it was ready, for he intended to present it to the French republic to ameliorate maritime tensions in light of America’s trade pact with the British monarchy; but the picture never reached its destination, possibly because Stuart, hearing that the Directory refused to receive the envoy, retained both portrait and fee.

Jean-Antoine Houdon was the product of the competitive training offered by the French state, having registered as a student of Michel-Ange Slodtz at the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in 1758 and having won a series of competitions (with religious subjects) that allowed him to advance to the École des élèves protégés and the Académie de France à Rome as a student pensioner in the 1760s. Returning to Paris in 1768, he was accepted as an agréé (a candidate for membership) in the academy and distinguished himself with a series of startlingly naturalistic bust portraits of theatrical and literary luminaries—Gluck, Molière, Voltaire, Rousseau—in the late 1770s. Houdon’s newfound celebrity, coupled with French participation in the American war, led to commissions to depict Louis XVI and Franklin. On 22 June 1784, the Virginia legislature voted to commission a marble statue of Washington, and at the end of the year Jefferson wrote Washington that Houdon was the best sculptor to be entrusted with accomplishing it, though Houdon would only undertake it in the expectation that Congress would also commission an equestrian image of Washington. All parties having agreed on the choice of Houdon, Governor Harrison of Virginia asked Peale to furnish the sculptor with a life-size portrait of Washington that could serve as a point of reference; completed in late October, Peale’s image arrived in Paris the following April. But Houdon refused to render an important personage in full scale without direct observation, and therefore departed with Franklin on the trans-Atlantic packet on 28 July 1785. Washington entertained Houdon at Mount Vernon for more than two weeks in October, submitting to a plaster mask, clay studies, and measurements. At work in Paris by the end of the year, the academician completed a marble bust à l’antique in time for the Salon of 1787 and the statue in military attire by the Salon of 1793. Installed in the rotunda of the capitol at Richmond in mid-May 1796, Houdon’s sculpture possessed a realistic head with deeply cut, visionary eyes resting on a confident, solid neck and an expansive body. The gentle sway, the coat with epaulettes, waistcoat, and breeches, and the splayed feet with left boot advancing slightly had all be adapted from Peale’s model. In conformity with the guidelines, the president has cast aside sword and canon for the more pedestrian implements of walking stick and plow, the only sign of his authority being the thirteen-rod fasces that serves as a resting post. It was as a man of peace and prosperity that he was to be remembered. Yet there is no record of a dedication ceremony, local sentiment having changed due to Washington’s support of John Jay’s commercial treaty with Britain, which Jefferson opposed out of loyalty to France.


Arnason, H.H. “George Washington,” in William Howard Adams, ed., The Eye of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1976), 108 (no. 172).

Barbier, Monique. “Abbreviated Chronology of Houdon’s Life and Career,” in Anne L. Poulet, Guilhem Scherf, Ulrike D. Mathies, Christoph Frank, Claude Vandalle, Dean Walker, and Monique Barbier, Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 348-349.

Barratt, Carrie Rebora and Ellen G. Miles. Gilbert Stuart (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 147-153 (no. 39), 180-181 (no. 47), 274.

Belleudy Jules. J.-S. Duplessis, peintre du roi, 1725-1802 (Chartres: Imprimerie Durans, 1913), 57-74.

Bruel, François-Louis. Un siècle d’histoire de France par l’estampe 1770-1871: Collection de Vinck: Inventaire analytique, tome 1: ancien régime (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1909), 541-542 (nos. 1159-1160).

Chabaud, Jean-Paul. Joseph-Siffred Duplessis 1725-1802 (Mazan: Etudes Comtadines, 2003), 50-59.

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004), 335.

Diethorn, Karie. “’Good and faithful paintings’: Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum Portraits,” in Doris Devine Fanelli and Karie Diethorn, eds., History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001), 67-68.

Evans, Dorinda. The Genius of Gilbert Stuart (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 63, 67-70, 82-83.

Jean-Richard, Pierrette. Inventaire des miniatures sur ivoire conservées au cabinet des dessins Musée du Louvre et Musée d’Orsay (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1994), 316 (nos. 578, 579).

Jefferson, Thomas to Virginia delegation to Congress, n.d. (ca. 1784), in Ronald E. Heaton, The Image of Washington: The History of the Houdon Statue (Norristown, PA: Ronald E. Heaton, 1971), 8-9.

La Luzerne, Anne-Cesar de. Letter to Joseph-Matthias Gérard de Rayneval, 27 July 1783, Correspondance Politique, États-Unis, 25, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, La Courneuve.

Larkin, T. Lawrence. “A ‘Gift’ Strategically Solicited and Magnanimously Conferred: The American Congress, The French Monarchy, and the State Portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette,” Winterthur Portfolio, 44, 1 (Spring 2010): 63.

Lespinasse, Pierre. La Miniature en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Éditions G. Van Oest, 1929), 158-159.

Miles, Ellen. “Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington,” in George Washington: A National Treasure (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 95.

Milley, John C. “Portraiture: Commemorative and Symbolic,” in Doris Devine Fanelli and Karie Diethorn, eds., History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001), 7, 9.

Montmorin, Armand Marc de. Memorandum of 22 January 1791, Folder “1789-1793: Revolution,” Carton “Présents et pierreries 1783-1830,” 750SUP/220, Archives du ministère des affaires étrangères, La Courneuve.

Morgan, John Hill and Mantle Fielding. The Life Portraits of Washington and their Replicas (Philadelphia: Printed for the Subscribers, 1931), 94.

Portalis, Roger and Henri Béraldi. Les Graveurs du dix-huitième siècle (Paris: Damascène Morgand and Charles Fatout, 1880), 1:220-221.

Poulet, Anne L. “George Washington (1732-1799),” in Poulet, Guilhem Scherf, Ulrike D. Mathies, Christoph Frank, Claude Vandalle, Dean Walker, and Monique Barbier, Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 263 (no. 47), 265.

Reaves, Wendy Wick. “The Prints,” Magazine Antiques, 135, 2 (February 1989), 502-502.

Régistre journal des présens faits au nom du roi dans le Départment des affaires étrangères depuis 1753 jusqu’à 1791, 25 March 1778, 7 June 1785, 10 April 1791, MD 2095, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, La Courneuve.

Sandoz, Marc. Antoine-François Callet (1741-1823) (Paris: Editart-Les Quatre Chemins, 1985), 96-101.

Sellers, Charles Coleman. Charles Willson Peale (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969), 175-176, 201, 221, 223 (no. 898).

Sellers, Charles Coleman. Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1952), 228 (no. 905), 232 (no. 919).

Washington, George. Letter to Jean-Baptiste Ternant, 22 December 1791, in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939), 31:44

Whitley, William T. Gilbert Stuart (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932), 114-115.

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December 31, 2014
by tlarkin
Comments Off on Strauss Plays the Café-Concert? The Problem with Classical Album Covers

Strauss Plays the Café-Concert? The Problem with Classical Album Covers

For many people who came of age in the twentieth century, initially a broad disk of black vinyl and then a compact disc of silvery plastic came to signify “music” in analytical and pleasurable senses. Visiting a music store or megastore-with-books-and-records was a regular ritual involving the perusal and sampling of albums, the exchange (and sometimes the defense) of alternative tastes with customers and sales clerks, the assembling and ordering of a personal collection by soloist, ensemble, and musical genre. I cannot help thinking that the tactility of these round recording units, protected by striking paper, cardboard or plastic containers, added something to their identity and mystique as music, to be judged in terms of authenticity of interpretation, depth of expression, and currency of rhythm. Call it a simple case of the “Twentieth-Century Blues,” but I lament the demise of this ritual.

I was cleaning out my hallway closet last weekend when I came upon a curious collection of sixteen compact discs masquerading as a single vinyl album and dated to 1997. Tinted a dull, metallic gold with white writing against black bands, the fourteen-inch square cardboard container was printed in checkerboard fashion with sixteen miniature album covers and inscribed, “Forever Classics: The Very Best Picture Discs,” offering “Over 19 Hours Paying Time On 16 CDs.” When opened, the folder revealed four vertical rows of four quarter-pockets, each nestling discs, the surface of which featured the composer’s last name hovering over a detail of an “old master” painting, the disc colored to match the printed thumbnail portrait of the composer beside it. Presumably this design was intended to initiate middle class consumers into the world of classical music, to be passed around the household in admiration of a bargain or venerated as a diptych of the most renowned seventeenth- to nineteenth-centuries composers.

Indeed, the Prism Leisure Corporation of the north London borough of Enfield had expended so much effort to make the musical selections seem abundant and chromatically appealing that an organizing principle for the recordings was difficult to detect. But on scrutiny of the playlist on the back of the folder, it became apparent that the outer rows of discs were devoted to concertos and symphonies from Vivaldi to Dvorak and the middle rows to violin and piano concertos from Mendelssohn to Grieg. As an art historian, my interest is in the apparent randomness with which the designer had paired these recent performances with old master paintings. Does a Nicolas Lancret harvesting idyll really sum up the intensity of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” a Jacob van Ruisdael cloudscape with windmill increase the drama of Brahms’ “Violin Concerto”?

Strauss Waltzes

“Strauss Favourite Waltzes,” compact disc manufactured by Prism Leisure Corp., Enfield, 1997.

The anomaly I wish to focus on here is that between the blue-tinted “STRAUSS: Favourite Waltzes” label and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s violet-blue Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) detail of young middle class men and women slowly dancing and calmly conversing out-of-doors. The text and music (“Blue Danube Waltz,” “Viennese Bonbons,” and “Vienna Blood”) work upon the image to suggest a Viennese biergarten rather than a Parisian café-restaurant. Why did the commercial designer select the Renoir instead of a Wilhelm Gause or another exponent of genre painting at the Düsseldorf or Vienna art academies? The property of the Musée d’Orsay, Le Moulin de la Galette is not only one of the most well known Impressionist paintings but also one of the most affordable to reproduce—hence its appearance in countless art history textbooks.

Renoir's La Moulin de la Galette

Auguste Renoir, La Moulin de la Galette, 1776, oil on canvas, 51 x 69 in., Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

A canvas measuring roughly four by five and three-quarter feet presents the illusion of a meeting at a café with a large courtyard for dancing on a Sunday afternoon in summer. Even with the seeming arbitrary cropping of people, seating, and verdure, the picture is fairly well organized to either side of a diagonal extending from upper right to lower left. A figural pyramid in the center foreground serves as a pivot point between the two fields: a woman attired in deep blue leans over her younger sister garbed in a pink and gray stripe as she converses with an unidentifiable man in dark brown. The green bench acts as a line of separation between the unwed female and her chaperone and the male conversant in the foreground and between the dance floor at left and the seating at right. The painter has orchestrated a careful balance of warm and cool tints—pinks and yellows, blues and violets—to reproduce the effect of sunlight piercing the spindly trees overhead and casting mottled lights on skin and hair, straw and silk hats, muslin and wool garments, pavement and chairs throughout. Like Claude Monet, Renoir had learned a valuable lesson about knitting together objects of different forms and textures via a careful repetition of lights and shadows. Yet somehow the painting reveals itself as an accumulation of vignettes: of dancers who move formally, of those who embrace or kiss, and those still who can only watch dejectedly from the sideline. Parisian leisure during this period, Renoir would have it, consists of the rather wholesome habit of friends and acquaintances gathering at one of several music halls to exchange news and caresses.

Among the most interesting scholarship on Impressionism is that which seeks to explain the canvases in terms of their social significance. Mayer Shapiro, Robert Herbert, and others have pointed out that artists tended to incorporate signs of transformative industry into otherwise peaceable landscapes, of concentrated labor into boisterous bars and cabarets. Renoir devotes the top fourth of his scene to yellow-green treetops mingling with white lampstands and chandeliers and in this way admits the necessity of gas lamps for night illumination. But amid the whirling and mingling of patrons in the bottom three-fourths there is no sign of the garçons and verseuses who staffed such establishments. Did Renoir mean to imply that the people who frequented this establishment in the as yet undeveloped, windmill-dotted area around Montmartre themselves constituted a kind of working class, or that his artist and writer friends and paid working-class models could be assembled at this less fashionable locale for the purpose of communicating the joys of Parisian dance halls in general? I suspect the latter.

This stagey painting, the result of a structured composition and self-conscious poses, has none of the profundity of, say, Edouard Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881-82), where the melancholy barmaid Suzon challenges us to contemplate the realities of her existence. T. J. Clark in particular has written cogently about Manet’s determination to acknowledge the transformation of the Parisian café in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The earliest cafés tended to assume the character of the proletarian, prostitute, or petit bourgeois workers of their neighborhood, and especially in times of political crisis the frequenters shared radical ideas and listened to ribald songs. But during the aristocratic phase of the Third Empire, these watering holes and popular chanteuses were cleaned up, “sanitized” to promote the illusion that bourgeois respectability and upward mobility available to all French. Manet represented his tightly corseted but expressionless verseuse standing behind a marble bar set with an assortment of alcoholic beverages and a mirror with a disjointed reflection behind to suggest the reality of her existence as one regularly propositioned by men unable to distinguish her hourglass figure from the bottled wares for sale. He thus produced a profound commentary on the nature of the bourgeois who reduces human relations to commodity bartering.

Renoir refused to acknowledge these deeper, more insidious social realities. He entered an undistinguished suburban dance hall at the moment other seedy cafés were being converted into fashionable establishments and transformed it into a place of universal merry-making, untroubled by questions of political conflict, economic disparity, and gender inequality. In this way, Renoir helped to transform the rough-and-tumble culture of modern Paris to accord with the new national myth of innocence and respectability. In a strange way, Strauss’ confident, gay melodies seem appropriate to Renoir’s musicians and dancers, for in this modern city, everybody is intoxicated with the prospect of being something other than they are.