America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting
Yuriko Jackall et al.
In 1815, Joseph, elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, arrived in America. Fleeing anti-Bonapartist sentiment in Europe, he brought with him his vast and exquisite collection of eighteenth-century French paintings. They caused a sensation when they were placed on public view at his estate at Bordentown, New Jersey. Most Americans had never seen anything matching the artistry and quality of Bonaparte’s canvases. A new American taste for eighteenth-century French painting was born. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wealthy collectors furnished their mansions with alluring decorations by the rococo artists Boucher and Fragonard. In more recent times, the lure of eighteenth-century French painting continues to grow, particularly in appreciation for neoclassical representations of Greek heroes by Jacques-Louis David and his disciples — works that convey stern lessons about democracy, ethics, and moral choices.
America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting brings together some seventy French paintings that represent some of the best and most unusual examples of this type of art that American museums have to offer — and tells their stories on a national stage. Who were the collectors, curators, museum directors, and dealers responsible for bringing eighteenth-century French painting to America? Where are the paintings now? The exhibition highlights smaller museum collections, less well-known paintings, and locations as diverse as Pittsburgh, Oberlin, Louisville, Jacksonville, and Portland. It considers America’s very real fascination with France in the eighteenth century — a staunch ally in the Revolutionary wars, a cultural and intellectual model for Franklin, Jefferson, and other Americans abroad — but also the way in which the cultural ideal of eighteenth-century France has continued to endure in the American imagination.
384 pages | 275 illustrations | 9.5 x 12.25 inches
Coming May 2017