Making and Marketing Art History in 18th-Century France
Curated by W. McAllister Johnson
19 January – 14 April 2015
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In 18th-century France, prints were an instrument of culture in the home, artists’ studios, dealers’ showrooms and the prestigious Salon du Louvre exhibition. The printed image, exactly repeatable, most often had its origin in an original painting or drawing. Occasionally an artist, engraver or etcher might create a print that lacked an artistic source—instead seeking inspiration in immediate reportage of an event, often interpreted with a satirical bent. The repeatability and portability of prints contributed to the wide dissemination of artistic styles, academic iconography, and commentary on contemporary events. Prints eventually became a commodity, and then an industry, providing a comprehensive and accessible mirror of evolving French society.
Prints both shaped and reflected art history as the discipline formed after 1750. Artists and engravers collaborated in establishing the reputations of artists and of individual paintings, past and present, disseminating and reinforcing what became the key “monuments” of French painting. The prints themselves, through recognition of the distinctive skills of individual engravers, shaped a new canon of printed images that were critically acclaimed and sought after by collectors then and now. New prints were often “announced,” either in publications like the Mercure de France, or in a dedicated prospectus, where publishers solicited subscriptions to underwrite the costs of engraving and printing. Here is evidence of the market—the publishers, distribution networks, and of course, the price.