April 1, 2020
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Goncourt Brothers and the Taste for the Eighteenth Century

– Good evening. My name is Louisa Wood Ruby, and I’m head of research at the
Frick Art Reference Library. Thank you for joining us this evening for this exciting program. Tonight the Frick Center for
the History of Collecting is pleased to present a two-part lecture on the Goncourt brothers and
the taste for the 18th century, given by distinguished
scholars, Olivier Berggruen and Yuriko Jackall. For time considerations,
please save your questions until the end of the second talk. And don’t forget to
silence your cell phones, you can do that now while I’m speaking. Olivier Berggruen is a scholar and curator who has written on
Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Tanguy, Clay, Bacon,
Twombly, and many others, mostly for international
museum exhibitions. Mr. Berggruen has worked as a specialist at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art and as director of Artemis
Fine Art, both in London. From 2001 to 2007 he was associate curator at the Schoen Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, during which time he curated
international retrospectives, including Francis Bacon in
the tradition of painting, Matisse’s paper cutouts, Yves Klein and Picasso’s theater and ballet works, as well as a show of works
on paper by Ed Ruscha. In 2009, he curated a Jean
Michel Basquiat retrospective at the Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome, and in 2017 he curated a retrospective of Picasso’s neoclassical years at the Scuderie del Quirinale. Currently, he’s working on a book of the history of collecting. Today Mr. Berggruen will
speak on art collecting as a refuge from modern life. Please give him a warm welcome. (audience clapping) – Thank you, Louisa, for
this very kind introduction. And I’d like to thank the Center for the History of Collecting, Samantha, Louisa and the
entire staff at the Frick. Not everyone is necessarily that interested in the Goncourts, but maybe I’ll succeed in,
and Yuriko will succeed in making you change your mind. Jules and Edmond de Goncourt,
art critics, collectors, novelists in 19th century Paris. The brothers Goncourt lived too late to witness the triumph of romanticism. The Golden Age of which they
dreamed was not Ancient Greece, but the Ancient Regime in
France, the time before 1798. The Golden Age of which they dreamed was the period of Louis XVi, Louis XV that period, the 18th century. And perhaps at first inspiration
came from Gerard de Nerval, the romantic poet, his ideal, his poetic ideal laced with melancholy. The atmosphere of lassitude,
the decadent society, nevertheless possessed of an
acute sense of life and spirit. There is Nerval shortly
before he killed himself in the 1850s. The transition from the
spontaneous poetry by Nerval and of other romantics,
like Alfred de Musset, to the poetry of
decadence makes Baudelaire the Goncourts’ predecessor. In the words of Anita
Bruckner, who was my tutor at the Courtald Institute and
here I quote Anita Bruckner, “With the Brothers Goncourt,
we arrive at the final phase “of the Baudelarian attitude
in which the realm of art “in general, and the cult
of images in particular, “signify consolation,
compensation for the ills “of contemporary life, a
sublimation of human appetite.” End of quote. The Brothers Goncourt
sacrificed their day-to-day existence in pursuit
of artistic pleasures. It was as though the
fever of emotions garnered through fleeting aesthetic glimpses, was sufficiently rewarding,
revealing a distant beauty, one that was far removed
from nature and from life. They declared that all
great writers were destined to sacrifice their lives at the expense of common day-to-day pleasures. Theirs was an almost neurotic existence, a subtle bitter sensitivity, causing their nervous system
much pain and irritation. Such was the price of
posterity and immortality. It was not by sheer chance
that they subscribed to Baudelaire’s conception
of life in opposition of art, sorry, in opposition to life, the world of images making
up for the illusions of modern life. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the worldly, elegant, frivolous lifestyle of the aristocracy, had vanished. Born into the 19th century, the Goncourts’ almost sickly
obsession with the past, their nostalgia for the Ancien
Regime sometimes gave way to morbid fascination with modern society, as though they took unconcealed pleasure in its most revolting
and unflattering aspects, and could not draw
themselves away from it. The historical studies of the
18th century were followed by contemporary novels about
the lower classes of society. Modernity aroused their curiosity, and also their disgust. The 19th century sanctified
the triumph of the individual, which was celebrated
by capitalist morality. This triumph was also
that of the ego in art. In the face of disenchantment
and a debased century that had been granted in mediocrity, the Goncourts drew the
resources they needed to live and create from the cult
of their own subjectivity. Art became a refuge for
their wounded sensitivities. They sought to escape the
vulgar tendencies of modernity by indulging in the rare sensations that inanimate artifacts could evoke. From this bloodless,
exhausted world sprang subtle, fleeting moments of joyful sensations. Their passion for art objects originated with their aunt Natalie de
Caumont, a modest collector whom they idolized. Edmond bought his first
drawing, a Boucher watercolor, at the age of 16. Soon after, the brothers
began to scour antique shops and dealers over what they
refer to as stuffy objects. They also took up painting and drawing. In the 1840s, Edmond paid regular visits to the auction houses. The brothers financial
independence was secure after the death of their
mother in September 1848. After traveling to Italy and North Africa, the brothers dabbled in writing. They started collecting in earnest in 1856 after acquiring roughly 100
drawings at an enormous auction in Paris, and they also started
buying Japanese artifacts. When they started, Old Master drawings and Japanese objects were not
much sought by collectors, but Edmond, who took the
collecting mania much further than his younger brother,
sacrificed to it most of the gains from his literary successes. The collecting frenzy
was not simply a form of diversion from modern
life, it met a profound need, the demands of a sensitivity that fed on constant
contact with works of art. Such a reverential attitude
to obsolete forms of life was later decried by Friedrich Nietzsche. And here I’d like to quote
from a little-known essay by Nietzche called On The
Utility And Liability Of History. Quote, “The scholarly habit revolves “with self-satisfied
egotism around its own axis. “Then we view the repugnant spectacle “of a blind mania to
collect, of a restless “gathering together of
everything that once existed. “The human being envelopes himself “in the smell of mustiness. End of quote. Edmond’s world in particular was filled with lifeless objects, and
from this bloodless, esoteric world sprang a life of
subtle feeling sensations. Unfortunately, the rarefied
nature of aesthetic pursuits also seeped into the brothers’ daily life. They shut themselves off
for several days at a time, talking and writing. Living together only
aggravated their suffering for they confided in one
another, each and every day, reinforcing their narrow introspection. In their famous Journal,
they became the subject of their own analytical experiments, in which pain was caused by
anxiety and hypersensitivity. They made themselves ill by self-analysis. Their heavy, cruel, painful
perception of things was compounded by the disastrous lifestyle of two young writers shut up in their house endlessly smoking cigars and drinking indigestible wines. Their lives revealed to the first signs of the oncoming fin de
siecle spirit, decadence, and nervous irritation,
excessive delicacy. They were high-strung, morbidly sensitive, always anxious and dissatisfied, as seen as the repeat lamentations throughout the Journal. In daily life, the
slightest bit of adversity was enough to make them irritable. Bouts of depression were followed by rare moments of euphoria. The most significant
symptom of their nervousness and depression was a bleak
fear of external noises, which had tortured them from a young age. Lucky they never got to live
in New York in today’s age. Their constant quest for tranquility, for an environment favorable
to the pursuit of the arts and literature was by no means resolved by the purchase of a house
in the sleepy village of Auteuil just north of Paris. The brothers Goncourt made
their name in a series of novels in which they
described with clinical accuracy, the vices and suffering of
the lower classes of society. These novels were bestsellers. Just to give you an
example, Germinie Lacerteux was then adapted into a play. And here we see Rejane, who
is the most celebrated actress of her time, together with Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Germinie Lacerteux. The heroes of these novels, helplessly watch their
own decline, a fate that befell Jules in real life
when he suffered a collapse and eventual death from syphilis, while Edmond had the misfortune of witnessing his brother’s demise. The brothers searched
for decadence both moral and physical misery among ordinary people while thinking that their
own lives were reserved for nobler occupations and inclinations. Edmond went on to create the
myth of a younger brother who had died for the good
causes of art and literature, which is not entirely
false yet misleading. After the death of Jules
in the early 1870s, Edmond turned increasingly
to the emotional pleasures of art by writing about the past, and by indulging in his
passion for collecting. Before evoking their collection, I just want to say a brief
word about their writing style. They were, indeed, great stylists. Through their writing, they
tried to restore the richness of a vision that had disintegrated due to the ephemeral nature of sensations. They name their method
le creative artiste. Their writing followed the
eye, became so to say analogous to it, bearing in mind a succession of states of consciousness
without arranging them in line with rational criteria. The description of surfaces takes the form of an accumulation of
disparate notions, the writer striving to correct a
constantly-changing impression. Their feverish sentences,
where everything seemed to be accumulated, nothing
was ever completed, was like a distillation of their lives. The Journal provides a fascinating insight into their ideas about collecting art. These ideas are particularly
interesting, I find, because they run counter
to many common assumptions of the time. To the Goncourts, eclectic taste was a cardinal sin for collectors. A collector who advocated
diversity was not open-minded, but lacked individual sensibility
and personal judgment. In other words, real taste
was defined by exclusion. Collections by individuals
were radically different from those found in museums. What mattered to the Goncourts
was personal intuition. One didn’t need to have artistic opinions like one has political opinions. To them, opinion was the enemy of taste. Taste had to express a
highly developed form of subjectivity, removing
itself from the diktat of existing opinions or criteria. According to the
Goncourts, good collections belonged to the private realm, reflecting the author’s
taste and discernment. As soon as it conformed
to institutional models, the private collection failed. Needless to say, the only great collection of their time was theirs. A crucial aspect of a
collection’s character was linked to the history of objects. Edmond admitted that a taste for antiques had already existed in his family, eluding in the Journal to the bull armoire that he had inherited from his mother. Objects gained prestige
because of the provenance and their exhibition history, A work of art unleashed
a wealth of memories from a distant past. What mattered was an object’s
intense evocative power. An object could also provoke
feelings of longing and desire. Perhaps Edmond’s fondness for
recalling precious objects was akin to the Amherst discourse that was prevalent
during the Ancien Regime, particularly in the literature
of the Ancien regime, tales of which there are
echoes in the 19th century, in Theopile Gauthier’s Fortunio
or in a little-known novel by Baudelaire called
La Fanfarlo from 1847, a fictional account of
Beaudelaire’s affair with Jeanne Duval. I can even mention a
poem La Chant d’automne. Baudelaire saw this dream
palace full of wonderful objects as a substitute for women. In their own collection, the Goncourts pursued 18th century art, French art, which was no longer fashionable
in the 19th century, in the mid 19th century. Efforts to revive it culminated with a publication over
15 years of the 12 parts making up L’art du XVIII siècle. It included artists such
as Watteau, Boucher, Constant Latour,
Fragonard, Chardin, Greuze, and even Prudhomme, as well
as lesser known artists such as Gravelot, Eisen, Cochin, and the brothers Saint-Aubin. Here’s a portrait by
one of the Saint-Aubins, work that was reproduced
in one of the fascicules from L’art du XVIII siècle. This work is now in a private collection. For the Goncourts, the Ancien Regime projected the nostalgic image of society, of elegance, of good
taste, of refined manners. Furthermore, the 18th century
was marked by a cult of beauty far removed from utilitarian
and moral preoccupations. The Goncourts found their idea
in the 18th century woman, her sensual elegance,
appearance, her tasteful wit, a carefree lightness of character mingled with veiled melancholy irony. This woman so inclined towards appearances could be found in the delicate drawings by Watteau, Boucher, and
Augustin de Saint-Aubin. The Goncourt brothers
disliked the modern woman. She was unlike her elder sister. The modern woman, which was
devoted to domestic tasks, deprived her of her aristocratic pleasures of a frivolous existence
enjoyed by upper class women in the Ancien Regime. Drawings, which form the
basis of their collection, had the advantage of
being fairly affordable compared to paintings or sculptures. As I mentioned, Edmond
bought his first drawing of Boucher in 1848. Then there was a pause and
then between 1857 and 1870, the brothers acquired
a further 716 sheets, emphasizing works by
artists making up the series L’art du XVIII siècle. Constant La Tour, Malajourn,
Oudry, the Saint-Aubin, Claudian, Chardin, of
all the artists Watteau, not without justification was considered the greatest artist. After an auction of their
collection in March of 1870, 411 drawings were left. Between 1877 and 1888 Edmond slowed down, acquiring no more than 20 or 30 sheets. By then, he had become
passionate about Japanese art. Nonetheless, the sale
of his estate in 1897, a year after he died, still
comprise nearly 600 sheets. More so than his novels, it was really the house at
Auteuil that was Edmond’s most perfect creation, and it survives in his meticulous
description of its contents in La Maison D’Un Artiste. The book came relatively
late in Edmond’s life, long after his younger
brother’s painful death in 1870. After the Franco-Prussian,
after the Paris Commune, both of which forced him to seek refuge in the Paris apartment of
his friend Philippe Bertie. And after his novel La
Fille Elisa had been hailed as a masterpiece of naturalist prose, the catalog of modern
horrors ranging from poverty to disease and prostitution. Edmond’s two volume account
of his collecting mania was so crucial to him that
Emile Zola could write in his review of the book
that, and here I quote Zola, “The house saved the
writer,” end of quote. Edmond declared, “this collection “is my wealth and my pride.” Reading La Maison D’Un
Artiste, the reader is easily seized by a sense of
oppression and dizziness in the face of such elaborate,
meticulous descriptions. The house itself was oppressive. Tapestries and brocades
covered all the walls. Edmond paid attention to the
decor in which no surface, including the ceilings was left untouched. The entrance displayed Sevres vases and various terracottas by Claudian. Each harmonious interior
conspired to showcase Edmond’s great pride, his
extensive collection of drawings, conceived in the spirit and in honor of the great 18th century
connoisseur, Mariette. Edmond also decided that
drawings were best seen against a red background. It follows that his
collection was displayed against the red cotton
fabric over boiseries painted and polished in black. The book La Maison D’Un Artiste
is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on drawings and the second part on works
of art from the Far East. What makes the book original
and at times charming is that each chapter is
devoted to a separate room. Edmond does not shy away
from giving his opinion on the various artists he
spent so much time collecting. In the end, his taste and
connoisseurship became a standard reference for our appreciation of 18th century French drawings. Each room was arranged
to give the impression of containing a series of boxes. In the dining room, the walls,
the adornments, the textiles were arranged so as to
envelope a precious collection of drawings. Each room boasted a series
of decorative panels strategically placed in
order to enhance the effects of the precious works of art. This helped protect them and enhance them through elaborate visual effects. Drawings were set in period
frames, given blue mounts, shown against the red
velvety background mounted over black boiseries. Edmond took great delight
in creating unified, harmonious shimmering surfaces, combining in a grand
scheme bronze porcelain, lacquer and embroidery. The delicate Japanese albums
on the first floor landing were inserted within a
triple-layered structure of heavily appointed wall coverings, assorted potteries and
boxes with lacquered panels. Over the years, Edmond
felt increasingly attracted to Japanese art. In 1864, he wrote of Japanese artists, and here I quote Edmond. “Everything they do is
taken from observation. “They represent what they see, “The incredible effects of the sky, “the stripes on a mushroom, the
transparency of a jellyfish. “Their art copies nature
as does Gothic art. “Basically, there is no paradox in saying “that the Japanese album
and a painting by Watteau “are drawn from an
intimate study of nature. “Nothing like this in the Greeks. “Their art except for sculpture
is false and invented.” End of quote. In the 1860s, the brothers had acquired a handful of
Japanese woodblock prints. In the aftermath of the
Universal Exhibition of 1868, they were quick to take
credit for Japanese artifacts becoming fashionable. By then, they had bought a
large Japanese bronze vase for 2000 francs. It appeared in Jean Francois
Raffaelli’s portrait of Edmond from 1888, in
which a Louis XV armchair, a Watteau drawing, and
a statue by Falconet were also featured. I apologize for the poor
quality of the slide. Objects they had collected
included netsukes, porcelain, Chinese and Japanese bronzes, Satsuma earthenware, which
was soft and ivory colored with polychrome and gold
decorations on its crackle glaze, and various other small objects made from precious
materials, some lacquered. In the 1870s, Edmond pursued textiles painted or embroidered. Kakemonos, fukusas. Fukusas are the textiles used usually during the tea ceremony. Delicate sculptures,
netsukes, Satsuma ceramics, all of which were bought
from the specialists such as Auguste de Seychelles,
Ziegfried Bing, de la Hard, and Hayashi. Cabinet de Le Extreme Orient is the name given to the second half of La Maison D’Un Artiste. Towards the end of his life, Edmond turned to writing
about Japanese artists with his monographs on Utamaro,
1891, and Hokusai, 1896. Drawn from the poetical
realism of Japanese art, he wrote studies that
broke new ground in France, though by no means the
first writings devoted to Japanese art, which
had gained in popularity. There is a book now at Princeton, formerly in the collection
of Edmond de Goncourt, and the next slide, there’s
a first edition of Outamaro. Although La Maison D’Un Artiste
is not a catalog, per se, what makes it fascinating is
that it is an autobiography articulated through the prism of objects. It is unique in terms of its breadth, erudition and evocative power. Its modern day equivalent
would be Mario Praz’s Museum of life. Time seems to seems to have stopped, if only within the confines
of Praz’s superb sepulcher. Praz was an Italian 20th
century scholar based in Rome. The outside world is kept at bay in this world of refined scholarship. Art and books serve as a barricade against the external world. To summarize, mustiness
antiquarian taste of Edmond, the way in which artifacts
are mattered, framed, encased in various layers,
preserved and mummified like relics so precious,
that all traces of life have vanished. A kind of worship of the past seen through an aseptic lens,
with a fear of touching, of getting close to life. We might ask where did
modern life fit in the lives of two writers who had rejected modernity while spending so much time
describing it in their novels. Impressionism was too
crude and raw for them. On the whole, Edmond liked
traditional painters, who rejected Impressionism and kept to flexible lines and drawn brushstrokes. He described Manet
paintings as opaque, matte, and plaster like. Only Manet’s skills as a
water colorist were praised. He rejected Degas and the Impressionists along the same lines. Curiously enough, Degas
and Edmond de Goncourt frequented the same social circles. Edmond found the stylized
lines of Forain and Elou far more attractive. These artists had devised
a light flexible style, whose shortened lines and
freshness of composition suggested an immediacy
of movement reminiscent of the previous century. He also Like the Neapolitan
painter Giuseppe De Nittis, who painted a melancholy portrait of him. De Nittis evoked a worldly society, paintings that were languid, melancholy, yet with a slightly veiled gaiety. Edmond also admired Rodin’s drawings and Eugene Carriere’s evanescent figures that rose from shadows floating in space. But to Edmond, the only
real painter of modern life was Paul Gavarni, whom
he preferred to Daumier. In his lithographs and drawings, Gavarni gave a visual expression
to the social changes brought on by a modern world. In 1875, the Goncourts devoted to Gavarni their only monograph dedicated to a living artist. At the end of his life,
Edmond expressed the desire that all his treasured
possessions be dispersed at auction and thus passed on to others who will enjoy them as much as he did. The collection, which is a
fragment of Edmond’s imagination only survives because
he was a gifted writer. Today the brothers’ novels
are largely forgotten overshadowed by Maupassant and Zola. The Journal contains such uncharitable and mean-spirited description
of their contemporaries that can only be seen as testimony to a pair of petty, introverted minds. The name Goncourt is
remembered today chiefly because of the literary prize that Edmond established in memory of his brother. Although it is the supreme literary award, winners only receive a
nominal amount of money and a festive meal at Rouen, which I’m told is about to
lose its low Michelin star. (laughing) The aestheticism they advocated
did not take root in France, as it did in England where the tradition of Ruskin and Walter Payton
centered around the study of the Renaissance and its legacy. And this tradition then
continued into the 20th century, with Adrian Stokes and other
connoisseurs and collectors, such as Dennis Mount and Brinsley Ford. The Goncourts influence in
America will be the subject of Yuriko Jackall’s presentation
in a few minutes time. Despite their maddening
ways, the Goncourts legacy in the history of taste is assured. But it is easy to caricature
their over-refined and elitist ways, aggravated
by the shunning of modernity. There are echoes of the
Goncourts asceticism in the life of Count Robert de
Montesquiou, whom Edmond knew, feared and derided like
many of his contemporaries in the literary world. I know that Yuriko will speak a little bit about Montesquiou, so I will be very, very brief and only say that Montesquiou came
from an old French family that counted D’Artagnan
among its ancestors. Montesquiou had great aspirations for his rather common and mannered poetry. But he encouraged Whistler’s
career and like the Goncourts followed the fashion
for all things Japanese even dressing himself as the Mikado for photo sessions. His various houses in Neuilly, Versailles and La Vezinay were
decorated with utmost care, with family portraits,
Empire furniture, kakemonos, and prints by Whistler. Not only were the interiors
theatrical, but so was his life, his manners and of course,
his appearance as Boldini’s famous portrait testifies, The Gentleman in the Gray Frock Coat, but I know that Yuriko will
speak a great deal more about Montesquiou. The effete poet/aristocrat
befriended the young Proust, who in turn incorporated
much of his manner in À la recherche du temps perdu under the guise of Baron de Charlus. Montesquiou was also
identified, not without spite, as the fictional character
Jean des Esseintes by Huysmans in his
famous novel, A rebours. Huysmans’s estate is indeed a caricature by telling one of the decadedent spirit in which the gap between life and art could no longer be bridged, but the Goncourts and Montesquiou
could redeem themselves through their wit and occasional talent. I will close by showing a
still from a splendid film by Luchino Visconti
known in here in America as Conversation Piece, inspired by Mario Praz, I just mentioned, and also the long line
of gentlemen scholars, of which Edmond de Goncourt
was arguably the first. An elderly scholar,
played by Burt Lancaster, sits in a vast, magnificent study, enveloped by precious antiques. A tenebrous labyrinth
of Renaissance bronzes, English paintings and rare books. Such heavy material splendor
is redolent of a bygone era, that of connoisseurs in the
mold of Bernard Berenson or Robert de Longueil, the
scholars whose rarefied knowledge was imparted to a select
group of cognoscenti. Unsurprisingly, the professor, an American born Roman
scholar and collector, lives alone, divorced, his defense against the outside world,
his faithful housekeeper. He has succumbed to a steady contemplation and to the pursuit of high culture, keeping the outside world at bay. Is the professor really
satisfied with a life that is devoid of family,
of personal connections, confined to the suffocating
veneration of idols? Visconti’s film becomes a meditation on the difficulties of
separating art and life. Life does indeed have a way of taking over and the two cannot be
dissociated as Edmond de Goncourt knew despite his
assurances to the contrary. Thank you very much. (audience applauding) – Thank you for that wonderful
introduction, Olivier. It’s now my pleasure to
introduce Yuriko Jackall who is curator of French paintings at the Wallace Collection in London, where she is currently working
on an exhibition project focused around the
museum’s eight paintings by Jean Honore Fragonard. She holds a PhD from
the University of Lyon and master’s degrees from the
Courtauld Institute of Art in London and the Ecole
de Louvre in Paris. Her research focuses on
materials and techniques in the 18th century,
histories of collecting, and the art of Jean Baptiste Greuze. Her book manuscript on
Greuze’s expressive heads based on her doctoral dissertation
was awarded the 2016 Institut Nationale de
L’Histoire de Art prize and is soon to be published. Prior to joining the Wallace, Dr. Jackall was assistant curator of French painting in the National Gallery
here in Washington. There she curated the acclaimed exhibition Fragonard, Fantasy Figures. She also curated an
exhibition on Hebert Robert at the Musee de Louvre
in Washington in 2016-17. And in summer of 2017, she was curator of America Collects: 18th
Century French Painting, a close look at taste
of French art in the US. This evening, she will be speaking to us, as Olivier mentioned, about
research stemming from this project on French
art in the United States. Please welcome Dr. Jackall. (audience applauding) – Thank you. Thank you so much for that
kind introduction, Louisa. Thank you and Samantha
for organizing this event and inviting me to be here. I also want to thank
Olivier for suggesting that we do this together and
giving me the opportunity to revisit some of the research
that I did in the course of preparing my America
Collect’s exhibition. And I also want to thank Sally Brazil, who I think is here tonight,
who was incredibly generous in helping me and piloting me through the richness of the Frick archives as I was working on that show. So I want to start incongruously enough with a picture taken in the Paris Metro, in the station to which
the Goncourt brothers gave their name. This station, Goncourt, is located in the 10th arrondissement. It sits on Line 11 of the Paris Metro, which runs between Chatelet
and the Parc de Lilas. The station is near the Rue de Goncourt, also named after the brothers. The street was renamed in 1899, three years after Edmond’s death. The metro station opened
long after, in 1935. I think the brothers
would have hated the idea that their metro station,
indicated by a red star, sits in the heart of one of
Paris’s busiest neighborhoods. The 10th arrondissement
is on the opposite side of the city from all they held dear. The leafy boulevards of
the 16th arrondissement, the refined salons of the
Seventh arrondissement. In a way, that’s the
trouble with influence, one cannot control it. And one can never really
tell how it will make itself felt generations down the line. Do commuters rushing to
work on Monday morning at 8AM ever think of the
brothers who gave the name Goncourt not only to a metro station, but also to one of the world’s
most elite literary prizes? I can’t speak for Parisian commuters, but this evening, I want to
make a case for the influence of the Goncourt brothers
in an arena closer to home, America, and more specifically, New York. Like the nature of influence itself, much here is elusive and circumstantial. What you’re about to hear is something like an art historical
version of a snapshot taken out of a train window
of a subway platform. “It has been sold, the
furniture of Versailles, “the magnificent furniture
of embroidered blue silk, “ornamented with flowers
and peacock feathers, “and with black ribbons fringed with silk. “It has been sold.” The lament belongs to
the Goncourt brothers and it embodies much of
the regret and nostalgia that pervades their writing. As the children of a
bourgeois army officer and an aristocratic mother,
whose own father had been guillotined during the Terror,
they saw French history as beginning with the
death of Louis XIV in 1715, and ending in 1793 with the
execution of Marie Antoinette. Faced with the commercialization
and industrialization of the Second Empire, they
longed for a more serene and sumptuous place, made
up of gilding and porcelain, finely-woven tapestries, and paintings in sparkling shades of lemon yellow, delicate greens and vibrant pinks. This was a France that
had existed under the sign of the Rococo, the style
of decoration and painting that privileged asymmetry and sinuosity. This France had been sold
off following the Revolution, and was now no more. The passionate words shown on this slide were first committed to paper in 1855. But the quote, translated
into English exactly as I’m giving it here, reappeared in an article also
written in English in 1878. And this article, which
credits the Goncourt with the revival of interest in the subtle and delicate qualities
of the 18th century, appeared in an American
Journal, the Atlantic Monthly. Seven years later, another piece published in the New York magazine, Art Amateur, celebrated the Goncourts
taste and scholarly expertise. These examples suggest
a measure of recognition in the American press,
which begs the question, how did what was still
a fairly new country premised on ideas of
democracy and egalitarianism, interpret and digest
these nostalgic elegies for a past shaped by courtly culture? Again, we come to the issue of how to talk concretely about influence. By way of response, I want
to focus on three modes of engagement with French art
enacted by New York collectors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Part I, collecting the celebrity souvenir, Another incongruous start. A caricature made by the
French academic artist Jehan Georges Vibert. This little sketch shows
an unexpected scene. A man has scaled a wall,
apparently with the aid of a ladder, whose upper rungs are just barely visible to the viewer. His identity seems clear enough. Even without the inscription
in the upper right, and the date 1896, which corresponds to the year in which Edmond died, one recognizes the traits
described by his friend, the devoutly right wing
journalist, Leon Daudet. I quote, “Goncourt was an
aristocrat from the tips “of his delicate fingers and the points “of his white mustache to
his dark, flaming glance.” End quote. What is less clear is what
Edmond is doing shown thus. His eyebrows lifted with concentration, his eyes bulging, fixed
on some object below. The wall against which this
restless searching Edmund leans gives us a clue. It bears the label Guilloutet,
a name that viewers would associate with Joseph
Louis, Marquis de Guilloutet. He was a politician who in April 1868 had passed a privacy law in
the Assemblee Nationale. Henceforth, journalists were
barred from making allegations on matters relative to
private life by a legal wall, one that was thereafter known
as the Mural Guilloutet. Thus, the drawing touches
upon a darker side of Edmond de Goncourt,
lover of the French Rococo, but also devout anti-semite,
and inveterate gossip hound, who faithfully, one might say obsessively, committed every salacious
detail in Parisian literary and artistic life to his journal. Part of this huge project,
a total of 22 volumes, was written in collaboration
with Jules from 1850 to 1870. After Jules’s death, the rest
was continued by Edmond alone, up until a few weeks
prior to his own demise. Edmond had intended to
keep this text unpublished until 20 years after his death, and he initially kept
secret it’s very existence, but pride got the better of him. Beginning in 1886,
extracts then whole volumes began to see the light
with explosive results. Edmond’s gossipy style,
attention to detail, and nearly perfect memory ensured that few of his friends escaped unscathed while out and out right
rivals such as Emile Zola were roundly excoriated. A choice extract from October 1857. “Charles Baudelaire, the French poet, “had supper at the table next to ours. “He was without a cravat,
his shirt open at the neck “and his head shaved just as
if he were to be guillotined. “A single affectation. “His little hands washed
and cared for, the nails “kept scrupulously clean,
the face of a maniac, “a voice that cuts like a
knife, and a precise elocution “that tries to copy
St. Just and succeeds.” The avid curiosity over the goings on of celebrity Parisians that
pervades The Journal also carries over into the
art historical writings. But here the starring
celebrities were a trio of impossibly elegant
and fashionable ladies, all queens or very nearly so. There was Marie Antoinette,
whose poignant yearning for normalcy in the midst of
the constraints of court life resulted in a fantasy dairy
equipped with milk pails manufactured in Sevres porcelain. There was the vivacious
Madame du Barry who rose from humble origins to
catch Louis XV’s roving eye. And there was the refined
Marquise de Pompadour, whose discernment ensured her place as godmother and queen of the Rococo. Edmond’s fascination for
the minutiae of their lives is as obvious in his books as it is in his personal correspondence. On one occasion, he
advised Gustave Flaubert on the best place to procure authentic 18th century clothing. On another, he wrote
excitedly of his discovery in the Encyclopedie of Louis
XIV’s allergies to hair powder. This obsession with
celebrity informed Edmond’s collecting as it is presented
in La Maison D’Un Artiste, the two-volume guide to his
little hotel particulier in what is now Paris’s
16th arrondissement. Published in 1871, the book
is structured as a series of unrelated physical
descriptions of works of art, 600 drawings, books, original documents relating to the 18th century. The book brings Edmond’s
interest in discrete objects into sharp relief. His numerous purchases
have been ferreted out in antiquaries shops and at
the stalls of the bouquinistes lining the Seine. Drawings by the likes of
Watteau were unpopular and could be had for next to nothing. Snatched from dealers’ dust heaps, these objects were acquired with passion. In fact, Edmond described
collecting as a substitute for romantic love. More than aesthetic perfection, what he looked for was the
aura of emotional intensity endowed by a brush with
previous celebrity owners. In part this was pragmatic,
an important provenance typically certifies a high
level of craftsmanship. But these collected objects
were also precious souvenirs of a time that had been inexorably swept away by the Revolution. He proudly writes that his grand salon, shown in a photograph of 1883,
contained a paired commode and secretaire bearing the
mark of Marie Antoinette. The bedroom, also shown here
was, ornamented with vases and celadon porcelain that had once belonged to the Marquise de Pompadour. Surrounded on all sides by souvenir, Edmond wrote that he could
imagine himself awakening in that lost era that had been, quote, “the object of the studies
and loves of my life.” Once Americans fully embraced
the hunt for royal souvenirs, they dominated the market thanks to their superior
financial resources. In 1882, at the sale of the
Hamilton Palace collection, the London Times declared that the, quote, “pieces of Mary Antoinette have a claim “on the purses of millionaires.” The works in question were
an exquisitely crafted black and gold Japanese lacquer commode, and its companion secretaire
by Jean Henri Riesener with gilt bronze mounts
attributed to Pierre Goutier. They were snapped up by Samson Wertheimer over the head of underbidder,
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. Not surprisingly, the dealer acted on behalf of a bonafide millionaire, Alva, the Alabama-born wife
of the railroad magnate William Kissam Vanderbilt. Intelligent and energetic,
Alva had married into the newly-wealthy
Vanderbilt clan in 1875. And I’m showing two
photographs of her here, one taken the year of
her wedding and one taken on the occasion of a famous costume ball, to which I’ll return shortly. The third photo shows
the facade of her home at 660 Fifth Avenue. Alva planned and oversaw the construction of the stately mansion, a
French Renaissance-style chateau that would, she was determined, cement the Vanderbilt’s
place in New York society. She was also a discerning collector. This combination of upward
mobility and passion lent itself to the pursuit of souvenirs. And what souvenirs were more
conspicuous markers of taste than those with a royal pedigree? Alva presented her Marie
Antoinette furniture at the center of a showstopping Louis
XV-style white and gold salon, designed and built in Paris
by a Jules Allard et fils and then shipped to New
York and painstakingly reassembled on site by French craftsmen. This made to measure room
and the queenly furniture it contained prompted Alva’s
daughter Consuelo Vanderbilt to recall in 1952, I quote, “In a white drawing room hung a fine set “of Boucher tapestries. “Here were the beautiful lacquer “secretaire and commode with bronzes “chiseled by Goutier made
for Marie Antoinette.” Not long after her acquisition
of the Riesener furniture, Alva purchased another royal souvenir, Boucher’s Toilette de Venus. This was a glamorous depiction
of the goddess seated in a haze of diaphanous
fabrics and gilded furniture. The Goncourt had cataloged the painting in question and provided
a detailed history. Along with its pendant, the Bath of Venus, it once graced Madame de
Pompadour’s appartement des bains, at the Chateau de Bellevue,
probably as a flattering allusion to that royal mistress’s
own beauty and refinement. Alva acquired the painting
after the highly remarked Béraudière sale of 1885,
where its illustrious history was recounted in the introduction. Perhaps with Pompadour’s
original installation in mind, Alva placed the work in her own boudoir. From sale room to 660 Fifth Avenue, the provenances of Marie
Antoinette’s furniture and Pompadour’s painting were
consistently highlighted. This was the practice
rather than the exception. Royal backstories were
a boon to canny dealers aware that names redolent
with Rococo glamor were likely to open the purses of millionaires. And they did not hesitate
to play up such connections. In 1915, Henry Clay Frick carried off what was perhaps the most spectacular
royal souvenir of all, Fragonard’s painted panels
of an evolving love affair in a lush garden setting. Until this acquisition,
Frick had shown little interest in 18th century French painting. But Fragonard’s ensemble,
known collectively as the Progress of
Love, was already famous on both sides of the Atlantic. The four large panels had been designed for Madame du Barry’s pleasure
pavilion at Louveciennes executed at her command, and
ultimately rejected in favor of a more static series by
Josephe Marquis Villain. Fragonard’s rejected paintings
were rediscovered in Grasse in the south of France
in the mid 19th century. Ultimately, they were
purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan for his London home at Princes’s Gate. The paintings were revealed to
an American audience in 1912 when they were at exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
along with other objects from Morgan’s collection. Publicity was intense. Rene Jean Pell described the
works as Madame du Barry’s gorgeous paintings showing the, quote, “most beautiful romance of
love and youth,” end quote. Eugene Pell and Wildenstein
inaugurated an exhibition devoted to Fragonard on January 31, 1914. Shortly thereafter, Frick
purchased the paintings for a high price with Duveen
acting as his intermediary. By May 1916, The Progress
of Love was installed here in this very building. His eyes apparently open to the delights of the 18th century, Frick
went on to acquire via Duveen eight allegorical panels
showing the arts and sciences purchased as by Boucher. These came with the Pompadour pedigree. They had initially been
in her Chateau de Crecy. They were installed in
Mrs. Frick’s boudoir by the decorator Elsie de Wolfe, and they’re shown here in
their original installation in a painting by American
artist Walter Gay. I’m also showing Walter Gay’s painting of the Fragonard room made
for Helen Clay Frick in 1926, to which I’ll return. Part II, Collecting Camp. On March 18, 1914, the same year he purchased the Progress of Love, Frick bought James McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Black and Gold. Completed in 1892, the
painting depicts a sitter who could proudly trace his
ancestry to the early Crusaders, who was a devout royalist
and a symbolist poet. This, of course, is Count
Robert de Montesquiou, the inspiration for
Proust’s Baron de Charlus. Edmond de Goncourt was a friend. Goncourt was fascinated by
Montesquiou’s noble lineage and refined bearing, and for his part, Montesquiou owned all
of the brothers books. He also attended their literary salon, and he subscribed heartily to their passion for the 18th century. Like Edmond de Goncourt,
Montesquiou was a clear believer in the celebrity souvenir. He owned a cane that had
once belonged to Louis XV, an accessory that features prominently in his portrait by Boldini of 1897. On the grounds of his house in Le Vezinay he constructed a garden pavilion modeled after Marie Antoinette’s
temple of love at Versailles. There he installed a pink marble tub that had adorned Madame
de Pompadour’s bathroom. The exact function ascribed by Montesquiou to these celebrity souvenirs brings us to another mode of engaging with art. For Montesquiou, these
carefully chosen accessories referenced his own
exquisitely turned out person. Rather than longing for the
past, like his friend Edmond, he literally clothed
himself in its vestiges and brought the past to life. In fact, he wrote a poem
beginning with the line, “I am the sovereign of transitory things.” And in Boldini’s painting of him, he holds the cane like a scepter, contemplating it
attentively, even lovingly. As an extension of this
fashionable persona, Montesquiou was famous for
throwing elaborate parties, carefully orchestrated
to replicate the ambience of the fete gallant or featuring
historical reenactments known as tableau vivant. In 1894, he hosted a party at Versailles that was described in the
press by Marcel Proust as an enchanted moment where, I quote, “for a few hours we believed we were “living in the days of Louis XIV.” To critical observers,
this illusion of the person and the material context
smacked of preciousness. The poet Jean Lorrain wrote in reference to the Boldini portrait, “Monsieur De Montesquiou takes
communion before his cane, “swooning before it as
Narcissus might swoon “before a mirror.” Montequiou’s extreme mannerisms
were captured visually by the cartoonist Georges
Goursat, known as Sam, who depicted the count
transposed from one context to the next, parties, shopping, but always with the same
characteristic backbend. Looking at these images, it’s easy to give credence
to the description provided by Proust
biographer William Sansom. I quote, “Tall, black
haired, Kaiser mustache. “He cackled and screamed
in weird attitudes, “giggling in high soprano, “hiding his black teeth behind
an exquisitely gloved hand. “The poser absolute.” But to American audiences
hungry for stories of glamorous festivities
held in the French capital, such trickled down anecdotes were catnip. For this audience, the
illusion of fashion, art and social gatherings was an easy sell. They were already more or less familiar with the Empress Eugenie’s
affection for Marie Antoinette. Eugenie’s favorite artists Winterhalter cited 18th century dress in his intimate fete gallant-like portrait of her. With her wardrobe by the
avowed father of Parisian high fashion, Charles Frederick Worth, Eugenie set an international
taste at court and abroad. For those across the
Atlantic, her fondness for lavish trimming
and elegant silhouettes was breathlessly described in publications such as the American fashion periodical, Gawdy’s Magazine and Lady’s Book. Although Vanderbilt’s
sister-in-law, Alice, famously wore a dress made by Worth to the Vanderbilt
costume ball of 1883, and that’s shown in the
center of the slide. Americans were also
aware of the activities of Worth’s great rival, the
couturier Jacques Doucet, whose clinging, delicate
creations were coveted by women from Sarah
Bernhardt to, in fiction, Marcel Proust’s Albertine. And Doucet was an impassioned
collector of French art, a fact that manifestly
improved his reputation in the American press. A news report published in
The Illustrated American in 1891 comments, I quote, “Jacques Doucet, the great dressmaker, “has the most beautiful collection “of objects of the period of Louie XVI.” Partly because of the
respect this fact inspires, the women crowd his salon,
which are charmingly fitted in the manner of his favorite period, and upon whose walls hangs a portrait of Marie Antoinette’s favorite dressmaker. Susan Sontag notes on
camp introduced a term and a sensibility that
might be proposed here as an overarching
framework for understanding Robert de Montesquiou’s effect. Camp is the love of
artifice, exaggeration, excess and frivolity. It is an exuberant and
playful sensibility, an aesthetic that lives on the surface. Unlike the related kitsch, it is self-conscious and delights in being recognized and identified. As a style that thrives upon recognition and acknowledgement, camp is a group ethos more than an individual one. Montesquiou’s persona and the
fancy dress parties he staged, offered an opening onto
an intriguing realm of aristocratic sociability. And indeed, 18th century
fancy dress parties became, from the mid 19th century, a popular form of entertainment among New York’s elite. One of the most impressive of these was the Versailles-themed
ball organized in 1905 by James Hazen Hyde, majority shareholder of the Equitable Life Insurance Society of the United States. Sherry’s Restaurant at 44th
Street and Fifth Avenue was done over to resemble
the gardens of Versailles, with flowers covering the
walls from floor to ceiling. Hyde hired the Byron and
company to photograph his guests in a small studio
setup for the purpose. Some of the resulting portrait stills of people in fancy dress recalled the costume portraits
from the 18th century. Elsie de Wolfe was all in white
satin in a dress reminiscent of that shown in Boucher’s
lively sketch-like portrait of Madame de Pompadour in the Louvre. Elsewhere, other groups of guests cluster and pose in their own tableau vivant. Even when parties were
not explicitly coded as 18th century masquerades, they were understood as such in the press, perhaps a testament to
the imaginative lure of the period. At Alva Vanderbilt’s 1883 masquerade to inaugurate her petite chateau, her home at 660 Fifth Avenue, many guests deviated from a
strictly 18th century model. Alice Vanderbilt was dressed
by Worth as electric light. The enterprising Miss Kate Fearing Strong made an appearance as a cat, wearing an embalmed
feline in her headdress and cat tails sewn onto her skirt. But the press needed no more details than the abundance of diamonds, the impossibly chic hour
of the dinner service, two o’clock in the morning, and the fact that 18 men
including Cornelius Vanderbilt II attended as Louie XVI, to
pronounce the party French and fashionable, a scene never outdone by the gayest court of Europe. Part III, Collecting Provenance. On January 31, 1912, Matilda Gay, socialite diarist and spouse of the Paris-based American
painter, Walter Gay, visited the French town of Grasse. This is how she described
the day in her journal, which is kept here at the
Frick Art Reference Library. I quote, “At Grasse,
nestling in the hills. “We visited the house for which Fragonard “painted the room panels
bought by Mr. Morgan, “now in his London home. “The house itself has a certain air. “It is built on a terrace, has
a coat of arms over the door “and a garden at the side. “We were at first refused an entrance “as the proprietor lives there. “But the maid told us that an exception “was made for artists “so we sailed in on Walter’s prerogative. “In the salon were copies of
the celebrated wall panels “placed where the famous
originals had been. “They looked so familiar. Walter and Matilda Gay were
next to the Fragonard panels, this time the real
ones, in this very place when Walter Gay painted the Fragonard room at the request of Helen
Clay Frick in 1926. Matilda’s experience
of the Fragonard panels as they move between
Grasse, London and New York gives us the sense that
the work of art goes on. It changes context, yes, but
it keeps the fundamental aura of its creator and of its time period. It is this same notion,
connection and continuity, that the Goncourt tried hard to articulate in their scholarship. Like all devotees of the 18th
century, Matilda Gay was vocal about acknowledging the
importance of the brothers and reviving interest in the Rococo. In 1905, she asserted
that the brothers, quote, “Had made the 18th century “and Japanese art the
fashion by their books.” What she does not express directly, but illustrates beautifully in that journal article, in
that journal entry of 1912 is that the Goncourt honor
the historical experience of art almost as much as
the material object itself. It must be said that
the Goncourts’ writings about art history are far from perfect. It has been pointed out for instance, that their catalog raisonne of the works of Antoine Watteau,
which appeared in 1875, does not reflect the most
up to date methodology, even for the time period. They had not made the effort to study all of Watteau’s paintings in person. Instead, they prefer
to foreground their own deeply personal readings of his oeuvre. Nonetheless, their version of art history, while emotional and subjective, is founded on a deep
interest in archival sources. It turns out that all of
those primary documents over which Edmond gloats in
La Maison D’Un Artiste, ferreted out from Parisian bouquinistes or rescued from the
dustheap, came in handy. In this sense, their writing
marks a critical shift from pure object-focused connoisseurship to a new ethos of contextual
study and research. In keeping with this role,
it’s fitting that the Goncourt were literally welcomed
into museums on this side of the Atlantic, for institutions actively
accessioned their likenesses in the early 20th century. In 1903, the Met was
given a bronze portrait of Edmond de Goncourt. The same institution
purchased Bracquemond’s etch portrait of Edmond
de Goncourt in 1922. And the Cleveland Museum of Art acquired William
Rothenstein’s 1897 lithograph of Edmond de Goncourt in 1917. And those who occupied
the American art world took their work seriously. In 1913, Met curator
Bryson Burroughs referred knowledgeably to the Goncourt’s texts. By 1916, the collector Henry Huntington owned a copy of L’Art du XVII siècle. In 1920, an inventory of Henry
Clay Frank’s personal library lists a copy of La Femme au XVIIIe siècle, And by 1923, the Frick
Art Reference Library had acquired a complete set of their books. I hardly need tell you about this resource established by Helen Clay Frick in 1920, six years before she helped create an art history department at
the University of Pittsburgh. But you may be less familiar with the Paris-based
librarian and artist historian Clotilde Briere, the lady
who appears all the way to the right of my slide. Miss Frick hired her to
source artists’ monographs, exhibition and auction
catalogs and photographs from European museums,
booksellers and art dealers. Briere was remarkably well-placed to fulfill these responsibilities. Not only did she serve
from from 1918 onward as the Librarian of the
Bibliothèque d’art et d’archéologie founded by Jack Doucet, but she was an art
historian in her own right. At Miss Frick’s request,
Briere conducted research on specific works of art
belonging to the museum. In 1932, she investigated the date at which Boucher’s arts and sciences panels had left Pompadour’s Chateau de Crecy. That same year, she searched for details concerning the installation of Fragonard’s Progress of Love panels at Louveciennes, and for
archival documentation of Madame du Barry’s commission. Some of the letters Briere received from Miss Frick contain requests for copies of the documents themselves for inclusion in the museum’s
growing object files. The Goncourt-like desire to
reconstruct the complicated lives of the works entrusted
to her care undoubtedly prompted Miss Frick to acquire in 1922 a lively oil sketch by Fragonard. This was a study of the second of the four original
Progress of Love panels. The painting did not then
have much of a provenance. Little was known of its history. But it was clearly related to
the whirling group of girls converging around a
white-clad central figure in the panel in question. It was stored on site at the
Frick Art Reference Library, sometimes in the vault,
sometimes in Ms. Frick’s office. It functioned almost like a document, fleshing out information
on the main panels, like another piece of the
art historical evidence that Briere continued to gather. And the story does not end here. The structures and
resources set into place by Helen Clay Frick and other
Goncourt-minded Francophiles ensure that 18th century
French art in America continues to inspire
investigation and reflection. In the course of research
for my 2017 exhibition, America Collects, I was
able to add the following to the provenance of the little study. It appeared at auction at the Hotel Dreux in Paris in May 1906, at
the sale of none other than fashion designer Jacques Doucet. Walter Gay may have seen it there for he attended this auction. It was next in the
collection of industrialist Camille Groult, one of France’s
most important collectors of 18th century French painting. Moving from the collection
of the fashion designer to the industrialist to the
Frick Art Reference Library, the little study was brought in 1973 to Ms. Frick’s
Pittsburgh residence. Today it hangs at the Frick
Art and Historical Center. It is perhaps the most
Goncourt of the works I’ve mentioned this evening, a sketch like memento of
Fragonard’s glorious ensemble about love and desire, a
souvenir of a royal souvenir. Although several times removed
from its original state and transformed by its journey to America, it still has the power to fascinate. Thank you. (audience applauding) – [Louisa] We have time for questions. Any of you have any from the audience? – [Woman] Hello, hello. – Questions, comments for the speakers? – [Woman] Anyone, questions? – Yeah. – [Woman] Thank you. I’m curious about the contradiction or apparent contradiction in the Goncourt brothers’
interest in the Rococo. Because if you look at, for
example, you mentioned Huysmans, he was interested in Moreau,
and that was consistent with his particular interest
at the time after Zola. So, they were disciples of Zola. They were, you know, naturalistic writers. So I’m curious as to why the Rococo. It seems like a complete contradiction in terms of their novels. That’s something that
just occurred to me which during the lectures, which
I’d like you to elaborate on, please, thank you. (speaker whispering) – [Louisa] Is it on, did you turn it on? – All right, I think it’s working now. Yes, complete contradiction. And again I touched on the
subject simply to say that the art collecting was really a refuge. It was a pursuit, private pursuit, that was meant to shield from
the modern industrial society. So Huysmans had a very, very
different outlook onto art. He was a great art critic,
by the way, Baudelaire, the Goncourts, Zola, Huysmans, Mallarme, all of them were great, great art critics. You might even say that
some of the greatest, if not the greatest,
French 19th century writers with the possible
exception of Victor Hugo, were all great art critics. And some of them were
inspired by modernity, most famously Baudelaire,
but also Mallarme, and others veered into
the realm of decadence, and that’s Goncourt and Huysmans. They had very different
aesthetic sensibilities. But I’m not sure if I’m
answering your question. The idea is that collecting this, the world of imagination,
these flights of fancy, were a way of escaping from
daily realities of society that was being transformed radically. All we have to do is
think of Baron Haussmann, the changing face of Paris in
the 19th century, etc, etc. I think there was a question over here. – [Woman] Yes, I’m really
curious now to read the book of the lower classes so I wanted to make sure that I understand
the name of that book. Was it second hand or did they take drugs? Did they actually get involved in this? – So I hope, I hope the next
question will be for Yuriko, but let me just answer this very quickly. They are the pioneers of naturalism long before that developed
in other parts of the world. They visited the wards,
the hospital wards, they went all over the
place, they took notes. They had a writing style that was perhaps not as straightforward as Zola, but they were certainly
the inspiration for Zola, and many others. There’s a number of novels translated into English, Manette Salomon
is an interesting one. Germinie Lacerteux is
the one that I mentioned. There is La Fille Elisa. All of these novels have been translated and are worth worth reading. Manette Salomon is probably
the most interesting because it is a novel
about how a young artist can get corrupted by society. There is just one thing that I do want to say completely
unrelated to your question, but since Yuriko mentioned the
name Jack Doucet three times, there is something that some
of you, David, for example, I’m sure knows Jack Doucet,
who was a famous couturier, also changed his taste
radically in the 1920s, and he gave up all the old masters, the beautiful salon, 18th century salon that we saw was inspired by Art Deco, had an Art Deco ensemble
before he died in 1929. And he purchased what is arguably the most famous painting of the 20th century, a painting that is now in New York. What painting is that? Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso. So, yeah. So talk of a turnaround, anyway. Taste does have its, it changes, yeah. – [Louisa] Other questions,
questions for Dr. Jackall? – [Man] I wish to thank you for bringing forth the name of Huysmans. Because the greatest honor
has just been paid in France to Huysmans, The Edition de La Pleiade of well over 1000 pages
of all of his words. Also, I would like to mention
a name that was not mentioned, but perhaps could have been. It was my great pleasure to have known personally, Louis Gauthier, who translated the Goncourt
journals, 1851 to 1870. Thank you. – By Huysmans there’s
also a marvelous book called La Cathedrale, that
is also worth reading. We need a question for Yuriko. – One question over there. – [Man] Thank you, could you
elaborate on the connection between Edmond Goncourt’s
affinity for Japanese prints and Japanese art generally,
and the principal theme of this evening’s
discussion of the withdrawal from the world, an impetus that motivated so much of what happened in their life? (laughing) – I think that it has
something to do with, there was an other worldly quality in the kind of Japanese
art that they looked at. It had to do with exoticism. It had to do with long sweeping lines with a way of sometimes
simplifying reality, but always with a with a formal trait. And I think what appealed to Edmond de Goncourt
mostly is, in Japanese art, at least the kind of Japanese
art that he looked at, just what Bing and other gentlemen dealers of the 19th century
brought to France to Paris, it is that sense of the of the
sweeping line, the arabesque. And this line, Goncourt
identified a little bit with the refinement of the 18th century. So for him, there was something in common between the
sophistication of Japanese art, but also of Japanese life, which was full of rituals, a
very elaborate old society, old-fashioned society
and the Ancien Regime, but on a purely formal level, this is expressed by a particular fondness for sweeping lines in
Japanese printmaking, and also in Japanese books, objects like the ones I
mentioned during my talk. I hope this answers your question. – I hadn’t heard before
that the Goncourt brothers were anti-semitic. I’m aware of Degas’s anti-semitism, I know that he saw Jews
as part of a new economy, agents of change, were destroying
the Paris that he loved. And of course, I’m aware of Zola’s role in the Dreyfus affair. I’m just wondering if you could say more about the Goncourt brothers and their anti-semitism
and how you interpret it. – Well, I think it’s something that I felt was important to touch on passingly because it is there, it’s
part of their philosophy. I think it’s very much linked with, you know, they’re sort of part of a quite conservative
part of French society, very strongly royalist, really
holding on to old strictures, very anti-commercialization,
industrialization. And I think that they
associated Jewish groups with kind of an era of change
that they were not happy with. It’s something that is,
it is, it’s complicated to think about, as someone who, you know, in some ways I
quite like their writing. I like how they celebrate
the 18th century. That’s obviously a period
that I spend a great deal of time thinking about. So I think it’s one of the things that is complicating about them. I think it does need to be stated because I wouldn’t want to be, you know, thought of as just
celebrating their achievement. I think it has to be nuanced a little bit, but it’s a complicating fact. – One last question. – [Man] Both of you
showed images of the house that they shared together. One of the first ones had
one of the brother’s feet practically, stocking feet,
practically on the mantelpiece. Does the residence or
the building survive? – I believe the building is still there, but completely transformed. So there’s very little of
its original appearance. And nothing really survives except for. So Edmond as I think I quoted wanted everything to be
dispersed at auction. And there’s works in
various museum collections. Yuriko, you talked about this, that have a Goncourt provenance. There’s been exhibitions, one at the Musee d’Orsay
devoted to the Goncourts, to their taste. But there hasn’t been a book in which, for example, one would try to reconstruct their various collections, especially given the fact that, in those days auction catalogs, did not have very many pictures, actually. Very few pictures. So we have to do guess work in order to know what was actually
in the collection. Some works we know of,
such as the Watteau, which is part of the Raffaelli painting, others it is guesswork. – [Louisa] Okay, now, you can all join us in the garden court. If you have further
questions for the speakers, I’m sure they’d be happy to. (audience applauding)

Jean Kelley