Re-inventing the Eighteenth Century

La Peinture d’histoire en France de 1747 à 1785

by Jean Locquin
Arthena (Paris, facsimile reprint of 1912 edition), 358 pp., 400 F

1700 tal: Tanke och form i rokokon

an exhibition at the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm October 5, 1979-January 6, 1980

L’Arte del Settecento Emiliano: La Pittura

an exhibition at Palazzo di Re Enzo, Bologna, September-November, 1979

L’Arte del Settecento Emiliano: L’Arte a Parma dai Farnese ai Borbone

an exhibition at Palazzo della Pilotta, Parma, 1979

Chardin, 1699-1779

by Pierre Rosenberg. catalogue of the exhibition at Le Grand Palais, Paris, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1979
distributed by Indiana University Press, 428, 307 illus pp., $32.50 (paper)

Chardin and the Still-Life Tradition in France

by Gabriel P. Weisberg, with William S. Talbot. catalogue of the exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1979
distributed by Indiana University Press, 128, 102 illus pp., $7.95 (paper)

Civiltà del ‘700 a Napoli, 1734-1799

an exhibition at the Palazzo di Capodimonte, Naples, December 1979-October, 1980

The Architecture of the French Enlightenment

by Allan Braham
University of California Press, 288, 424 illus pp., $60.00 thereafter

Alessandro Magnasco

by Fausta Franchini Guelfi
Cassa di Risparmio (Genoa), 420, 278 illus pp., 75,000 lire

Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art

by Fred Licht
Universe Books, 288, 135 illus pp., $16.50

John Flaxman

edited by David Bindman. catalogue of the exhibition at the Hamburg Kunsthalle and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Winter 1979
Thames and Hudson, 188, 430 illus pp., $24.95

The Fuseli Circle at Rome: Early Romantic Art of the 1770s

by Nancy L. Pressly. catalogue of the exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art 1979
145, 146 illus pp., $11.50 (paper)

L’Art européen à la cour d’Espagne au XVIIIe siècle

exhibition at La Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, Le Grand Palais, Paris, and Prado, Madrid, May 1979-April 1980

To most lovers of art, and writers of textbooks, the main achievements of eighteenth-century painting can be summed up in a few names and a few countries—for example, Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, Fragonard, and Greuze in France; Tiepolo, Longhi, Canaletto, and Guardi in Venice; Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Reynolds in England. Works of all of these have been admired and much sought after for over a hundred years, and the fame of all of them has been sustained to a significant extent by their having painted easel pictures for private collectors. This has meant that until fairly recently the market was always assured of a regular supply. Even Tiepolo, whose contemporary reputation depended on his frescoes and altarpieces, produced very numerous oil sketches and drawings. In the 1920s one further figure achieved special status in fashionable circles—the name of Magnasco was given to a society in London designed to promote a renewed appreciation of baroque art which thus became associated in England with the bizarre, picturesque, and often cruel fantasies of a painter who worked principally in Genoa and Milan.

For a long time now art historians, and also a new generation of collectors and dealers, have been showing more and more dissatisfaction with this view of eighteenth-century painting. Major claims have been made for artists who never went to Paris, Venice, or London, and, above all, it has been argued that great masterpieces were painted in styles that bore little or no relationship to the international rococo which seemed to dominate much of the century. In part this reappraisal has been stimulated by a growing appreciation of neoclassicism and, hence, by the inevitable search for the “sources” of this once-derided style, and in part it has been fueled by ideological considerations.

An exceedingly crude—but not wholly misleading—summary of recent developments might suggest that the French have been seeking among their eighteenth-century painters for a tradition that is more generally associated with Italy, while the Italians have, on the contrary, been looking for one that we think of as French, or even English. By this I mean that many French art historians have wished to reject an interpretation of what was, after all, “their” century, which seemed to confine French painting to small pictures (however beautifully painted) of the kind that fired the acquisitive lusts of the Goncourts. They have wished to resurrect those masters whose place was so assured in the eighteenth century itself—Restout, Carle van Loo, Doyen—masters who were capable of scaling the commanding heights of history painting and attracting the attention of sovereigns from Madrid to Saint Petersburg, just as were Italian painters such as Solimena and Pompeo Batoni. The recent republication by the non-profit-making French firm Arthena of a new (fully illustrated) edition of Jean Locquin’s superb monograph on French eighteenth-century history painting is symptomatic of this trend.

Conversely the Italians have been searching for an art, supposedly of the Enlightenment, fit to stand alongside the achievements of Chardin, Hogarth, and …

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