Valuing Sculpture: Contemporary Perspectives on Art, Craft and Industry, 1660-1860
- Online event
- 27–28 July 2021
- Two-day conference with keynote speakers Dr Greg Sullivan and Dr Rebecca Wade. Part of our Fabrication Research Season.
Keynote Speakers: Dr Greg Sullivan (University of York/ St Paul’s Cathedral) and Dr Rebecca Wade (independent).
The indeterminate position of sculpture within the arts is a malleable concept which continues to challenge researchers. Categorisations such as art, craft, or industry contrive barriers, separating works from one another and disavowing the cross-fertilisations between sculptors, makers and artisans involved in the formal practices and aesthetics of art production.
This conference, part of the Henry Moore Institute’s 2021 Fabrication Research Season, will refocus attention on how links have been consistently made between media and making processes to categorise and subsequently value sculpture. The conference is organised by Sammi Scott and Charlotte Davis (University of York), Caitlin Scott (University of Sheffield), and Hannah Kaspar (University of Leeds) in collaboration with the Henry Moore Institute.
This conference was recorded and is available to watch on request, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
Day 1: Tuesday 27 July 2021, 1–6pm
|1pm||Welcome and opening remarks from conference organisers|
|1:15 - 2:45pm||Panel 1: Sculptural Reproduction|
Chair: Dr Maddie Boden (University of York/ Ashmolean Museum)
|‘The True Way of Copying the Antique’: Skeuomorphs in Late-Georgian Architectural Sculpture|
Jake Bransgrove (Independent)
|‘Peculiarly Fit for Statues’: The Contribution of Fired Artificial Stone to Sculpture|
in the Eighteenth Century
Caroline Stanford (Kellogg College, University of Oxford)
|‘Wider than the Realm of England’: The Hosack Family Heritage, British Slavery|
and Casting Mary, Queen of Scots as a Monument for the Nation
Liberty Paterson (Birkbeck, University of London/ National Portrait Gallery)
|2:45 - 3:15pm||Break|
|3:15 - 4:45pm||Panel 2: Collecting Sculpture|
Chair: Izabella Gill-Brown (University of York)
|‘He even wanted Objects of Architecture and Ornament to be part of that Collection’:|
The Fragment and the Sister Arts in the Vatican’s Museo Chiaramonti
Koenraad Vos (King’s College, University of Cambridge)
|Casting Value: The Wider Impact of Plaster Cast Examples in Art Education 1837-1853|
Toni Rutherford (V&A/ Royal College of Art)
|The Value of Classical Sculpture to Industrial Birmingham|
Clare Matthews (University of Birmingham)
|4:45 - 5pm||Break|
|5 - 6pm||Keynote Lecture|
|Plaster—Marble—Metal—Marble: The Many Material Lives of The Young Naturalist|
by Henry Weekes
Dr Rebecca Wade (Independent)
Day 2: Wednesday 28 July 2021, 1-6pm
|1pm||Opening remarks from conference organisers|
|1:15 - 2:45pm||Panel 3: Sculpture and Decoration |
Chair: Kim Newell (University of York)
|The Art of Stucco in Southern Portugal: Main Morphologies and Functions|
Dr Patrícia Monteiro (Universidade de Lisboa)
|The Rape of Europa back in place. What´s new?|
Ana Lúcia Pinto & Dr Sandra Tapadas (Centro de Investigação e de Estudos
em Belas-Artes, Faculdade de Belas-Artes, Universidade de Lisboa)
|Valuing Ornament Jean-Baptiste Plantar (1790-1879) – In between Art, Craft and Industry|
Justine Gain (École Pratique des Hautes Études/ École du Louvre)
|2:45 - 3:15pm||Break|
|3:15 - 4:45pm||Panel 4: Sculptural Hierarchies and Classification|
Chair: Dr Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth (Victoria and Albert Museum)
|Valuing Clodion (1738-1814): Art and Nature in Eighteenth-Century France|
Ashley Hannebrink (Harvard University)
|Replicating Prestige: Antoine Benoist’s Wax Courtiers|
David Mitchell (McGill University)
|Nicolas de Launay, Sculp.: Artistic Hierarchy and the Multidisciplinary Art of Engravers|
in Eighteenth Century France
Tamara Abramovitch (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
|4:45 - 5pm||Break|
|5 - 6pm||Keynote Lecture|
|‘Intrinsick Value’ in Performance and Materials: Assessing Sculptural Value in Long Eighteenth-Century Britain|
Dr Greg Sullivan (University of York/ St Paul’s Cathedral)
|6 - 6:15pm||Closing remarks|
Paper abstracts and speakers' bios
Panel 1: Sculptural Reproduction
The collision of Neoclassical taste with modern methods of production was a striking feature of late-Georgian material culture. Its extensive produce, unencumbered by twenty-first-century preoccupations with authenticity, substantiate what Adrian Forty has referred to as the 'paradox of eighteenth-century taste.' The manufactured replication and novel materials which made this possible consequently informed reproductions of Classical subjects in a wide range of media, tailored to the expectations and agendas of contemporaries. Antique subjects made from artificial substances such as Coade stone or Wedgwood ceramics, for example, consequently embodied what historians of material culture have labelled skeuomorphs: objects or features which imitate the design of a pre-existing artefact in another material.
This paper locates processes of skeuomorphism as they apply to the imbrication of a Classical past and industrial present in the architectural sculpture of the late-Georgian period. By presenting case studies from the firms of Eleanor Coade (1733-1821) and Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) which focus on ceramic sculpture, it suggests the utility of the term as a means of packaging this conceptually-rich and prevalent condition. Rather than an investigation into the reasons why skeuomorphism took place, the paper offers the concept itself as a heuristic tool of analysis, whose primary contribution seeks to unite the link between past image and present material under a single encompassing name.
Jake Bransgrove is an independent scholar researching the links between polite society and material culture in late-Georgian Britain. In addition to a BA (Hons) and MA in History from the University of Auckland, he earned an MA in the History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where he was the 2019/20 New Directions Scholar.
The eighteenth century was an age obsessed with the replication of sculpture, in its interiors, gardens and architecture, reproducing works by classical and contemporary artists alike. Initially reliant on plaster or lead copies, the chief enabling material for this efflorescence of sculptural form in the later century was fired artificial stone: a stoneware that navigated the boundaries of genres and eras with ease; challenged perceptions of artistic value; satisfied the craving to possess, and brought sculpture out from the galleries of the elite connoisseurs to public streets and the parlours of the middle classes.
The dominating figure was Mrs Eleanor Coade who from 1769 gave her name to the material, successfully positioning it as superior to natural stone and achieving an effective monopoly in supply from her Lambeth manufactory. Coade stone wares achieved an artistic value all of their own. However, Coade did not invent this durable stoneware, which first crossed into architecture and statuary in the 1720s. Moreover, its production was a collaborative process underpinned by a host of specialist fabricating skills easily overlooked when contemplating the finished piece: the grinders, modellers, mould makers, cast takers, kilnsmen and finishers.
This paper will set the scene with Coade but also introduce her predecessors and the backstory of the material she cleverly claimed as her own. It will consider the composition of Coade stone; the production process for an artificial stone piece: how a design or commission came about; how the original artwork was first replicated; how a mould was taken and casts were made, and the firing and finishing processes.
The paper will close with a very brief case study of the caryatids from the Three Per Cent Consol Office at Sir John Soane’s Bank of England, to illustrate the enduring value placed on these replicated forms.
Caroline Stanford is a third year part-time DPhil candidate in Architectural History at Kellogg College, University of Oxford working on a thesis entitled 'Fired Artificial Stone 1650-1850'. Her professional life since 2001 has been as in-house Historian for the Landmark Trust, researching their buildings. She is a longstanding guest lecturer for Oxford Brookes University and the University of Buckingham on architectural history and building conservation and has given recent external talks for the Georgian Group and Public Statues & Sculpture Association.
At her Fotheringhay trial, Mary, Queen of Scots reminded her judges that ‘The theatre of the world, is wider than the realm of England.’ When writing a defence of Mary Stuart in 1869, the Scottish-born police magistrate John Hosack (1813-1887) agreed that now ‘regions uninhabited or unknown when she uttered these words’ are just as deeply interested in the story of her life as European audiences. Hosack was well aware of regions far removed from his home in London. His Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry notes that his ‘father owned property in Jamaica’, but his father was an enslaver, and he abused his power on the plantation in multiple ways. In his 1810 will, John’s father acknowledged a mixed-race child named William Hosack, thought to be his son by his enslaved housewoman, Frankey. Both Frankey and William remained enslaved at the time of the will, but further codicils show that William was sent to school in rural Scotland and his future home and livelihood were debated at length.
In 1870 John Hosack presented an electrotype copy of Mary, Queen of Scots’ Westminster tomb effigy to the National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG). The work was part of a wider commission led by the NPG of electrotype reproductions of tomb effigies made by Birmingham manufacturers, Elkington & Co. This paper examines Hosack’s donation as a patriotic gesture affirming his Scottish heritage. This will be contrasted with his family’s connections to Jamaica, the parallel life of William, and the wealth John derived from his father’s sugar profits that relied on African enslavement. The paper also considers the role of Victorian technologies in encouraging artistic replication and their links to the industrial economy intertwined with the British Empire. Ultimately the paper aims to unpick the commemorative capacity of sculpture and its ability to fortify history.
Liberty Paterson is an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student at Birkbeck, University of London and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). Her project examines the NPG’s links to transatlantic slavery, seeking to understand the impact of wealth derived from African enslavement on the NPG’s founders, donors, and the sitters represented in its portraits of all mediums with a focus on its first fifty years (1856-1906). Before starting her PhD, Liberty worked in museums and the art market. She undertook an MA partnership studentship with Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and was the Project Cataloguer for Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience, 1950-90s at the V&A and Black Cultural Archives. More recently, she coordinated auctions and exhibitions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In her current research, she aims to bring together her background in art market provenance investigation with her interest in the politics of national memory and cultural representation.
Panel 2: Collecting Sculpture
In 1805 Pope Pius VII directed the sculptor Antonio Canova to begin organising the Museo Chiaramonti in a wing of the Vatican’s Belvedere Courtyard. The museum for ancient sculpture was founded in a moment of anxiety about the loss of Rome’s artistic heritage, as part of a broader programme seeking to reverse this. Its system of display is marked by the widespread inclusion of fragments. It is also characterised by the inclusion of a wide assortment of sculptural objects, ranging from full figure statues and busts, to architectural and decorative fragments and inscriptions.
At the same time, this sense of loss caused the French art historian and theorist Quatremère de Quincy to write a museum-critical analysis of the importance of the setting of works of art to their experience. Musealisation means the loss of a work’s relation to its so-called destination, a process which leaves us with a fragment of what the work was in its wider setting. His writings also stress the importance of the city of Rome as a totality, recognising the importance of all objects present there in relation to each other and the site and its history.
The scattering of Rome’s artistic heritage thus saw the relation between museums and fragments thematised in two ways. The Museo Chiaramonti purposefully included fragments in unprecedented ways. In Quatremère’s analysis museums cause the fragmentation of objects by alienating them from their context. The Museo Chiaramonti embodied the idea of the sister arts – valuing sculpture in its widest sense – as one of the ways to face this problem of fragmentation.
Koenraad Vos is a PhD candidate in History of Art at the University of Cambridge. He has an interest in the display of sculpture in European museums at the beginning of the nineteenth century, focusing on the Vatican’s Museo Chiaramonti (1805-1808) and the role of fragmentation and assemblage in its display of ancient art. In Autumn 2021 he will be the James Loeb Fellow at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich. Before studying for an MPhil at Cambridge he graduated cum laude from Leiden University with a research MA in Arts & Culture and completed his BA in History of Art at Utrecht University, where he also did a minor in Aesthetics and took part in the University's Humanities College, the honours programme of the Humanities faculty. He was editor-in-chief of the Utrecht-based, student-run journal Article for several years and worked on a recently-published research project on the artist and curator Wybrand Hendriks (1744-1831) at Teylers Museum in Haarlem.
In 1837, Government funded Schools of Design were created to increase the skills and tastes of the nation’s manufacturers. The Schools would use plaster cast examples as one of the main tools in this objective to build knowledge of form and taste, giving the sculptures an instrumental value within the curriculum of art and design education. By careful curation of these examples the Schools committee controlled the perception of what ‘good’ taste was, but also the perceived value of sculpture made from plaster, negating the skills of those producing the examples.
This paper seeks to discuss the value of plaster cast sculpture in the context of the Government Schools of Design during the mid-nineteenth century. The instrumental value of the plaster casts influenced judgements of both the practitioners creating plaster casts and the intermediary use of the material itself in the field of sculpture. Through exploring the object type, use and storage of the examples, the paper seeks to determine contemporary perceptions of plaster cast examples specifically within the Central School in Somerset House, London.
Using actor network theory as a design history methodology, this paper places the plaster cast examples within the network of the Government Schools of Design pedagogy to discuss how the use of plaster casts in art education during the nineteenth century still influences the perceived value of plaster as a sculptural material in modern workshop practices.
Toni Rutherford is Design Historian of making techniques and processes. As a maker, her research and practice intertwine to explore how knowledge of making is transferred from teacher to student, but also within the hierarchy of social structures. This is reflected in her MA History of Design dissertation ‘An Exploration of Armature Design within Plaster Sculpture in Nineteenth Century England: Knowledge Networks, Innovation and Materials’, a critical comparison of the materiality of armatures within modelled and cast plaster sculpture.
What was the role of sculpture in an industrial town in the early nineteenth century? How were examples of sculpture used and presented as celebrated models, didactic tools, and art objects in this context? And how were they invested with the potential to ‘improve’ artists, artisans, and industrial goods? This paper analyses the value attributed to plaster casts of classical sculpture in relation to artistic education in industrial Birmingham. My case study is the Birmingham Society of Arts, formed on the premise that the study of the fine arts was essential to Birmingham’s manufactures, and the collection of plaster casts of celebrated ancient Greek and Roman sculptures at its heart. I focus on the period 1821-1842, from the foundation of the Society to its transition into the town’s Government School of Design.
I explore how these plaster casts were presented and engaged with as celebrated sculptural models, long identified in European traditions as embodying standards of taste and beauty; as didactic tools intended to enhance Birmingham’s artistic output and economic prospects; and as a growing art collection for the town. The casts were presented as essential both to those training to become fine artists and those producing decorative work for local trades, such as metalwork, papier-mâché, and glassware. I probe the complexities of these categorisations of the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ in the industrial town. I explore how plaster casts operated as reproductions of celebrated ‘originals’ and manufactured objects in their own right in this context. And I ask what the productive relationships formed between sculptural models and decorative consumer goods can reveal about both classical sculpture and the industrial town. What can the multifaceted uses of the casts reveal about sculpture and industry, art and manufacturing, in the nineteenth century?
Clare Matthews is a PhD student in the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies at the University of Birmingham, supervised by Dr Kate Nichols (University of Birmingham) and Dr Mark Bradley (University of Nottingham). Her research addresses the role of classical visual culture in nineteenth-century industrial Britain, focusing on Birmingham. Clare’s research asks how Birmingham engaged with the iconography and traditions of ancient Greece and Rome through public collecting practices, architecture, and artistic production, and situates this within wider contexts of nineteenth-century industrial Britain.
Panel 3: Sculpture and Decoration
Alentejo (south region of Portugal) is a wide and heterogeneous showcase of sculptural ornaments made mainly with lime based pastes (stuccoes). These ornaments are in a threshold, between being considered as a complementary element within architecture or an art expression with an identity of its own.
Stuccoes had specific characteristics and functions, depending on whether they were displayed in public or private spaces. For instance, their presence on facades of historic buildings had not only a decorative purpose, but also an important social function, in the sense that they were part of the cities embellishment strategy, assuming a vital role in the definition of their image.
One of the main assets of ornamental stuccoes was their illusory potential, reinforced by polychrome finishing in order to simulate precious material (marble or gold), as it was the case with the Baroque lime based altarpieces. The preference for this kind of artwork cannot be simply explained with economic justifications, but rather with questions of fashion allied with the exploration of endogenous materials (lime, sand, pigments) and technical knowledge. Unfortunately, over the last years, some maladjusted interventions have led to a dramatic distortion of stuccoes aesthetic values.
In this paper we will analyse some of the functions developed by stucco, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries and their correlation with architecture within the context of pre-industrialised Portuguese sculptural production.
Dr Patrícia Monteiro carried out a post-doctorate between 2015 and 2019 entitled 'The Ingenious Art of Deception: Decorative Stuccos with Polychrome Coatings in Alentejo (16th-18th Centuries)'. She received her PhD in Art History in 2013 and her Masters in Art, Heritage and Restoration in 2008 from the School of Arts and Humanities of the Lisbon University. She was chair of the organizing committee of the 1st Iberian Symposium on Lime in Art and Built Heritage (Évora, 2017). Between 1999-2001 Patrícia attended the 1st Course on Conservation and Restoration of Mural Painting organized by the Portuguese Institute of Architectural Heritage. Since 2004 Patrícia has acquired a consistent knowledge of the Alentejo's artistic heritage collaborating in several multidisciplinary research projects. Currently she is a contracted researcher in the Center for Lusophone and European Literature and Cultures (CLEPUL) at the School of Arts and Humanities of the Lisbon University.
The formal teaching of sculpture was initiated in Portugal in the eighteenth century, when the Italian sculptor Alessandro Giusti (1715-1799) came to Mafra as Master for the first Sculpture Class, created in 1753 by order of King José I. Joaquim Machado de Castro (1732-1822), the most distinguished Portuguese erudite sculptor, there received his advanced training, becoming Giustti’s personal assistant (1756). Machado de Castro later created the Sculpture Laboratory (1772), and became sculptor of the Royal House and Public Works (1782). He rescued all knowledge regarding classical sculpture materials, practices and methods with a significant impact on all Portuguese sculpture. When in 1836, the Fine Arts Academy of Lisbon was created by Her Majesty, Queen Maria II, it inherited the plaster models storehouse and maintained teaching methodologies, where Humanistic values and the study of old masters’ work stood as corner stones, and the creative process consisted on four main stages: drawing – clay modelling – mould making - stone carving/metal casting.
This pedagogical model continued being practiced in the teaching of sculpture throughout the twentieth century and was used by Euclides Vaz (1916-1991), whose work is the subject matter of our paper. We address – as case study - his relief The Rape of Europa, produced for a cinema façade as a decorative element. In 2010, the building was set to be demolished and a public petition demanded its requalification. The relief came to be incorporated in the new building façade.
We explore the plastic value of this work concerning its classical compositional process in contrast with its modern aesthetics. Also, we address the relationship between sculpture and architecture, highlighting its original categorisation as integrated sculpture and its posterior value, both as an autonomous and authorial work and communitarian (or neighbourhood) identity mark, now perceived as local cultural heritage.
Ana Lúcia Pinto (1991, Portugal), Bachelor of Sculpture (2013) and Master in Conservation, Science, Restoration and Contemporary Art Production (2015), is currently in the second year of the PhD program in Fine Arts – Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon. Ana´s doctoral research investigation is anchored in Portuguese public statuary from the twentieth century, now accessible in different spatial and temporal contexts. She takes a multidisciplinary approach, analysing the importance of a sculptor´s knowledge and expertise, both technical and conceptual, in order to adopt an appropriate intervention method and exhibit plan.
Dr Sandra Tapadas (1972, Portugal) is a sculptor and Assistant Professor at the Sculpture Department, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Lisbon. Sandra holds a BA in Plastic Arts – Sculpture (1999), an MFA in Drawing (2006) and a PhD in Fine Arts -Sculpture with the thesis ‘Face Composition in Sculpture: the Sculptor and the Sculptural Gaze’ (2016). In 2009, she co-founded Grupo do Risco, an association of artists and scientists that promotes ecological and environmental awareness through artistic residences in natural reserves.
The entire production of Jean-Baptiste Plantar perfectly illustrates the ambivalent position of sculpture during the nineteenth century. Although the records are not entirely clear on the matter, he is reckoned to have been the very last Sculpteur des Bâtiments du roi, a prestigious status granted to court sculptors since the seventeenth century. Son and grand-son of sculptors from the Académie de Saint-Luc, a guild gathering painters and sculptors in Paris during the eighteenth century, he attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts before starting an early career as a decoration carver at the Louvre – already partly a museum at the time. There, he worked under the direction of Pierre-Léonard Fontaine, French most prominent architect until 1848.
During his whole life as an artist, monumental sculpture remained his strongest focus: his work can be found in rooms at the Louvre, at the Palais des Tuileries, in Versailles or inside the Castle of Fontainebleau, among many other places.
Nevertheless, the essential characteristic of Plantar is a complete polyvalent talent. Alongside his realisations in royal palaces, he sculpted private funeral monuments for great figures from his time, now found at the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, or at the Montparnasse one; he created furniture pieces to match his monumental works, at the Hotel de Ville for instance; and drew for the cast iron industry. His drawings albums preserved at the National Institute of Art History in Paris, at the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, or the Ducel Cast Iron Catalogue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, constitute a very rich testimony of these productions.
These elements, less noticeable, call for a reflexion around the status of the kind of sculptor Jean-Baptiste Plantar embodied, as an often anonymous drawing provider and at the same time as a respected artist, recognized by renowned figures such as Viollet-le-Duc.
At the meeting point of traditional sculpture, ornament, craft and industry during the first part of the nineteenth century, Plantar demonstrates very practically permanences and progress of ornament during this period.
Justine Gain is presently preparing her thesis at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and at the École du Louvre on the following subject: Jean-Baptiste Plantar (1790-1879), permanences and progress of ornament during the nineteenth century, under the supervision of Jean-Michel Leniaud, former Director of the École des Chartes and Studies Director at the EPHE and Lionel Arsac, Curator at the Chateau de Versailles. She is supported by the National Institute of Art History in Paris where she is also a fellow. She has been an intern at the Clark Art Institute, the Frick Collection, the Louvre, Versailles and the Musée d’Orsay. Since 2020 she also teaches at the École du Louvre.
Panel 4: Sculptural Hierarchies and Classification
I propose to explore how and why sculpture was valued in eighteenth-century France through the case of Clodion. Best known today for his terracotta statuettes and small reliefs, Clodion’s popularity among his contemporaries is generally attributed to how his work, in a traditionally preparatory material, tapped into the well-documented interest in art making among amateurs and connoisseurs. The aesthetic of unfinish allowed such viewers to hone their eye and embed themselves in the creative process. Yet this explanation does not fully account for the fact that most of Clodion’s work was highly finished, that the sculptor’s collectors came from a broad cross-section of society and cannot be assumed to share the same interests as the Académie set, and that some of his most respected works were large architectural commissions. In light of this, I offer that explanations for Clodion’s appeal must expand beyond aesthetic discourses and artistic circles. I am specifically interested in how various aspects of his oeuvre- from mythologies of nature deities that destabilise the body, to earthy material implications, to the domestic spaces of display where it negotiated the threshold between inside and out- complicate the boundaries between art and nature, drawing on the sculpted form to explore earthly modes of making. That such a reframing of the medium would have been of interest to the eighteenth-century audience is supported by the growing sense during the period that the earth possessed its own geological history and agency independent of human creation; that it was the sculptor of its own forms. Situating Clodion in this milieu thus raises the possibility that the value of his work was located not only outside the academic category of sculpture, but in how it, in fact, ruptured this anthropocentric classification. I propose to explore my proposition through one or two examples.
Ashley Hannebrink is currently completing her doctorate in History of Art at Harvard University, where her dissertation research focuses on how the proliferation of sculpture in the eighteenth-century French domestic interior disrupted traditional understandings of what constituted sculpture and contributed to a modern understanding of the medium. This work has been supported by, among others, the Huntington Library, California and Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris. She most recently contributed to a forthcoming exhibition on Antonio Canova’s terracotta models at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Alternately celebrated as vivid miracles or derided as deceitful trivialities, Antoine Benoist’s wax figures provide an informatively problematic case for considering questions of artisanal status and sculptural display in Louis XIV’s Paris. The Cercle royal [Royal Circle], Benoist’s cabinet of waxworks centred on the royal family’s entourage in the 1660s. It was reconfigured and extended in subsequent decades to include an expanded cast of courtiers and foreign dignitaries. Benoist’s polychromed wax heads featured glass eyeballs and wigs. They were outfitted in luxurious courtly garb. These life-scaled multimedia assemblages gained the sculptor a series of honours, including ennoblement and royal patents that protected his exclusive privilege to represent royalty and courtiers in wax. Despite such undeniable evidence of official recognition, a number of critics dismissed the sculptor’s fabrications as deathly or deformed. Some satirised the sculptor himself as a cheap illusionist of inflated pretension.
In the absence of extant objects from the exhibition itself, my paper focuses on the corpus of sources that attest to its reception. These texts indicate that questions of artisanal skill and commercial interest were embedded within aesthetic debates of illusionistic verisimilitude. If Benoist’s wax fabrications strained at the boundaries of sculptural decorum, their unsettled position reveals tensions underlying conceptions of artistic craftsmanship. Through this examination of waxwork’s terms of controversy and validation, I aim to chart key facets of sculpture’s contested discursive terrain in this era.
David Mitchell is a PhD candidate in Art History at McGill University. His dissertation is provisionally entitled ‘Antoine Benoist’s Cercle royal: Waxworks Between Emptiness and Excess in Louis XIV’s Paris.’ Broader interests include: early modern practices of collection, prehistories of the uncanny, and the historiography of the ancien régime.
In 1783, Nicolas de Launay made a print copy of Fragonard’s painting Les Baignets, claiming it was made ‘by his very humble and very obedient servant,’ revealing the hierarchical tensions between French painters and printmakers. De Launay’s loyalty is not absolute, since a critical artistic statement is found on the edge of the print: an illusory oval frame heavily adorned with unusual oak, hazelnuts and squash branches. In this paper, I address this meticulously engraved frame, and many others created throughout de Launay's successful career, as highly relevant in examining print makers' artistic identity. I argue that these frames are unique sculptural calling cards, challenging the perception of engravings as inferior painting-copies, but rather extraordinary pieces of sculptural characters. There is no coincidence in the letters, ‘Sculp’ next to Delaunay's name, where typically the printer's name was added bellow the images. This finding opens the discussion regarding the Tromp L'oeil decoration, the materiality of the plate and the artistic aspects of printing workshops. With regard to eighteenth-century writings on the importance of authenticity and sensuality, and in the context of contemporary writing on the French Art market, I offer a new perspective seeing engravers as hybrid artists, visually and technically uniting painting and sculpture, as both a two and a three-dimensional experience. Moreover, the conceptual and physical marginality of these decorations allow creative freedom that challenge the standard concept of the artist-artisan rivalry, and allow a new understanding of the print as medium.
Tamara Abramovitch is a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and Acting Curator in the Noel and Harriette Levine Department of Photography, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. She is also a lecturer in Art History at the Sam Spiegel School for Film and Television, Jerusalem. She is currently finishing her PhD in eighteenth-century French visual culture.
Later nineteenth-century opinions on the sculpture of the long eighteenth-century were created against the background of new possibilities for mechanised carving. However, the distinctions that were made then between art, craft and industry are not necessarily ones that still help us to understand value as it was actually formulated in the eighteenth century. This paper looks at eighteenth-century notions of where value lay in relation to materials, production and performance, in workshops such as those of John Nost, John Cheere and Josiah Wedgwood. The paper looks at how materials such as lead and granite gained and lost value, and how new technologies were utilised and valued within sculptors’ workshops, especially that of Francis Chantrey, prior to debates over industrialisation.
Dr MG Sullivan FSA is Honorary Research Fellow at the University of York and works on the AHRC project Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral 1796-1916. He co-authored the Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660-1851 (Yale 2009) and is editor of the online edition. He previously worked as a curator at Tate Britain, and the Ashmolean Museum, and has held research posts at Lincoln College, Oxford, and at the V&A. His recent publications focus on the relationship between sculpture and geology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Beginning at the end with The Young Naturalist 1870 by Henry Weekes (1807-77) in the collection of Leeds Museums and Galleries, this paper traces the many different iterations of this sculpture from its first presentation in plaster at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1854. Beginning as an object located firmly in the sphere of the fine arts through its modes of production and sites of display, we witness the work encounter industry through a series of universal exhibitions in Paris, London and Manchester through the course of the 1850s and 60s. Not only was the work in conversational proximity to industrial objects and processes in these spaces, it was fundamentally transformed by them. This paper explores the resulting relationship between Weekes and the Birmingham-based electrotype manufacturer Elkington & Co., who used the innovative process to radically shift the context of this sculpture.
In addition to thinking through the production, display and circulation of The Young Naturalist, this paper makes use of the exceptional extent to which Weekes articulated his own beliefs about the making of sculpture. Through his prize-winning Treatise on the Fine Arts Section of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the series of eighteen lectures he delivered in 1869 as Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy, we begin to understand his position on the purpose of sculpture, the treatment and meaning of materials and the technologies of reproduction that emerged during his lifetime. Learnt from his masters William Behnes (1795-1864) and Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) and refined during his prolific years of professional practice as a leading sculptor of portrait busts, he communicated these ideas to a generation of students and sought to influence a wider public towards a particular understanding of the value of sculpture.
Dr Rebecca Wade is an art historian and curator. She completed her PhD at the University of Leeds in 2012 and her research interests sit between nineteenth-century museum and exhibitionary cultures, art and design education and the production, circulation and display of sculpture and its reproductions. She has held research fellowships with University of Cambridge Museums, the Henry Moore Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. She is co-editor of Art versus Industry? Visual and Industrial Cultures in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Manchester University Press, 2016) and her monograph Domenico Brucciani and the Formatori of Nineteenth-Century Britain was published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019.
Panel Chair Biographies
Dr Maddie Boden is a research assistant at the Ashmolean Museum, working on the exhibition The Colour Revolution: From Turner to Whistler. She also holds the University of York's Humanities Research Centre Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2020-2021. Maddie's research focuses on nineteenth-century British Orientalist visual culture and Victorian depictions of the Holy Lands.
Charlotte Davis is currently completing an AHRC funded PhD at the University of York investigating changes that emerged in the sculptural profession in Britain at the end of the seventeenth century. She is co-Editor-in-Chief of Aspectus: A Journal of Visual Culture for the forthcoming 2021 issue.
Izabella Gill-Brown is a second-year PhD candidate supervised by Professor Jason Edwards at the University of York. Her research examines the relationships and roles of Anglo-Indian sculptural portraits produced in the nineteenth century for the British Royal Family, based on the exploration of specific case studies. Her wider interdisciplinary interests include material cultures, feminist and postcolonial criticisms of the long nineteenth-century, and the conservation of fine art.
Sammi Lukic-Scott is currently undertaking her PhD in History of Art at the University of York. Her research investigates art objects made in the long nineteenth century that reproduced the designs of other artworks, with a focus on the translation of two-dimensional images into relief sculpture. Sammi is also known for her work on porcelain lithophanes, most recently with her article ''A Luminous Translation': Lithophanes at Woburn Abbey, 1836 to 1838' published in Visual Culture in Britain.
Dr Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth is an art and design historian specialising in decorative arts, material culture and the history of collecting. She is Curator of 17th & 18th Century Ceramics and Glass in the Decorative Art and Sculpture Department at the V&A Museum and Lecturer in the History of Design Masters, with the V&A and Royal College of Art. Caroline gained her PhD at the University of Leeds in 2019, where she is now also a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.
Kim Newell is an Art and Design lecturer in the Further Education sector, specialising in Creative and Critical Inquiry and Historical and Contextual Studies. She is also pursuing a part-time PhD exploring the production, mediation and reception of early nineteenth-century sculptural ceramics with an emphasis upon parian porcelain. Drawing on an unprecedented range of primary material, the project explores the people who made, marketed and purchased parian figurative imagery to understand changing identities and taste in the early to mid-nineteenth century.
Fabrication Research Season
The practicalities of how an artist approaches making a sculpture have often been shrouded in mystery. The relationship between artists and skilled fabricators is rarely acknowledged. Exploring the blurred lines between art, craft and industry, this Research Season will make visible the ways in which sculptors in both historical and contemporary contexts have realised their vision through processes of collaboration and exchange, and will examine ways in which making sculpture has changed, particularly in light of the recent coronavirus pandemic.
This Research Season is organised in collaboration with Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre and the Universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield.
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