The final seminar of the Lent Term series, entitled “Fragonard’s Colour Box and Houdon’s modeling stand: Prospecting for a history of the everyday in art”, was presented jointly by Dr. Katie Scott of the Courtauld Institute and Dr. Hannah Williams of St. John’s college, Oxford. They are presently collaborating on a research project that investigates the personal possessions of artists working in 18th century France.
We first heard from Dr. Katie Scott, who introduced the project, which is an ethnographical as well as an art historical one, and is therefore interdisciplinary in the mode of the Things seminars themselves. The objects in their catalogue must have a provenance that can be traced back to an artist. In order to uncover these things, they sent out questionnaires to museums, galleries and collections (without much success!) – not many artists’ things have survived, and in many cases we have only the written trace of their material presence. The study will be presented as a dictionary, navigated by means of various contents pages, rather than as an exhaustive survey.
Next, Dr. Hannah Williams introduced Fragonard’s colour box, which is held by the Fragonard House Museum in Grasse, in the South of France. She referred to artists’ possessions as “tangible memorials for veneration” and “relics”, and described her own experience as an “Art Historical Pilgrim”. The questions she asked were, what conditions must exist for an object to survive and remain connected to the artist centuries later? What do we get from the bodily encounter with the artist’s possession? Why does having the actual “thing” make a difference? She combined a discussion of the colour box as a relic of Fragonard with a close examination of the contents of the box itself, and the specific uses of the pigments in Fragonard’s paintings.
The session ended with a second example of an artist’s possession, in this case Houdon’s modeling stand, as presented by Dr. Scott. The modeling stand is presently in the collection of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, and it is thus far the only object belonging to an 18th century sculptor they have been able to trace. A similar stand appears in a painting by Boilly. Like Dr. Williams, she combined a discussion of the practical uses of the object with a consideration of its meaning as a relic of the artist.
You can listen to the session here.