The National Gallery of Art, Washington opens America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting

Main facade of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The National Gallery of Art, Washington recently opened America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting, an exhibition that serves as the first survey of American taste for French 18th-century painting.  It features 68 of the finest examples found in American museums today and tells the story of the collectors, curators, museum directors, and dealers responsible for bringing the paintings across the Atlantic and into the collections they now call home.

The accompanying catalog features 11 essays by an esteemed group of scholars, an extensive exhibition checklist with new provenance information, and an illustrated chronology.  Also, the Gallery just released a new Online Edition in conjunction with the exhibition:  the NGA Online Editions series, Focus Section – French Paintings of the Eighteenth Century.

The web-based Online Editions series is part of an ongoing effort to digitize and provide open access to the Gallery’s permanent collection catalogs and will eventually document more than 5,000 works of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.  Focus Section – French Paintings of the Eighteenth Century provides rich scholarly content including essays devoted to 20 paintings and their four related artists’ biographies.  Like other Online Editions, this iteration provides free and open access to illustrated scholarly entries, biographies of the artists, and technical summaries.

Other highlights of the features available to researchers include:

  • A customized reading environment:  An adjustable split-screen “reader mode” allows users to view scholarly text alongside images, notes, and comparative figures or to view them in line with the text.
  • Compare and explore images:  An image-comparison tool enables users to view primary and comparative images side by side or to explore technical images via overlay and cross-fading techniques.
  • Ease of research:  The Online Editions toolbar provides pre-formatted citations for an object or biography, easy export, and quick access to archived pages.
  • Archived versions and permanent URLs:  Immediate access to PDFs of earlier versions and the assurance of permanent web addresses are a convenience to students and scholars alike.
  • Enhanced search capabilities:  An interactive search index is driven by an evolving list of terms particular to each area of the collection.

The NGA Online Editions series presents the same authoritative, peer-reviewed scholarship found within the Gallery’s bound volumes but enriched with customized tools for a more dynamic research experience.

(The content of this piece was provided by Isabella Bulkeley).

Jane Austen Summer Program Presents: 
“200 Years of Persuasion

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and The Jane Austen Society of North America—North Carolina

June 15 to 18, 2017
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This summer more than 100 people, including Austen fans, established scholars, graduate students, K-12 teachers, and aspiring authors, will have the opportunity to hear expert speakers and participate in discussion groups on Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion.  Attendees will also partake in an English tea, dance at a Regency-style ball, attend Austen-inspired theatricals, and visit special exhibits tailored to the conference.

They will be attending the fifth-annual Jane Austen Summer Program from June 15 to 18, 2017 to explore this year’s chosen theme: “200 Years of Persuasion.”  The events will take place at the Hampton Inn in Carrboro, NC and at various locations on the UNC-CH campus in Chapel Hill, NC.

The discussions will consider Austen’s last completed novel Persuasion in its historical context as well as its afterlives in fiction and film.  “This year we are so pleased that Jocelyn Harris, a Persuasion expert and a delightful individual, is coming from New Zealand to join us as a keynote speaker,” says Inger Brodey, co-director of the program with James Thompson.  “We will also have a naval historian guide us through the mostly off-stage military dimension of the novel.”

Participants old and new praise the program’s accessibility, innovation, and community-building.  “Last year’s conference on Mansfield Park was my first experience of JASP—and now I’m hooked!,” says Vicky Brandt.  “It’s a wonderful idea to open up an academic conference to the interested public:  everyone should be able to experience the loving inquiry that is the heart of scholarship.  All the presentations were enlightening; the small group discussions lively and insightful; the Saturday evening Regency ball almost as beautiful to watch as the ones we see on film.  In short, I can think of no better way to describe it than with Austen’s own words:  ‘the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.’”  Attendees express special appreciation for the cultural and historical knowledge exchanged at the program.  Patrick McGraw states, “Over four days, I learned more about Austen’s novel than I ever imagined I could.  I cannot wait to return to UNC-Chapel Hill this coming summer to explore Persuasion.”

For more program information, to see comments and photos from previous programs, or to register, please visit the program’s website janeaustensummer.org/ or follow the program on facebook.com/janeaustensummer or via Twitter, @JASPhotline.  You may also contact us at [email protected].

Elementary and secondary school teachers are encouraged to visit the website for information on available scholarships and continuing education credits.

(This post was made available by Carlie Wetzel, UNC-CH)

Interiority and Jane Porter’s Pocket Diary

Covers of Jane Porter's pocket diary.  Photograph by Sarah Werner.  Folger M.a.17

Cover of Jane Porter’s pocket diary. Photograph by Sarah Werner. Folger M.a.17

Julie Park, Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College, describes her fascinating recent research into the “written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives” at the Folger Shakespeare Library:

It’s been a critical commonplace after Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel to view the novel as the first literary form to represent psychological individuality in the context of everyday life. My research, however, examines how the spaces and objects of daily life in eighteenth-century England worked as vehicles of interior experiences in their own right. Working from this angle might change our conceptions of the novel, not only its historical relationship to how selfhood is defined, but also its relationship to the material culture of the greater society around it.

By using my Folger long-term fellowship to look at written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives, I thought I might complicate claims about the early novel’s method of representing interior or psychological experience through diurnal structures.1 One line of my exploration was how a form of portable interiority surfaced in the small books that were designed for carrying in one’s pocket. The novel itself, in its eighteenth-century print manifestation, was pocket-sized, conveying not only its affordability and portability, but also its ability to be held in the hand and worn against the body. Just as the novel conveyed its own interior worlds to readers, the experience of reading the physical book created an interior world between the novel and its reader, even when carried into exterior settings, from pleasure gardens to carriages for travel.2

Among the holdings of eighteenth-century pocket-sized books I found at the Folger is The Ladies Memorandum Book, for the Year 1796 (M.a.17), a green leather book with gold tooling around its edges. At 12×7.5 cm, it can easily be held in the palm of one’s hand. Its fore-edge is covered by a flap that extends from the front cover and is attached to the back by a gold clasp. Flipped to its back, with its diagonal seamed flap, the book resembles a modern day envelope. Yet its sides are left open, and there is a thickness to its body created by the stack of pages sewn into its spine. Further examination of the book will reveal it indeed functions as much of an envelope and a pocket as a book.

Read the rest of Julie Park’s account of this object at the Folger’s blog.

Collaborative Reading of Simon Gikandi’s Slavery and The Culture of Taste

gikandiThe Long 18th, a scholarly blog devoted to 18th-century literature, history, and culture, is conducting a week-long collaborative reading of Simon Gikandi’s award-winning Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton UP, 2011), from May 13-20, 2013. We have been reading approximately one chapter a day, with posts from a variety of eighteenth century literary scholars and historians. Please visit, and consider contributing to the discussion, at http://long18th.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/collaborative-reading-of-simon-gikandis-slavery-and-the-culture-of-taste-may-13th-19th-at-the-long-18th/.  For additional information, please email David Mazella.

English Pleasure Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens shewing the Grand Walk at the Entrance of the Garden and the Orchestra with the Music Playing.  John S. Muller, ca. 1715-1792, German, active in Britain; after Samuel Wale, 1721-1786, British.  After 1751.  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Vauxhall Gardens shewing the Grand Walk at the Entrance of the Garden and the Orchestra with the Music Playing. John S. Muller, ca. 1715-1792, German, active in Britain; after Samuel Wale, 1721-1786, British. After 1751. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The English garden will be in the spotlight this year as the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show (May 21-25) marks its 100th anniversary. Arguably the most famous and most prestigious garden show in not only England but the world, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been held on the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital every year since its launch in 1913, except during the war years. Although the Chelsea Flower Show might seem like a modern attraction, gardens and parks have long been popular forms of entertainment in England. In fact, the Chelsea Flower Show takes place on what was once Ranelagh Gardens, one of several famous 18th-century pleasure gardens located on the outskirts of London.

In many ways, pleasure gardens were the amusement parks of Georgian England, allowing visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of city life while offering them a variety of entertainment, including picturesque gardens, strolling paths, musical concerts, al fresco dining, balloon rides, waterfalls, fountain displays, masquerades, balls, and even fireworks shows. Basically, there existed an attraction for almost everyone of every taste, not least important among them being the chance to see and be seen by members of London high society.

Vauxhall, open from 1661 to 1859, is considered the first and most popular of the pleasure gardens because of the variety of entertainment it offered as well as the large crowd it always attracted (due in large part to its low entrance fee of only a shilling). Due to its lack of exclusivity, Vauxhall also became a prime example of some of the problems that existed for most pleasure gardens: Vauxhall’s “dark walks” (unlit paths) were popular hideouts for young lovers as well as pickpockets, rapists, prostitutes, and other criminals, making the garden a sometimes dangerous and undesirable place to visit at night. Vauxhall’s “dark walks” were so infamous that they were commonly referenced in popular literature at the time, a prime example being Frances Burney’s novel Evelina, in which they are the setting for the heroine’s near-rape experience. But, despite its seedy underbelly, Vauxhall was only ever really rivaled by the more exclusive Ranelagh, which opened in 1746 and was particularly popular among the higher classes. Pleasure gardens became such a popular London attraction that they remained in fashion through the Victorian era and were recreated in other cities and even other countries. The following is a list of some interesting websites and recent scholarship related to 18th-century pleasure gardens:

  • A group of students at the University of Michigan have made a website about entertainment in 18th-century Britain that includes a page on “Pleasure Gardens and Tea Rooms.”
  • Sarah Jane Downing’s book The English Pleasure Garden: 1660-1680 provides a history of the English pleasure gardens, including their creation, their rise in popularity, their use of various entertainments, and their decline into hideaways for London degenerates.
  • Jonathan Conlin studies the progression from the first pleasure gardens of the 17th century to the amusement parks of the 20th century in his book The Pleasure Garden, from Vauxhall to Coney Island, which focuses on the affect of architecture, design, music, and lighting on visitors.
  • In their book Vauxhall Gardens a History, David Coke and Alan Borg provide a detailed history of the music, entertainments, artwork, social events, and interesting people that were always to be found at Vauxhall, that helped make it such a popular destination, and that influenced art and entertainment for years to come.

“The Mechanical Turk” and Automata of the 18th Century

The Mechanical Turk. Windisch, Karl Gottlieb. Inanimate Reason, 1784. Houghton Library, Harvard University. SG 3675.94.10 Source: John Overholt.

The Mechanical Turk.
Windisch, Karl Gottlieb. Inanimate Reason, 1784.
Houghton Library, Harvard University. SG 3675.94.10
Source: John Overholt.

In a recent article for the BBC News, Adam Gopnik reflects on the persistent allure of the Turk, a chess-playing automaton that fascinated eighteenth-century spectators across Europe and America.  The Turk was created by Viennese inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen and first appeared in the court of Empress Maria Theresa. Essentially an early type of robot, the contraption featured a large wooden cabinet with a chessboard on top behind which sat the torso of a mustached man dressed in oriental robes. Before every performance, in order to convince the audience that the Turk really was a machine, the operator, first Kempelen and then later Johann Maelzel, would go through an elaborate demonstration of opening the cabinet doors to reveal the complex, whirring jumble of wheels and cogs that powered the machine. Once the cabinet was closed, an audience member would be invited to challenge the Turk at a game of chess. Impressively, the Turk was able not only to move its own chess pieces but also to recognize if its opponent made an illegal move and even to win a large portion of the games it played. The automaton was a sensation. Before being destroyed by a fire in New York in the 1850s, it toured throughout Europe and North America and played against such opponents as Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte. Most impressive, though, is the secret that the Turk managed to keep for over 50 years: it was all a fraud.

In reality, the Turk’s impressive chess skills were the result not of elaborate, mechanical clockwork but of a human operator, usually a random chess-player from the town where it was currently performing, cleverly hidden in a secret compartment behind the display of clockwork parts. It is this ability to fool its eighteenth-century audience for so long, or rather the willingness of the eighteenth-century audience to be fooled by the automaton, that Gopnik focuses on in his article. Although there were several people who doubted the machine early on – Edgar Allen Poe, for example, discusses how it must be controlled by a hidden chess player in his essay “Maelzel’s Chess-Player” – the majority of spectators were happily convinced that it was just an impressive piece of machinery. Gopnik argues that the spectators who were so willing to believe the lie did so because they wanted what we still want to this day: a beautiful, elegant solution (an extraordinary automaton) rather than a cynical, ugly one (a hidden chess-player). Gopnik also points out that the real genius of the machine’s inventor was not fooling his audience but realizing and harnessing the mastery that is available in the modern world but that often goes unnoticed. The chess-players who ran the machine were not chess-masters, but they were good enough to beat the majority of people they played against.

Fascination for the Turk isn’t limited to the eighteenth century, though. Several scholars in both the humanities and the sciences have studied and written about the Turk and other popular automata of the eighteenth century, including Gerald Levitt’s book The Turk, Chess Automaton, that gives detailed analysis of the machine’s hidden operation as well as the literature written about it. Likewise, Julie Park discusses the connection between general automata and the novel in the eighteenth century as part of a consumer-driven desire for novelty and self-representation in her book The Self and It: Novel Objects in Eighteenth Century England. In his book The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine, Tom Standage discusses how this mysterious machine played an important role not only in the development of the power loom and the computer but even in current debates about machine and artificial intelligence. The fact that it was fairly recently reconstructed by John Gaughan, though it no longer requires a hidden human operator, speaks to its lasting appeal to and effect on modern society. Interestingly, and as if to support Gopnik’s argument for realizing the world’s untapped potential for mastery, Amazon has launched an online crowdsourcing service that helps computer programmers connect and collaborate in order to accomplish a variety of tasks that computers still can’t do. They named the service, which they categorize as “artificial artificial intelligence,” The Mechanical Turk, after the eighteenth-century fraud automaton that was actually man-powered.

Pride & Prejudice at 200

Pride and Prejudice, First Edition. Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University

Pride and Prejudice, First Edition. Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University.

Jane Austen scholars are currently marking the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.  Here are just a few of the many commemorations from around the web:

Megan Mulder, Special Collections Librarian at Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University, describes the novel’s long path to publication, its reception by critics, and the larger context of Austen’s publishing career in a post for the Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections Blog.  Her informative post includes several photographs of Wake Forest’s first editions of Austen’s work, as well as those of her predecessor Frances Burney.

Devoney Looser, in an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books, reviews two recent scholarly books that attempt to make sense of Austen’s enduring appeal:

The permeable boundaries between the popular and sometimes absurd Austen and the scholarly Austen surely matter in ways that will be long in unraveling. Recent Austen scholarship has capitalized on this high-low traffic, mirroring the marketing of “I [Heart] Darcy” bumper stickers more than we might like to admit — and I don’t exempt myself from the charge of opportunism. I am an English professor who has the good fortune to teach Jane Austen by day. By night, I skate on the local roller derby team as my alter ego, Stone Cold Jane Austen. As a result, I regularly field such farcical questions as “What would Jane Austen think of tattoos?” and, from my son, “Mommy, who is Jane Austen? Are you Jane Austen?” So I do not speak here from on high. The shrines to Jane Austen in my life involve sweat-stained wrist guards, not 19th-century editions of her works. But even I find myself asking on occasion, “What is the point of our sifting through and documenting all of today’s Austen-infused dreck?” It is especially heartening, then, to find emerging work on Austen and popular culture that moves beyond recounting how she has been mashed up with zombies, vampires, or porn. The best new work asks not only the multivalent, unanswerable question, “Why Austen? Why Now?” It also carefully charts “How did we get here?”

Both Claudia L. Johnson’s Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures and Janine Barchas’s Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity are exemplars of this more sophisticated work on Austen and popular culture. Johnson’s book makes sense, directly and indirectly, of the factual-fiction impulse behind novels like Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life, telling the fascinating story of how the mystique of Austen was gradually created, maintained, and spun out in unpredictable ways in the years after her death in 1817. Johnson unearths both the many-sided truths and the wide-ranging implications of our false fantasies of Austen, drawing conclusions from evidence ranging from portraits and memorials to fairy tales and relics. By contrast, Barchas makes a compelling case for our acknowledging some of the real-life 18th- and 19th-century people who may stand behind Austen’s fictional characters, in order to reveal long occluded ways of seeing Austen’s relationship with history and celebrity culture.

Elsewhere in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Susan Greenfield and Audrey Bilger offer an engaging account of the fate of Pride and Prejudice over the past 200 years, and Ted Scheinman reviews a new biography of Austen.

In 2006 Linda V. Troost published an analysis of three film interpretations of Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.  You can read the entire article without charge here.

Want to celebrate?  Pride & Prejudice 200 collects listings of commemorative events worldwide.

HASTAC Reviews The 18th-Century Common

 

Elias Martin, “The Happy News” (1778). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. Prints and Drawings. B1977.14.11918

In her recent piece for HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), Kirstyn Leuner reviews our recently-launched website and provides a range of insights concerning the period-based public humanities project.  Leuner’s post, entitled “Touring The (Launched) 18th-Century Common,” is the third and final review of 18thcenturycommon.org for HASTAC and appears simultaneously on the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism’s Graduate Student Caucus Homepage.

Daniel Defoe Around the Web

Twelve Illustrations of Robinson Crusoe

Twelve Illustrations of Robinson Crusoe by Carington Bowles, 1724-1793, British. Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Art Gallery Collection.

Here are some recent internet gleanings for enthusiasts of Daniel Defoe to explore:

Happy (Recent) Birthday, Jane Austen!

Autograph note concerning the "Profits of my Novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives" ca. March 1817

Detail of Jane Austen’s autograph note concerning the “Profits of my Novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives” ca. March 1817. The Morgan Library and Museum.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, and we want to highlight a few items around the web marking the occasion:

  • At Ms. Magazine Audrey Bilger (Professor of Literature, Claremont McKenna College) notes that on the occasion of Austen’s birth “Most likely much of the attention will focus on Austen as a writer of romances. Each of the novels concludes in marriage, after all, and the marriage of Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy is a particularly happy ending. We should also pay tribute, however, to Austen’s early adoption of feminist ideals and her insistence that women’s voices and experiences be taken seriously.”  Read her account of “Five Feminist Footnotes” to Jane Austen’s work here.
  • At the British Newspaper Archive, Ed King highlights the advertisements and newspaper notices for some first editions of Austen’s novels in the early nineteenth century.  The post includes images of the original newspapers (which are normally available only to subscribers).
  • The Morgan Library maintains an online version of its 2010 exhibit “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy” which includes images of Austen manuscripts owned by the Morgan, video of luminaries such as Cornel West, Fran Leibowitz, Colm Tóibín, and others describing what Austen means to them, and more.