Portraitistes a la plume: Women art critics in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France
Jensen, Heather Belnap
University of Kansas
History of Art
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This dissertation considers women writing art criticism in France, c. 1785-1815. It was at this historical juncture, wherein art criticism as an institution was in its infancy and women's place within the social order was particularly unsettled, that women began to write about art in earnest. Analysis of the literature of the period reveals that women's engagement with art was not limited to the pamphlets and periodical literature spawned by the Salon, but was also registered in myriad literary genres, including the novel, the travelogue, the memoir, and correspondence. While this dissertation focuses primarily on woman-authored criticism that appeared in the periodical literature and fictional works and was distinctly public, it argues for the necessity of a more expansive definition of nineteenth-century French art criticism.Furthermore, this dissertation demonstrates that women found in art criticism an efficacious means to participate in the framing of post-Revolutionary culture. Analysis of the art writings by individuals such as Caroline Wuiet, Angélique Vandeul, Victoire Babois, Juliane de Krüdener, Stéphanie-Félicité Genlis, Germaine de Staël, and others, shows the various ways women used art-critical discourse and activity to assert their place within the cultural order. The dissertation not only seeks to raise consciousness regarding the specific women writing about art at this time, but also seeks to examine how woman-authored art criticism, which ranged from the aesthetic to the political, and from the personal to the social, registered shifts within the terrain of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century French society.Also, an important component of this work is its consideration of issues surrounding the female spectator's vision and visibility, and consequently, it queries how women saw art and in what contexts; how their aesthetic discourse intimated underlying sexual politics; and how the private and public spheres collapsed in the act of viewing and criticizing art. Occupying the liminal space between the ancien régime and modernity, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods stand as critical moments in the emergence of both new economies of female spectatorship, as well as new technologies of art criticism, and this dissertation seeks to illuminate these developments.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of Kansas, History of Art, 2007.
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