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Rococo and rejection

29 January 2014

tumblr_mv1f5fdJEc1qdr6jto1_1280My latest piece ‘Why bother with Boze’ – Pastels in the Burlington Magazine appears today on the Burlingon Magazine Index Blog. It picks up the theme from previous blogs on this site which deal with how vocabulary can insidiously undermine an art form. You might well conclude that I think that an article on Perronneau, the first in 90 years, might not be out of place given the 60 or so devoted to Gainsborough. But I shouldn’t want to leave the impression that I think the Burlington has been any more at fault than other journals over its century of coverage. However the problem remains very much alive today.

Waldemar Januszczak is currently presenting a three-part television series on the Rococo (two have so far appeared). Even with the breadth he gives the term, it is hard to see how this series can ignore pastel. And indeed it cannot quite do so, however hard it tries: pastels by Rosalba Carriera and by Lundberg appeared in the second episode, but neither the artists nor the medium were mentioned. The audience to whom Januszczak presumably directs his comments might well have concluded that these were portraits not of, but by, Watteau and Boucher.

Januszczak would have you believe that his “USP” is the forced march in front of the television camera, followed characteristically by his flinging a book upon the ground to make his point. Actually his USP is clothing in rebarbative language a deeply conventional view of art history in which only the most popular gets a look in.

This neglect isn’t just about pastel. The rococo itself has to be reduced to the digestible lumps of Tiepolo, Canaletto and Gainsborough (I assume we get Goya and Messerschmidt next week) with all the “lesser” figures omitted.

The origin of the problem is perhaps well illustrated by a video recently posted on Art History News, showing Luke Syson discussing his ambivalent feelings about a Sèvres vase. Syson’s Leonardo exhibition was a fantastic achievement, and I join Bendor Grosvenor in applauding his refreshing candour explaining his discomfiture in this video. But I thought he was more convincing in this part than in his account of his conversion; and I have a suspicion that a Courtauld training cannot be so easily extinguished. What is it about the Ancien Régime that offends so deeply? Much of the art Syson relates to more readily was also produced in oppressive, totalitarian régimes with very unequal distributions of wealth.

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From → Art history

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