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First review in Les Nouvelles de l’Estampe #258

A first review of my monograph has been published in the most recent issue of Les Nouvelles de l’estampe. It’s so new in fact that the website hasn’t been updated yet, but I found out through the magic of Twitter:

The editor, Rémi Mathis, very kindly sent me a PDF of the whole review.

It was written by none other than Annie Duprat, whose research I have long-admired and, thankfully, it ends on this very generous note indeed:

Très bien composé et très détaillé, ce livre, qui comporte un appareil critique considérable (notes, bibliographie, index) rendra de très grands services à tous ceux qui s’intéressent à l’histoire culturelle de la Révolution française.

[Translation:] Very well composed and very detailed, this book, which contains a considerable critical apparatus (notes, bibliography, index), will be of great service to all those interested in the cultural history of the French Revolution.

Couldn’t ask for better, frankly.

Hunting in the shadows of the French Revolution

My blog post ahead of my monograph’s impending publication!

Voltaire Foundation

ose-2016-10-50pcResearching prints of the French Revolution can sometimes feel like ghost-hunting.

Unlike other forms of art, such as paintings, which are usually signed, the majority of etchings are authorless. Sometimes, sheer luck, or the right accumulation of clues, can lead you to an artist – a most satisfying conclusion.

This was the case with ‘Dupuis, peintre’, an artist commissioned twice by the Comité de Salut Public to create prints central to my book, Satire, prints and theatricality in the French Revolution. His identity evaded me for several years. I had several candidates for him, and my original thesis, the basis of my book, included this footnote:

Chûte en masse: ainsi l'étincelle electrique de la liberté, renversera tous les trônes des brigands couronnés (François Marie Isidore Queverdo). ‘Chûte en masse: ainsi l’étincelle electrique de la liberté, renversera tous les trônes des brigands couronnés’, by François Marie Isidore Queverdo (Stanford University Libraries).

‘The identity of Dupuis remains mysterious. He could be issued from an illustrious family of engravers, including…

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Review of Richard Clay’s Iconoclasm in Revolutionary Paris

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Richard Clay seems to be destined to divide academics. His clear-sighted BBC documentary, The French Revolution – Tearing up History drew criticism for being too populist and over-eager to draw comparisons between revolutionary Paris and contemporary events. However, these same detractors should prove eager to read his densely written and meticulously researched monograph, Iconoclasm in Revolutionary Paris.

Clay’s book is an invaluable addition to French Revolutionary historiography, examining through a semiotic lens the ways in which iconoclasm was represented, created, championed and opposed across the spectrum. It aims to raise the status of Parisians ‘who have been condemned as barbarians by previous historians’ (5), by demonstrating that their behaviour was based on a sophisticated understanding of the symbolic power of these representational objects in relation to the public space they occupied. In Clay’s hands, iconoclasm is shown to be both an act of creative destruction and the securer of Revolutionary civilisation. Clay demonstrates throughout a refreshingly egalitarian approach to sources, whether verbal, textual, or visual, to observe the tensions between official and non-official attempts to gain control over iconoclastic actions.

The study is largely chronological, considering acts of iconoclasm on a year to year basis from 1789-1795, and richly illustrated by mostly prints. The range of representational objects covered, as well as the diversity of decoding and recoding methods employed, are impressive – from the Barrière de la Conférence which was looted and burned, its marble representation of Normandy decapitated, to the destruction of coats of arms on buildings. Particularly fascinating is Clay’s section on post-thermidorian reactions to the iconoclasm of the Terror, demonstrating how revolutionary iconoclasm could be utilised not only as an example of revolutionary excess, but also as a means of mediation between politically and religiously diverse communities. Clay’s insistence on the polyvalent and polysemic nature of the statues of kings is another highlight of this book, demonstrating the impossibility for any authority to take full possession of any iconoclastic action.

Iconoclasm in revolutionary Paris ends on a curiously apologetic footnote, in which Clay explains the various ways in which the book might have been improved had he had the ‘time, energy and intellectual capacity’. He certainly seems to be lacking in neither energy or intellect, and one can only hope that he will pursue further the avenues he’s outlined, particularly the suggestion to study iconoclasm within a ‘more detailed consideration of sections’ demographic’ (282). Iconoclasm remains as pertinent today as it did then, with the erasure of the ancient city of Dur Sharrukin, or the debate surrounding the Rhodes statue, Clay’s book not only addresses an important aspect of French revolutionary history but should encourage further critical elaboration on how different kinds of vandalism shed light on the processes of history.

Dramatic finances: Jacques Necker etched as a charlatan

I have a bit of a twisted fascination for Revolutionary characters that suffer a dramatic downfall after a large amount of popularity. One of these is three times minister of finances Jacques Necker who, frankly, did not have the easiest ride. His infamous Compte rendu au roi (1781) was a document in which Necker manipulated the accounts to present a more positive image of finances. Through this, he gained a tremendous amount of popularity, sometimes depicted as a saviour of France (there was an outcry when he was dismissed on 11 July 1789, just before the storming of the Bastille). By 1790, however, it was clear that he was not up to the task and his popularity evaporated.

I want to draw attention to two prints from 1790 which depict Necker as a charlatan. They’re part of a much wider trend of prints that are fascinated with the concept of unmasking (but that’s a whole other story).

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The first print is called ‘Et ne devrait-on pas à̀ des signes certains reconnaitre le cœur des perfides humains’ (1790). The title comes from lyrics taken from Act 4 scene 2 of Rachine’s Phèdre, which immediately adds a dramatic layer to the image.

(roughly, it translates as ‘and shouldn’t we recognize from certain signs the deceitful hearts of humans’)

This etching was an illustration in the book Necker jugé par le tribunal de la lanterne (1790), people must have been a bit confused about it as an explanation was also printed (translation mine):

We read the following: “The King accuses Necker of quackery. In his anger, he flipped the table on which were the instruments, such as cups, nutmegs, wand, etc. The gaze of the king is mingled with indignation and surprise, and he looks ready to burst out in anger against Necker. Necker is depicted with the charlatan apron. He wears a hand to his forehead to mark his humiliation, and the other to his heart, and seems to say to the king “ah! Sire, if you knew my heart!” Through one of his eyes, a mocking laugh escapes, which shows that this adventurer trusts the king’s weakness. A deity embraces with one hand a gallows, and on the other, she directs the rays of the lantern to the chest of Necker, where we see snakes emanate, symbols of the passions that animate this minister. The figure of the deity seems to laugh to mark the joy she feels at having unveiled the heart of this false and corrupt man. Both verses that are at the bottom of the print, are ideally suited to the subject. The French should not regret to have not known sooner the uselessness and vices of this minister, that they had adored so blindly.”[1]

The lantern was used very frequently in 1790 prints, in part because this word has a double meaning, referring on the one hand to the illuminations of a magic lantern, and on the other to lynching. Both senses are used here.

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Let’s look at another print, ‘Compte Rendu au roy’, which was published in May 1790 in the Révolutions de France et de Brabant of Camille Desmoulins. The image is without a legend, but earlier in the newspaper, the following appears (my translation again): ‘Necker asked again on Monday for 20 million […] he is always asking for money […] we ask him for accounts, accounts, and he never hands in his accounts […] I demand that […]  Necker the charlatan should be arrested.’[2]

This print is less obvious than the previous one in its satire, until you look at the framed text in the background (‘New way to regenerate France: borrow 1774 / borrow 1775 / borrow 1776 […] product of these operations: deficit’). In the foreground Necker makes a game out of the accounts – but it looks like the king is not convinced.

For now, at least, artists are still willing to give Louis XVI the benefit of the doubt.

Charlatans, as the ultimate manipulators, are no strangers to brutal reversals of fortunes, and Necker’s own iconographical evolution deserves its own study, alongside the more popular Marat, Mirabeau, or Louis XVI.

[1] BNF, De Vinck, 1396.

[2] 7 mai 1790, p. 539.

The Return of the Academic Hat

Mirabeau_apparition

I’ve been a bit quiet on this website for the last few months – my poetry and editing hat have rather taken over while my academic one has been gathering dust. This week, these things have turned around, partly because my tour has finished for the year, and partly because I’m off to the Paris archives tomorrow, to work on my monograph Staging Satire: Theatrical Metaphors in Prints of the French Revolution which is nearing completion. I’m very excited about this – my thesis has been hanging over me like a Damocles sword – and I’m glad that my gamble to take time off from regular paid work has worked out for the best where this is concerned!

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The other two bits of news that are bringing me back into the academic arena are that firstly my copy of the special issue of Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies on the Clair-Obscur has landed on my doorstep, and that secondly I am frantically transforming a conference paper into an article for the Actes du Colloques: Théâtre et charlatans dans l’Europe moderne to be published by the Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

I feel like a bit of a rogue academic sometimes, so this is a nice reminder that my research is of interest. Now, anyone fancy hiring me?

The Shipwrecked House – Guest Blog by Claire Trévien

Here is a quick glimpse into my ‘other’ life as a poet. I’m about to tour across the UK The Shipwrecked House, a show based on my poetry collection. More details on tour dates here.

It’s such an honour for me to be on Kim Moore’s blog, of which I am a huge fan. As well as being an excellent poet herself, the blog is always full of exciting poems and interesting thoughts both about poetry and brass bands. Highly recommended.

Kim Moore

Evening folks – another extra blog post that I hope will counter the last rather negative and depressing post about The Wordsworth Trust.  This is the first in what I hope will be a random series of guest blog posts.  I’m going to hand over to Claire Trévien in a minute to explain how her first collection ‘The Shipwrecked House’, longlisted in the Guardian First Book awards came to be transformed into a touring show.  This seems an amazing achievement to me – surely the poetry equivalent of a novel being turned into a film?  And if there was a poet that would be likely to do such a thing, it would be Claire who seems always to be doing something exciting with poetry – recently writing a 100 poems in one day to raise money for Refuge for example.

Claire Trévien is one of those people who frequently puts her…

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Popular Reaction to Napoleon’s 100 Days: Print, Satire, Song and Theatre

I was back in the British Library for the first time in a while yesterday having decided over the last few months that I can’t afford a career in French academia. Working long hours for free or a pittance, spending a fortune on travelling and conference fees, not to mention the cost of image rights and publications have taken their toll, so I’m concentrating on the bright lights of poetry…! Yesterday reminded me however of the upside, the sheer joy of finding out new things, of diving headlong into a rabbit hole… I love research, of course I do!

The thing that prompted my return was an unexpected day free of rehearsals for The Shipwrecked House to prepare a talk I agreed to give at a one-day conference next week: Popular Reaction to Napoleon’s 100 Days: Print, Satire, Song and Theatre. The whole day is completely up my alley, as my thing is popular culture! My thesis was on popular culture during the French Revolution, particularly satirical etchings but also songs, plays (both performed and not), pamphlets, etc. What’s new this time around is the Napoleonic setting.

Now, I think I’m a bit territorial about my thesis and will argue until the cows come home that French Revolutionary prints are the best thing.

However.

Goodness me do I love Napoleonic prints too, especially ones featuring the man himself: dressed as Pierrot, riding a lobster, eating snakes, falling off a cliff, being a bossy boots,… They’re gloriously vivid.

For the conference, we’ve each been asked to pick an object from Napoleon’s 100 days (i.e the 100 days in 1815 in which Napoleon escaped from Elba, made a grab at power and was eventually defeated at Waterloo). The one I picked is this splendid print of Napoleon’s return to France:

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Isn’t it great? Even better are the two members of the anxious Bourbon party wearing extinguishers on their heads. It refers to a term, ‘chevaliers de l’éteignoir’ used by the satirical paper Le Nain Jaune to mock those belonging to the old French regime. Quite literally, they are trying to extinguish the flames of enlightenment! Le Nain Jaune was pro-Napoleon so this depiction is rather apt.

Here are some more éteignoirs, just because:

extinguishers

What drew me to this print however is that I recognized in it a leitmotif found in two French Revolutionary prints from 1791:

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Yes, the Standford link will say the print dates from 1792-1794, but this is wrong. The courrier des 83 départements of 3 June 1791 announces it so it pre-dates the Marie-Antoinette print.

Not so flattering, eh? The first one depicts Marie-Antoinette escaping the Tuileries palace, the other Catherine II of Russia taking a conquering stride. Both are rather lewd, in the first the comtesse de la Motte-Valois (of the affair of the diamond necklace) holds up a necklace up Marie-Antoinette’s skirt which is both a reference to the affair and to sexuality (jewels in French refers to female genitalia), Catherine II is bare-breasted, and in both cases everyone is looking up their skirts.

Whereas in the case of Marie-Antoinette and Catherine II female agency is seen as a negative trait to be mocked, it is celebrated in Napoleon. Some things never change, eh?