François Boucher, Lady Fastening Her Garter (also known as La Toilette)? 1742, oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Paris, which re-imagines, through art and material culture, the lifestyle of elite 18th-century Parisians. The exhibition follows the conventional ctivities in the cycle of a Parisian day—dressing, writing, collecting, eating, and evening entertainment—offering a glimpse of these forgotten activities.
Bringing together some 160 objects, roughly half of them loans from 26 museums and private collections around the world, the exhibition includes a wide range of paintings, sculpture, applied arts, drawings, metalwork, furniture, architectural fittings, lighting and hearth fixtures, scientific and musical instruments, clocks and watches, textiles and dress, books, and maps.
Clock movement by Jean-Romilly; Case attributed to Charles Cressent; Bracket by Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain; Clock on Bracket (Cartel sur une console), c. 1758, gilt bronze, enameled metal, and glass, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
“The structure of the exhibition is inviting to viewers because it allows them to experience the day of a typical elite Parisian in the 1700s. While the everyday objects offer insight into the daily Parisian lifestyle of this particular era, they are often works of great beauty and craftsmanship,” said Edgar Peters Bowron, the MFAH Audrey Jones Beck curator of European art. “The exhibition is a sensory-driven experience for viewers, and combines works including decorative arts, paintings, sculpture, textiles, costumes, drawings, prints and books. These objects are normally kept apart because of their sensitivity to light, but this exhibition brings the works together to convey a complete 18th-century Parisian day.”
A Parisian galerie is evoked and explores the act of collecting—particularly art. The assembled works typically reflected the knowledge of the collector, drawn from the classical canon of books he read, especially the sacred scriptures, or the epic and mythological stories of ancient Greece and Rome. In mid-18th-century Paris, the main meal was customarily consumed at midday, and a section of the exhibition considers the portrayal of the ingredients of the meal made under the direction of the artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755). These include still-life paintings of The Four Elements painted by Oudry (which show game, fish, poultry, and vegetables); a pair of wool and silk tapestries portraying picnickers and hunters; his engraved illustration, featuring a lavishly set table, for the tale of The City Rat and the Country Rat, in the 1755 edition of Jean de La Fontaine’s famous animal fables; and the Machine d’Argent, a still life sculpture in silver, by François-Thomas Germain, under Oudry’s intervention, which features a rabbit, two game birds, several types of mushrooms, and a variety of vegetables.
volumes of the philosophes’ key publications, namely the Encyclopédie by Denis Diderot (1713–1784) and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717–1783) and the Histoire Naturelle (1749–1803) by the Comte de Buffon (1707–1788), opened to illustrated pages.
In order to better understand evening activities (before the invention of electric lighting), the exhibition focuses on two types of leisure occupations: music-making and game-playing. To recreate an era when nighttime gatherings were dependent on firelight and candlelight, the overall light levels in the final gallery are lowered. A five-legged card table will be featured with candles, to suggest how the objects might have been used together. The installation also includes a Parisian harpsichord of 1754 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which survives with both its original sound box and its original lacquered surface decoration of chinoiserie motifs. The harpsichord is complemented by ambient audio recording of excerpts from the Suite in G major, Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin (1726–27) by Jean-Philippe Rameau (French, 1683–1764).
French, Armchair (Fauteuil á la reine), c. 1735, gilded walnut, modern upholstery, and brass studs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles