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Reviewed by:
  • Adolphe Thiers: critique d’art—Salons de 1822 et de 1824
  • Margaret Macnamidhe
Adolphe Thiers: critique d’art—Salons de 1822 et de 1824. Édition présentée et annotée par Marie-Claude Chaudonneret . ( Histoire culturelle de l’Europe). Paris, Champion, 2005. 259 pp., 5 b&w plates. Hb €50.00.

The painting of the Bourbon Restoration has been brought to more substantial art-historical account of late. Stylistically opposed chapters of Neo-Classicism followed by Romanticism offer a decreasingly satisfactory narrative of its development, and the isolated achievements of Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Théodore Géricault are less likely to dominate perceptions of the period's artistic production. These vanguard few once seemed to heroically oppose institutional forces ranged against them. This latest publication by Marie-Claude Chaudonneret displays her rigorous attention to sources, which has made her scholarship indispensable to the revised understanding of the period. Her L'État et les artistes: de la Restauration à la Monarchie de Juillet (1815–1833) (Paris, Flammarion, 1999), revealed that [End Page 275] official support for contemporary art in the period was unstinting — far from the disapproving forces of legend. Here she collects four reviews of the Paris Salon written by a young Adolphe Thiers: one covering the exhibition of 1822, and no less than three addressing the next Salon in 1824. While he may have been the most prolific and energetic, Thiers was only one of many recently minted art critics staking a claim to contemporary prominence via the prestigious route Salon reviewing continued to offer. Chaudonneret quotes avowals of this status from François Guizot and Théophile Thoré but the essayistic generosity of a 'Salon' became all the more prized in the 1820s as talented young individuals in the Restoration faced increasingly straitened career openings. Moreover, as the Prix de Rome and traditional structures of training (even the studio of Jacques-Louis David) waned in significance, the Salon of the 1820s, as Chaudonneret underlines, had become the most important arena in which the reputations of young painters and sculptors could be made or broken. Arriving in the capital in late 1821, supported only by prize money from student successes in Aix, Thiers set his sights on the expanding liberal press. After enlisting him as a Salon reviewer for the Globe, the seminal journal begun in 1824, one of its founders confessed that he was keeping the authorship secret because of Thiers's ubiquity in 1824 (he was a regular already at the powerful Constitutionnel). His deft social manœuvering in Paris's cénacles — in her brisk but detailed introduction Chaudonneret describes the 'clubby' efficiency of the leading salons — also opened up opportunities for Thiers's historical writing and political commentary. (While Chaudonneret focuses on its role in Thiers's career, the sensibility of Restoration culture as attuned to new modes of representing the past has been key to much recent art history on the 1820s.) The senior critic Étienne-Jean Delécluze believed that Thiers was an unschooled arriviste. Chaudonneret emphasizes his innovations, for example ordering his 'Salons' under individual artists and paintings rather than according to the hierarchy of genres (history painting first, portraits and landscapes appearing later). Most importantly, her astute Thiers is not automatically opposed to tradition (he distinguished between David's achievements and those of his disappointing 'third-generation' students), and he steers clear of the contemporary polemics between romantics and classicists (exchanges that have been subsequently simplified and overestimated, I believe). The index is concise but thorough and Chaudonneret's notes and references characteristically meticulous.

Margaret Macnamidhe
University College Dublin


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