The Necessity of a Public Art Museum
Réflexions sur quelques Causes de l’Etat présent de la Peinture en France. Avec un examen des principaux Ouvrages exposés au Louvre le mois d’Août 1746.
3 p.l., 155 pp. 8vo (171 x 102 mm.), cont. mottled calf (joints a little rubbed and cracked at head & tail, but strong), spine gilt, red morocco lettering-piece on spine. The Hague: J. Neaulme, 1747.
First edition of this groundbreaking work on the arts in France, composed by the “father of modern art criticism” (Oxford Art online, by A. McClellan). La Font (1688-1771) was employed at Versailles as Gentilhomme de la Reine to Marie Leczinska, and befriended the painter F. Lemoyne. He anonymously wrote several other well-regarded books on the arts.
The present work, in addition to his Sentimens (1754), another Salon review, “fuelled an explosion in Salon criticism, much of it anonymous, in the second half of the 18th century and marked a turning-point not just in the history of art criticism but in the relationship between art and politics as well.”–Oxford Art online.
“In 1747 his notorious Réflexions…was published, anonymously, as were all his subsequent works. Offered ostensibly as a review of the previous year’s Paris Salon exhibition, its scope is considerably wider, seeking to identify the causes of what he perceived as the steady decline in French painting, especially history painting, since the death of Louis XIV in 1715. La Font blamed this decline on the spread of the Rococo style in art and decoration and on the growing consumption of luxury goods, which he claimed had banished serious painting from the fashionable interior during the first half of the 18th century…The Réflexions was novel in a number of respects: it holds the government responsible for upholding standards in artistic production; it defends the right of non-practising critics to pass judgement on the works of living artists; and it claims to represent the opinions not of its anonymous author but of the ‘public’ at large…In drawing the public’s attention to the need for reforms La Font was hoping to pressurize the government to implement these plans. It proved an effective strategy, and one that earned him the respect if not the universal admiration of his contemporaries. In addition, the Réflexions contains the first appeal in print for a public art museum in France.”–Oxford Art online.
A nice copy in a contemporary binding. Leaves L1, N1, N2 with careful marginal repairs.
❧ McWilliam et al., A Bibliography of Salon Criticism in Paris from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration, 1699-1827 (1991), 37. See also P. Michel, Peinture et Plaisir: Les Goûts picturaux des Collectionneurs Parisiens au XVIIIe siècle (2010).
Item ID: 6960