Artists’ Things: The Project

Artists’ Things takes as its subject the material objects that mediated the relationships between artists, their lives and their works. Written in the form of an abecedario, each entry examines a different object once owned by an artist in eighteenth-century France, from items related to their professional practice (Fragonard’s paint-box, Chardin’s spectacles, Mme Roslin’s pastels), to things with more personal significance (Lemoyne’s sword, Boucher’s shells, Cochin’s handkerchiefs). In a series of material and archival studies, analysing actual objects or, where they no longer exist, the visual and textual traces of them in paintings, drawings and written descriptions, Artists’ Things proposes an alternative social history of art that forges connections across the often distinct disciplines of art and material culture.

Informed by anthropological approaches premised on an understanding of society as lived experience, this collection of objects will catalogue the range of different relations between people and things, and between people via those things: relations both conscious and unconscious, willing and unwilling, emotional and contractual, sensual and cerebral. It is also alert to the nature of the gestures that have secured the survival either of the objects themselves, or memories of them; gestures both intentional and accidental; gestures preserved by use, miss-use and through collection. Just as it offers itself as a contribution to the tradition of artists’ Lives, this study recognises that objects have lives of their own. It is through an interweaving of these biographies of the animate and the inanimate that Artists’ Things aims to discover and describe a more holistic picture of the social and cultural networks of eighteenth-century France. In an embodied engagement with artists’ personal possessions, the objects themselves retrace the vital intersections between art, science, technology, music, theatre, religion, law, fashion and the rituals of everyday life.

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