Academic journal article Current Musicology

Hibbert, Sarah, and Richard Wrigley, Eds. 2014. Art, Theatre, and Opera in Paris, 1750-1850: Exchanges and Tensions. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Hibbert, Sarah, and Richard Wrigley, Eds. 2014. Art, Theatre, and Opera in Paris, 1750-1850: Exchanges and Tensions. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate

Article excerpt

Hibbert, Sarah, and Richard Wrigley, eds. 2014. Art, Theatre, and Opera in Paris, 1750-1850: Exchanges and Tensions. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

The eleven essays in this volume were produced for an interdisciplinary conference, "Correspondances: Exchanges and Tensions between Art, Theatre, and Opera in France, c. 1750-1850," held at the National Gallery, London in the spring of 2010. This event coincided with an exhibition of the history paintings of Paul Delaroche. The artist's purportedly "theatrical" style, and longstanding engagement with the theater more broadly, serve as a fitting starting point for a series of explorations of the interplay between the visual arts and the Parisian stage during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

That relationships between artistic media flourished during these years is a scholarly commonplace, as the editors of the collection, Sarah Hibberd and Richard Wrigley, readily admit. They insist, however, (and rightly so) that a framework for interrogating these networks of exchange remains critically underdeveloped. The tasks set forth for these essays, then, are both lofty and laudable: the authors aim to establish new models for examining the points of contact between artists and artistic forms and to more precisely identify "which ideas and images were crossing over, how this occurred, and to what effect" (9). In so doing, they are able to shed light on several larger themes relevant to the study of painting, music, and drama during this period. First, the collection provides fresh insight into persistent questions of genre--so crucial to the production and reception of the arts in France--examining how well (or how problematically) hierarchical divisions might be mapped across media, and probing how the subversion of these boundaries might be imbued with resonances of wider sociopolitical meaning. Moreover, through their generous topical and chronological scope, the contributions to this volume address issues of aesthetic continuity and rupture, seeking to untangle how and when different media were affected by the various institutional restructurings of the turbulent Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary years.

The authors of Art, Theatre, and Opera in Paris suggest a number of diverse and promising approaches to the study of interaction between artistic media. Most straightforward, perhaps, though nonetheless thought-provoking, are essays that pinpoint the material sites of this intersection and describe how specific agents forged relationships across disciplinary fields. Olivia Voisin, for example, discusses the involvement of Romantic painters in the creation of stage dress for the Comedie-Francaise, demonstrating how the costume functioned as a "go-between" bridging the dramatic and the pictorial spheres. In his costume designs for the theater, Louis Boulanger made key contributions to broader aesthetic debates concerning historical accuracy and local color in painting; for Boulanger, the function of a costume--which would be widely seen and repeatedly reused in a repertory company--was to consolidate a system of iconography that might then be more broadly "recognized as standard through visual culture" (138). Mark Ledbury, along similar lines, assesses the association between a painter (the acclaimed Jacques-Louis David) and a set designer (Ignace Degotti, known primarily for his work at the Theatre Feydeau). Ledbury employs the concept of "facultative mutualism" to describe the relationship between David and Degotti, arguing that the creative dialogue between the two artists went beyond mere professional influence to encompass "a complex social, cultural and personal tale of multiple entanglements" (72). What is novel in this essay are the variety of sources analyzed (ranging from correspondence to provisional set designs to completed paintings) and the richly textured view of creative collaboration that emerges from this methodological scope. …

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