Tag Archives: Salon

Guns N’ Game: Harnett’s Masculine Still Life (Pinboard #2)

William Michael Harnett After the Hunt 1885 (source: Wikipedia)

An exploding cluster of hunting paraphernalia fans out from the central vein of an old wooden door with rusty metal finishes, such as a key hole in the shape of a Native American chief. The hunting gear includes a hat framed by antlers, a hand gun, a rifle, a walking stick, a knife, a flask, a satchel, a pipe and a brass horn whose loop anchors the clockwise visual reading given here. One rabbit and two birds are suspended by their feet. A small partridge hangs by its beak, radiating light that is otherwise subsumed by the shadows that darken the right side of the door.

The Irish-American artist William M. Harnett (1848-1892) painted four versions of After the Hunt between 1883 and 1885. While Harnett lived and studied in Munich between 1881 and 1885, he encountered both historical examples of Northern European still life painting, as well as contemporary revivals coming from the studios of artists like David Neal. Harnett submitted his 1885 version of After the Hunt, which was the largest and most baroque of the series, to the Paris Salon of 1885. The painting did not sell at the Salon, but rather found a buyer stateside in Theodore Stewart, who famously installed it in his Warren Street Saloon.

Harnett’s guns-blazing still lifes lend an important counterexample to the categorization of still life painting as feminine. Female painters and domestic subject matter have not monopolized the still life genre—clearly male painters and sporting subject matter have had a significant history as well. The irony is that Harnett’s showcase of antique, European hunting goods was intended to appeal to continental gentlemen, but wound up enchanting an American saloon owner instead. The salon to saloon trajectory of After the Hunt lays bare the currency that masculine subject matter had across institutions that were supposed to represent two distant poles in the hierarchy of taste.

Academic Limitations and Market Opportunities

Johann Zoffany The Academicians of the Royal Academy 1771-2 (source: artstor)

Although this week’s readings from Gender and Art ranged in subject matter from the masculine and nationalist attributes of English architecture  to the role of women in European academies, the latter topic took center stage in our discussion. I began with a proposal that tropes such as “double standards” and “the glass ceiling,” which describe the obstacles that prevent women (and other groups) from achieving equity in the workplace today, can also be applied to the 18th-century French and English academies. These academies functioned as gatekeepers, vetting members for skill and largely excluding women and non-white artists, although Jade made the great point that in Johann Zoffany’s The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-2), a Chinese Academician appears in one of the figure groupings at the far left of the picture.  Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser, however, the two women in the Royal Academy, were excluded from life classes and appear only as portraits that are nearly lost in the background of this busy scene.

Jean-Antoine Watteau The Shop-Sign of Gersaint 1721 (source: artstor)

As our discussion moved to the female members of the French Academy Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, we honed in on the idea that the academy was not the only institution vetting artists or dictating the ideal subjects of their output. As we explored the situation of Vigée-Lebrun, who was married to the art dealer Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun (the same Lebrun who was a crucial force behind the Louvre, as Jess pointed out), we made room for the powerful role that market forces played in the art world of this era. History painting represented the apogee of painting within the academy, but portraits and still lifes that testified to the power and wealth of private patrons dominated the market.

Women artists who were associated with these “lesser” painting categories would thus have received reinforcement from the commercial marketplace that they did not get from the academy. And as Jade and Professor Powell brought up, France’s dominant salon culture also meant that women played an important role as consumers and tastemakers outside of the academy, as reflected by the powerful women in Watteau’s scene of shopping in the gallery of Gersaint, another important 18th-century French art dealer. As the above juxtaposition of Zoffany’s academy and Watteau’s marketplace shows, while women did not occupy strong positions in academic spaces, they were compelling figures in the market settings.