In Defense of the 18th Century

Oh I could just weep... here is one of the many reasons I should be in London right now.

Alan Riding writes of a new exhibition, The Triumph of Eros,

"The British have long conceded that the French invented the art of love. London, then, might offer the most receptive audience for “The Triumph of Eros: Art and Seduction in 18th-Century France,” a show that demonstrates through paintings, engravings and sculptures how the French turned loving into an amusing pasttime."

It's at the splendid venue of Somerset House...and it is displaying works from the Hermitage. The chance of ever seeing these pieces again outside of Russia are pretty slim.

This great review is courtesy of the NYTimes.
Love the title, by the way ("Art from Russia with Love (C'est Francais, Naturellement).")!

Most people these days aren't too enamored by 18th century French art, seeing it as too histrionic, too confectionary to contemplate. But what interests me about this time period are the deeper undercurrents running beneath the delightful (you might say saccharine) exteriors. It's now commonly acknowledged that cultural production (including the fine arts) is a construct which is reflective of the wider concerns of a society. This art isn't just about the excess and sexual perversions of 18th century aristocrats with too much time (and money) on their hands, it's symptomatic of a wider trend of libertinism and social enlightenment which would lead to the breaking down of boundaries, which in turn would lead to the collapse of the French social system in 1789.

You know, the Bastille, the Guillotine, the Reign of Terror, and all that.

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