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The Perfect Foil

François-André Vincent and the Revolution in French Painting

2011
Author:

Elizabeth C. Mansfield

The Perfect Foil

The life and works of a profoundly influential painter of Revolutionary-era France, brought out of the shadow of his outsize contemporary, Jacques-Louis David

Offering a nuanced and historically accurate account of François-André Vincent’s life and work, Elizabeth C. Mansfield reveals the artist’s profound influence on the visual culture of the French Revolution. Mansfield restores a critically important body of work to its rightful place in the story of French art and reorients Revolutionary-era French art history toward a broader understanding of the period.

Elizabeth Mansfield’s The Perfect Foil is a remarkable piece of scholarship that both transcends and transforms the genre of the art historical monograph. It is a sophisticated work that expands the way we conceive of how the visual arts and politics interacted during the French Revolution. Mansfield’s provocative and methodological surefootedness will make readers aware of the contingencies that inform their own thinking.

Julie Anne Plax, author of Watteau and the Cultural Politics of Eighteenth Century France

Art history is haunted by the foil: the dark star whose diminished luster sets off another’s brilliance. Relegated to this role by modern historians of Revolutionary-era French art, François-André Vincent (1746–1816) is chiefly viewed in the reflection of his contemporary, Jacques-Louis David. The Perfect Foil frees Vincent from this distorting mirror. Offering a nuanced and historically accurate account of Vincent’s life and work, Elizabeth C. Mansfield reveals the artist’s profound influence on the visual culture of the French Revolution—and, paradoxically, on the art historical narrative that would consign him to obscurity.

The Vincent of The Perfect Foil is an artist whose life and work responded to cultural conditions—religious difference, emotional bonds, institutional pressures—only now finding their way into art historical accounts of the period. A successful academician despite his status as a member of the Protestant minority, a leading reformer of arts institutions during the Revolution, the progenitor of French Romanticism, and the husband of one of the period’s most celebrated women artists, François-André Vincent emerges in these pages as an embodiment of the ambivalences and contradictions of life in France in the wake of the Enlightenment.

By giving us a detailed and faithful portrait of this artist poised at the turning point of history, Mansfield restores a critically important body of work to its rightful place in the story of French art and reorients Revolutionary-era French art history toward a broader, more inclusive understanding of the period.

The Perfect Foil

Elizabeth C. Mansfield is associate professor of art history at New York University. Her publications address topics ranging from seventeenth-century Dutch printmaking and the history of modernism to contemporary obscenity laws governing digital artworks and the surgical performances of Orlan. She has edited two volumes of essays on the institutional history of the discipline of art history and is coediting an anthology on eighteenth-century satire and visuality. Too Beautiful to Picture: Zeuxis, Myth, and Mimesis, published by the University of Minnesota Press, received the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award from the College Art Association. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

The Perfect Foil

Elizabeth Mansfield’s The Perfect Foil is a remarkable piece of scholarship that both transcends and transforms the genre of the art historical monograph. It is a sophisticated work that expands the way we conceive of how the visual arts and politics interacted during the French Revolution. Mansfield’s provocative and methodological surefootedness will make readers aware of the contingencies that inform their own thinking.

Julie Anne Plax, author of Watteau and the Cultural Politics of Eighteenth Century France

The Perfect Foil is an important addition to scholarship on 18th-century French art.

Choice

Mansfield has mastered that art-historical scholarship in illuminating ways.

Journal of European Studies

In The Perfect Foil we have a work that adds considerably to our understanding of an artist who has indeed been disadvantaged by too frequent comparison with an overbearing contemporary.

French Studies

The Perfect Foil

Contents

Preface
1. Romancing Rivalry
2. Growing Up an Artist on the Rue Neuve des Petits Champs
3. The Prix de Rome
4. The Judgment of Paris
5. Painting Women of Virtue and Women of Virtus
6. The Revolution in French Art
7. Down with the Tyrant
8. The Unfinished Masterpiece
Conclusion

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index