Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc and the Beauty of Books in Fin-de-Siècle Paris

This expert panel explored French medievalism at the turn of the twentieth century by examining the particular cases of Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc and book arts, along with the greater phenomenon of medievalism during the Belle Epoque. Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1850–1913) explored the subject of Joan of Arc in several memorable forms, notable among which are six dazzling paintings in oil and gold leaf (ca. 1906–1912).

Speaker Biographies

The speaker bios can be found here.

Panel Details

Mary Morton, Curator of French Paintings, National Gallery of Art, kicked off the panel discussion. Morton reviewed the provenance of the Jeanne d’Arc series, commissioned by William Clark and given to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1926.

An audio recording of Morton’s remarks can be found here.

In her presentation, Nora Heimann placed Boutet de Monvel’s  treatment of Joan of Arc in its historic context.  She analyzed the stylistic origins of the paintings, their genesis in Boutet de Monvel’s illustrated book Jeanne d’Arc (1896), their relationship to an award-winning monumental mural by the same artist that disappeared in the early twentieth century, and the peregrinations of the six paintings from their commission to their current display at the National Gallery of Art.

An audio recording of Heimann’s presentation can be found here.

Willa Silverman followed to focus on the attraction held by medieval themes and iconography during this era for those engaged in book production. An atmosphere of intense bibliophilic activity came to define French culture at the turn of the twentieth century, promoted in part by the activities of upper-bourgeois collectors who considered print a crucial part of popular conceptions of aesthetics. As amateurs, publishers, authors, designers, and directors of bibliophile societies, reviews, and small presses, these “new bibliophiles” often worked closely with both authors and artists to create unique volumes bearing the esthetic influence of Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Japonisme, and the Medieval Revival.

An audio recording of Silverman’s presentation can be found here.

To conclude, Elizabeth Emery explored the French engagement with the medieval period in the years 1870–1914. She examined this French medievalism (the postmedieval engagement with medieval things) through a range of examples including paintings, history textbooks for children, and popular World’s Fair attractions and memorabilia. Through this multimedia presentation she helped contextualize the late nineteenth-century French passion for medieval motifs that so influenced American visitor Senator William A. Clark that he returned to Washington with many treasures, including Boutet de Monvelʼs Joan of Arc paintings on display in the National Gallery of Art.

An audio recording of Emery’s presentation can be found here.

The event took place at the National Gallery of Art on Wednesday, December 12, 2019 from 2 – 4 pm.

Read more about the event: guest blog Modern Encounters with Medieval France