Du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas Wiertz Revisited


Two renowned art historians and specialists in the field of the history of the museum will discuss Antoine Wiertz from this perspective. Pascal Griener will position Wiertz, his oeuvre and his museum within the broader European context of the rise of the artist museum. Stephen Bann will focus on how Wiertz’ unique ideal of artistry is already taking shape during his Roman years. The afternoon ends with a debate about the ‘future’ of the museum as an institution and as an idea.

In the context of the ERC project Elevated Minds: The Sublime and the Public Arts


In art history Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865) is often considered as a curiosum, as the prototype of the artist as ‘failure’. Contemporaries described his colossal and melodramatic works as an odd and monstrous potpourri lacking focus and escaping all aesthetic categories.

The disparage for his work already begun in 1839 when Wiertz exhibited his gigantic painting Greeks and Trojans fighting over the body of Patroclus at the Paris Salon. Paris critics used his work as an example to show how the sublime was just one step away from the ridicule. Also, Baudelaire described Wiertz as an idiot whose paintings were as large as his stupidity. Until deep in the twentieth century, this criticism would set the tone for the Wiertz study and reception.

The recent, renewed art historical interest for Wiertz shows a new perspective. Especially the inseparable relationship between Wiertz’ art and the Wiertz Museum is central here. In 1851, Wiertz received a state subsidized atelier that he immediately used as his personal museum that was entirely dedicated to his own oeuvre. This museum does not only fit within the cultural policy of the still young Belgian state, but also within the broader perspective of the museum as public institution. Since the creation of museums in the late eighteenth century, they function as instruments of canonization of art, often with a nationalistic perspective. Wiertz is the perfect, but quirky example of this. As the self-proclaimed successor of Rubens and with a museum entirely devoted to his own work, Wiertz canonizes his work and declares it independent from any art criticism. Wiertz, as Bart Verschaffel wrote, uses his museum in a clever way to perform his identity as an artist and to write himself into art history.


Sunday 7 January 2018

13.00-13.15 Welcome by Dominique Marechal (Wiertz museum) & Stijn Bussels (Leiden University)   

13.15 - 14.15: Stephen Bann: Embattled Classicism

Géricault complained that the reinstatement of the Prix de Rome and the Rome Academy had led to a 'crowd of [French] competitors' for whom 'love alone' would not suffice to create a vocation. The dilemma of the Belgian Antoine Wiertz was almost the exact opposite. Chosen for a Rome Prize by the new Belgian state authorities, he began by imagining himself as the successor to Mathieu Van Bree, but was in the last resort self-appointed as the unique successor to Rubens. In the course of this chequered development, he was impelled to review all the existing modalities of 'classical' painting with an increasing contempt and revulsion. This paper examines in particular his extensive Rome correspondence, and refers in particular to the circumstances in which he brought to completion his mighty Patroclus.  

Stephen Bann is currently Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Senior Research Fellowship at the University of Bristol, where he was Professor of History of Art from 2000 to 2008. He has extensively on nineteenth-century French history painting, with a focus on the work of Paul Delaroche, and served as Guest Curator on related exhibitions at the National Gallery, London (2012) and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon (2014).      

14.45 - 15.45: Pascal Griener: Tackling the Problem of the Artist's Museum. Propositions for a Cultural Configuration
The artist's museum is a cultural phenomenon that developed in the course of the nineteenth century. As a symptom, it may be connected with a web of causes; each of them seems to have taken effect within a distinctive temporality. The task of the historian may be to build up a configuration of cultural practices that, culminating in the nineteenth century, led to the creation of this symbolical form. I shall try to propose a model suitable to describing such a configuration, and to lay out some of the intellectual tools that we have at our disposal.

Pascal Griener is a well-known authority in museology, 18th-century art theory and aesthetics, and the history and theory of connoisseurship. His recent publications include La République de l’oeil (Paris 2011), a ground-breaking study on spectatorship in the 18th century. He has been a visiting professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Collège de France in Paris, where he worked with the neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux on the history of art and physical sciences in 19th- century Europe. In 2007, he was one of the curators of the exhibition Le Grand Atelier in Bozar for Europalia 2007. In 2017, he held the Chaire du Louvre with a series of lectures entitled ‘Pour une histoire du regard. L'expérience du musée au 19e siècle’, published under the same title.
16.00 - 16.45: Future(s) of the Museum
Panel with Dirk Snauwaert (Wiels), Cecilia Hurley (Ecole du Louvre), Bart Verschaffel (UGent), Dominique Marechal (Wiertz museum), Peter Carpreau (Museum M).
Moderator: Gudrun De Geyter (Klara/VRT).  


Language (EN)


13:00 - 17:00


Musée Wiertz Museum
Rue Vautier 62
1050 Ixelles


Stijn Bussels (Leiden), Bram Van Oostveldt (Amsterdam), Caroline van Eck (Cambridge), Dominique Marechal (KMSK/Wiertz Museum Brussels) and Peter Carpreau (M Museum Leuven)

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