A Cloud

John Constable's Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right

Contributor: Clare Brant

Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London

Description: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: the first line (and proper title) of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils (pub.1807) has epitomised Romantic poetry for generations of English schoolchildren (and for some, created resistance to it.) What made clouds Romantic? Why did poets and artists across Europe follow William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and John Constable (1776-1837) in making them subjects of Romantic poems and paintings?

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The Table of Inkwells / La table aux encriers

Table aux quatre encriers (détail du plateau). Paris, Maison de Victor Hugo. Table of Inkwells.

Contributor: Jean-Marc Hovasse

Location: Maison de Victor Hugo, 6, place des Vosges, 75004 Paris.

Description: Mme Victor Hugo organisait régulièrement sous la monarchie de Juillet des loteries ou des ventes de charité au profit de bonnes œuvres. Elle continua en exil. On raconte qu’ayant croisé au marché une fillette de cinq ans qui gardait non sans périls sa petite sœur de six mois, elle eut l’idée de fonder une crèche à Guernesey, où les mères pourraient déposer leurs enfants pendant qu’elles travaillaient, au lieu de les abandonner dans la rue. Telle est l’origine du grand « Bazar » organisé pendant la dernière semaine du mois de juin 1860 à Saint-Pierre-Port. Il avait été préparé très en amont, comme en témoigne ce passage d’une lettre de Mme Victor Hugo à George Sand datée du 25 mars 1860 : « Afin que ma récolte soit bonne il me faut beaucoup d’objets, et de précieux. M. de Lamartine m’a donné un de ses encriers. Vous voyez que je suis riche déjà. Cette richesse je voudrais l’augmenter d’un encrier qui vous ait servi. Je le mettrai en pendant avec celui de l’illustre poëte. Que l’encrier soit de verre ou de cristal, de sapin ou d’érable, qu’importe, pourvu que vous y ayez trempé votre plume et que vous certifiiez par un mot qu’il vous a appartenu. »

Était-ce vraiment un encrier, ce petit vase de verre rose translucide parcouru d’arabesques d’or donné par Lamartine, avec en guise d’autographe cet alexandrin blanc étalé sur deux lignes : « Offert par Lamartine au maître de la plume » ?

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Chateaubriand’s Cedar

Contributor: Bernard Degout

Location: Domaine départemental de la Vallée-aux-Loups – maison de Chateaubriand

Description: This cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani) was planted by Chateaubriand in the park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, which he laid out during the eleven years he stayed in the hamlet of Aulnay (1807-1817). Tracing broad pathways, flattening a hill, introducing “thousands” of green trees which had been gifted by friends or acquired from renowned horticulturists, the author amassed here, according to the document which he produced for the sale of his estate, “the most complete collection of planted trees, both exotic and natural, in the whole of France”. He also grouped trees which reminded him of his journeys to America (1791) and the Orient (1806-1807) around the perimeter of the central field. The park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, created by a writer-cum-traveller, is thus a literary park. But, in a way, it is also more than this.

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The Toussaint Timepiece: Trophy of War?

Toussaint Louverture Automaton Clock

Contributor: Deirdre Coleman

Location: The Johnston House Museum, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Description: The exquisite and costly workmanship of this early-nineteenth century French table clock makes it one of the most eye-catching items in the house museum of The Johnston Collection in East Melbourne, Victoria. Acquired by the Australian antiques dealer William Johnston (1911-1986), and attributed to the leading French-Swiss automata-maker Jean David Maillardet (1768-1834), the figure conforms to a once popular caricature, the Pendule au Nègre fumeur [The Smoking Negro Clock]. But as the controversy generated by the ‘blackamoor’ brooch worn in late 2017 by Princess Michael of Kent demonstrated, exoticized black figures are now considered offensive. What makes this table clock even more challenging and intriguing is the name it was given: ‘Toussaint Louverture’, in reference to the leader of a famous slave-uprising in 1802. Continue reading “The Toussaint Timepiece: Trophy of War?”

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The European Jane Austen

 

Location: Chawton House Library, Chawton, United Kingdom

Contributor: Gillian Dow

Description: A letter from Isabelle de Montolieu to Arthus Bertrand, dated 3 May 1814.

On the surface, nothing links this unassuming letter – from the Franco-Swiss novelist Isabelle de Montolieu (1751-1832) to her Paris-based publisher Claude Arthus-Bertrand (1770-1834) –  to ‘England’s Jane’. Yet Isabelle de Montolieu may now be best-known – or of most interest to a general reading public – as the first translator of Jane Austen. And Claude Arthus-Bertrand was Austen’s French publisher in her own lifetime – a fact certainly unknown to Austen and doubtless also unknown to John Murray II, whose publication of Austen’s Emma (1816) appeared in Paris under Arthus-Bertrand. Continue reading “The European Jane Austen”

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