Art, Commerce, and Caricature: Satirical Images of Artistic Life in Paris, 1750-1850

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Desplanque, Kathryn


McWilliam, Neil

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This dissertation examines a corpus of 486 satirical images of artistic life in Paris. The Parisian art-world was regularly the subject of a form of satirical criticism conducted in visual media. More significantly, this satirical criticism was produced in the medium of print, and in its reproducibility, could broadcast its satire to large audiences. By doing so in the amusing and subversive tone of satire, it constituted a visual counterpart to art criticism. I examine what these images reveal to us collectively over time as they overlap with representations of the art world disseminated in other equally understudied popular media, namely popular theater (vaudeville and opéra comique) and panoramic fiction (physiologies, short fiction, and so on).

This project sits at the intersection of the study of graphic satire and visual culture, and several strains of the social history of art, namely institutional histories of Paris’ art world, and the study of the representation of the artist and of artistic sociability. I also employed Digital Humanities Methodologies, namely Qualitative Data Analysis using NVivo, to produce distant and close readings of this corpus of images.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century art-world caricature was preoccupied with the art world and its actors, such as artists, connoisseurs, art critics, Salon juries, art audiences, dealers and sellers, and patrons and buyers. Further still, art-world caricature was overwhelmingly attentive to the relationship among different types of actors as mediated by an invisible system of structural relations, made visible via graphic satire’s representational language. These objects thus collectively mounted a coherent critique of the shifting structural relations within Paris’ art world. This dissertation argues that satirical images of artistic life in Paris presented a social type designed to contradict images of the artist as exceptional and as genius. Instead, art-world caricature proposed the “inglorious artist,” or the mediocre, common, and ordinary artist who toils, struggles, and ultimately fails to succeed in an increasingly liberalized art world.





Desplanque, Kathryn (2017). Art, Commerce, and Caricature: Satirical Images of Artistic Life in Paris, 1750-1850. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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