ed. by Ingrid Goddeeris & Noémi Goldman. Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, February 2015. 247 p. ill. ISBN 9789077013076 (pbk.), € 20,00.
Reviewed September 2015
Maria E. Gonzalez, Consultant, CH C & P Consultants, email@example.com
This book collects fifteen papers, ten written in French, presented at a symposium held at the Royal Museum of Belgium in October 2012. International art history and literary scholars explored the character, role, and impact of the animateur d'art in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But just who was an animateur d'art? The definition is elastic, but he, or she, defended the arts, formulated ideologies or aesthetics, and stimulated artistic creation. The sometimes disinterested work of the animateur consisted in activating overlapping social networks, forging links between artists and their cultural milieu, then parlaying the links to promote artists' works.
These promoters served artists as critics, dealers, exhibitors, financiers, journalists, patrons, and publishers, often playing multiple roles at the margins of high society. In these essays, the authors highlight the considerable effort made by figures such as restorer Henry Mogford, patron Thadée Natanson, print competition promoter Adolph Siret, salon hostess Suzanne Tézenas, and dealer Wilhem Uhde to detect, name, and promote artistic currents.
Uhde, for instance, recognized the trend that became cubism and exhibited together works by Braque and Picasso; Uhde also exhibited "naïve" art and wrote a book about Henri Rousseau. Thadée Natanson defended and financially supported the work of the Nabis, Bonnard, Vallotton, and Vuillard among them. The work of the last three appeared on the covers of La Revue blanche, published by Thadée. His wife Misia, an accomplished pianist, entertained the couple's artist friends and posed for them as well.
The coordinators of the symposium succeeded in eliciting new art histories by deflecting the focus away from artists and encouraging closer examination of the activities and networks of these fascinating, almost mythical, individuals who animated the Western art world. Brought back by the scholars to the center of their historic art worlds, the mostly unknown, but tenacious, animateurs regain prominence for readers of these engaging essays.
Not only did the focus shift away from artists, but the symposium also welcomed a variety of research methodologies and theories. The scholars effectively used collective biography, social network analysis, and provenance, or ownership investigation, as well as intensive and extensive archival research to profile the animateurs. Few monographs or secondary literature exist about these individuals; meticulous investigation of art works, correspondence, periodicals, and pamphlets was required to enliven these art worlds.
This illustrated, high-quality paperback with sewn sections of clay-coated paper will make a good companion to Wanda Corn's Art Matronage and Patronage and Sarah Greenough's Stieglitz and his New York Galleries, published in 1997 and 2000, respectively.