Edited By James Kearns and Alister Mill
Literature and Painting at the Paris Salon, 1699–1881
Paintings with literary themes, narrowly defined as subjects taken from fiction and poetry, are relatively easy to identify in the livrets of the Salon. Artists often included the source of a subject in their entry, sometimes with a brief quotation. When they did not, the source is often obvious. Literature, however, encompasses more than poetry and fiction, and defining its wider impact on painting from the entries in the livret raises a number of difficulties. Most subjects taken from history also ultimately derive from a written text which is sometimes identified in the livret but mostly is not. The Bible is a major literary source but has been excluded from this discussion as a special case. Ovid’s name appears rarely in the livret although the Metamorphoses is probably the source for many of the fables illustrated in Salon paintings. Identifying the author, in this instance, is complicated by the existence of other sources, antique as well as modern, including the dictionaries of mythology compiled by Chompré and Noel. This problem exists whenever there are competing sources and no explanatory text is added to the entry. A painting of Cupid and Psyche, for instance, could have been taken from the original story by Apuleius or from the variant by Lafontaine. A scene that might be classified under ‘History’ – the death of Amy Robsart for example – might have been inspired by a work of fiction while well-known characters and scenes from fiction such as Othello or Faust may often have...
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