by Thomas Crow. Princeton University Press, November 2018. 208 p. ill. ISBN 9780691181646. (h/c), $39.95.
Reviewed May 2019
Jeanne-Marie Musto, PhD, MLS, independent researcher, email@example.com
Thomas Crow’s richly illustrated Restoration provides fascinating case studies that place little-known works in dialogue with well-known ones; it takes interpretive risks in the interest of addressing, in new ways, a period of dramatic change and illusory stability. Crow emphasizes cultural fragmentation engendered by Napoleon’s fall and efforts to draw fragments back into a consolidated whole. Crow attends closely to unfinished works, demonstrating that “finished works of art produced in settled circumstances mask the disparate fragments from which they are fashioned.” Among striking examples Crow offers is Antoine-Jean Gros’ presentation drawing, Napoleon at the Burning of Moscow (1812-13), which struggles to shed positive light on a defeat that eclipsed the possibility of completing such a painting.
Crow also considers the Restoration’s reconfiguration of social networks, which established new alliances, patrons and themes. An intriguing example is the network of British portraitist Thomas Lawrence, which extended from his patron the Prince Regent (later George IV) to Pope Pius VII. It thus bridged the sharp religious divide between Anglican England and the Catholic Church. Analyses of Lawrence’s portraits of leading Restoration figures, in which Lawrence illuminates this bridge, are a highlight of Crow’s study. (Honorifics such as “Prince Regent” are not indexed; better indexing would help the reader.)
The book’s six chapters address overlapping constellations of artists and themes. Crow does not, however, traverse the continent as widely as “the course of European art” might suggest. French painters supply most of Crow’s subjects. Lawrence provides a link to England; Francisco Goya, to Spain. Crow’s exploration of Goya’s Second of May 1808 in Madrid (1814) and its unheroic violence describes an ambivalent precursor to the better-known Third of May, with its Christ-like victims. Canova, the only Restoration sculptor in the study, serves Crow largely in his role as diplomat in charge of restituting art seized by Napoleon.
If Italian art is largely overlooked, German art, represented by the Nazarenes, receives harsh treatment. Crow is at pains to present David’s former students, François-Joseph Navez and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, as painting in programmatic opposition to the Nazarenes’ “Gothic archaisms.” However, the charged geo-political circumstances of Navez’s homeland, the southern Netherlands under Dutch rule, suggest alternate readings of Navez. Meanwhile, Crow portrays Ingres as first employing “Gothic archaisms” during the Restoration. This ignores that critics had panned Ingres for these qualities since 1806—well before the Restoration was in sight. The drama of Restoration Europe nevertheless pulses through this volume, which brings artists’ effort to master the fragmentary fully to life. It belongs in any academic art library.