by Alexis Goodin, co-curator of Copycat
We’ve posed four open-ended questions about the nature and usefulness of copies on a wall graphic in the Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art exhibition:
There surely are many answers to the question “When are copies useful?”—and I hope you’ll respond to this post with your own thoughts on this question—but today I’ll focus on prints and a photograph that copy works that no longer exist, are untraced, or changed by time. The copies in question are not only fascinating original works of art, but they provide us with important information regarding the appearance of the works that inspired them.
An 1816 fire at Belvoir Castle destroyed the painting Penance from Nicolas Poussin’s first set of canvases depicting the seven sacraments. The fire reduced the ancient wing of the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland to ruins. The modern building was spared, as were many works of art in the famed collection. The London Times remarked, “Some of the most valuable pictures of the inimitable collection were fortunately preserved; and, above all, no lives were lost.” The etching Penance by Poussin’s brother-in-law, Jean Dughet, preserves the composition of the destroyed painting, albeit in reverse.
John Skippe, a collector of Old Master drawings, made a chiaroscuro woodcut after a drawing in his collection, which he attributed to Parmigianino. The red chalk drawing, reattributed to an “Imitator of Parmigianino” at the 1958 London sale of Skippe’s collection, hasn’t been located. The work may be in a public collection as a work attributed to another artist; perhaps it is in a private collection, waiting for the experts of Antiques Road Show to identify it!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns François Boucher’s canvas The Dispatch of the Messenger, but the painting’s pendant, The Arrival of the Messenger, has been untraced since the pair was offered for sale in February 1856. Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet not only copied Boucher’s compositions as drawings, but made prints of them as well. While Beauvarlet reversed the compositions of the paintings in his prints—preventing us from reading the narrative as intended from left to right—the print The Arrival of the Messenger is nevertheless a valuable document of Boucher’s oeuvre. In fact, Alexandre Ananoff’s catalogue raisonné of Boucher’s paintings uses the print The Arrival of the Messenger to illustrate the lost painting.
Although not destroyed, the nineteenth-century chimeras and gargoyles made for the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris—part of Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration efforts of the medieval structure—have eroded over nearly two centuries. The anonymous French photograph of the chimeras on the roof records the pristine appearance of these sculptures, giving us a sense of the powerful destructive force of weather and pollution.
Copies help preserve works of art that are no longer accessible to us, or are changed by time. I hope you’ll have a chance to explore the works of art featured in Copycat, now on view at the Clark through April 1.
Jean Dughet (French, 1619–1679), after Nicolas Poussin (French, active in Italy, 1594–1665), From the First Suite of The Seven Sacraments, c. 1650. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, Matrimony. Etchings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2011
John Skippe (English, 1742–1811), after Parmigianino (Italian, 1503–1540), The Entombment, 1783. Overall: 1 3/16 x 10 5/16 in. (3 x 26.2 cm); image: 8 1/4 x 10 5/16 in. (21 x 26.2 cm); sheet: 13 7/16 x 16 7/16 in. (34.2 x 41.7 cm). Color woodcut on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1980.21
Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet (French, 1731–1797), after François Boucher (French, 1703–1770), The Arrival of the Messenger and The Dispatch of the Messenger, after 1769. Etchings and engravings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.2236 and 1955.2237
Artist unknown (French), Chimeras, South Tower, Notre Dame, Paris, c. 1855. Albumen print on paper, mounted on canvas. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Paul Katz, 1995.6.2