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French School


La Satire en leçons en nouveautés fertile / Sait seule assaisonner le plaisant et l’utile. Etching. 1798. 25.6 x 34 cm.

This idiosyncratic caricature, which in all likelihood dates to around 1798, pours scorn on the powers of judgment shown by salon critics. An art critic with donkey’s ears, which in traditional Midas iconography symbolise a lack of judgement, sits
pen in his hand and with a sneer on his lips as he gazes at a number of artworks, including Apollo of Belvedere and a bust of Homer. Not only is his vision blurred by a rising cloud of smoke; a blindfolded figure in ancient dress complete with Midas ears – possibly King Midas himself or a personification of misjudgement – also holds a telescope to his eye, thereby distorting his view. In the background on the right a number of visitors are studying works of art on exhibition in the salon.

The caption quotes a satire in verse by Nicolas Boileau: “Satire bears fruit in teaching and the news; it knows how to combine the pleasant with the useful.” Annotations in pen and black ink refer to events of the day in the French art world, such as artists’ petitions against salon practices and art competitions. The piece of paper hanging down from the table bears the inscription: “Invitation to dictation”. The roll of paper in the critic’s jacket pocket has “Louis Project” written on it – a pointer
to his reactionary views. Art, meanwhile, feels misunderstood, as is clear from the inscription on Apollo’s pedestal: “Ignorance takes no note of us”.  

Another impression of this amusing print bears the date 1798 and is now in the Bibliothque Nationale de France. It likewise has several annotations in pen and ink which may well stem from the artist himself. A very fine impression with the full
deckle edge around the platemark, creases at the top right and the bottom, slightly foxed, otherwise in excellent condition.

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