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Since 2005 the Selz Lectures have been New York’s leading forum for new research on the intersection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French decorative arts and culture. Three yearly lectures highlight fresh discoveries, insights, and perspective from professors, scholars, and curators from around the world.

All events take place at 38 West 86th Street in New York City.


Artists as Consumers: A Picture, a Snuffbox, a Teacup, a Carriage, an Umbrella, and a Bath

Katie Scott
Professor of Art History, The Courtauld Institute of Art

This paper is part of a collaborative research project into the material culture of eighteenth-century French artists. It focuses not on the studio, however, but on the domestic interior and on the diverse stuffs of social life. It asks how prominent artists such as Nicolas de Largillière, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, and Jacques-Philippe Le Bas responded to the range of consumer goods, both luxury and every-day, flooding the Parisian market in which they lived and worked. Did ownership of gold boxes and porcelain, and also baths and umbrellas, serve to articulate artistic identity in new ways? Was that artistic identity single and determined largely by official institutions such as the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, or was it multiple and inflected by individual taste and patterns of consumption? In short, what did material things mean to artists, and what did these same things say about them?

Wednesday, December 5, 6–7:30 pm

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Henri Vever: Art Nouveau Jeweler and Collector in Fin-de-Siècle Paris

Willa Z. Silverman
Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Professor of French and Jewish Studies, Penn State University

Less well-known today than his contemporary René Lalique, Henri Vever was one of the foremost jewelers of the fin de siècle, whose firm won Grands Prix at the 1889, 1897, and 1900 World’s Fairs. A foremost champion of Art Nouveau who collaborated closely with artists including Eugène Grasset, Vever was also a renowned collector, first of the Impressionists, then of Japanese prints, and finally of Islamic decorative arts. His varied activities placed him at the center of the worlds of art and commerce at the end of the nineteenth century. As his recently-published diary for 1898, edited by Willa Z. Silverman, reveals, Vever’s life and work were motivated by his perception of living in a “very rare era” regarding both artistic production and cultural change.

Wednesday, January 23, 6–7:30 pm

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BGCTV Logo BGCTV This event will be livestreamed. A link to the video will be posted to the event listing the day of the talk.

Charles Cordier: A Hero of Polychromy

Laure de Margerie
Director, French Sculpture Census

When Charles Cordier (1827–1905) started showing polychrome sculpture at the Paris Salon in 1853, he was advocating for an aesthetic in sharp contrast with the still dominant late neo-classicism. White marbles and plasters interspersed by dark bronzes filled the space, while polychromy was contained to specific areas: religious sculptures, anatomical waxes, and archaeological recreations. Cordier, by contrast, used bold color to serve his two main goals of contributing to the budding science of anthropology and creating highly decorative objects. He explored each and every type of existing sculptural polychromy, inventing new processes when needed and thereby blurring lines between art and science, art and decoration. Appreciation for his work was at its highest when it matched the Second Empire taste for art as instant gratification. Later, color became a common feature in sculpture and architecture, utilizing the many chromatic possibilities of new ceramic wares.

Tuesday, January 29, 6–7:30 pm

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BGCTV Logo BGCTV This event will be livestreamed. A link to the video will be posted to the event listing the day of the talk.