August 2015 - A new book

An apology for the lack of new posts here, although that is not a sign of an idle computer. The research into the 18C author Tobias Smollett (1721-71) occupies me for several hours a day, and so far about 400,000 words of new research have been added to the website dedicated to Smollett. to his Lost, i.e. unrecognised, Works, and to the War of the Satirists involving Smollett, Alexander Pope, Colley Cibber, Henry Fielding, and William Hogarth, see The Lost Works of Tobias Smollett and the War of the Satirists Even so, I believe the research is still less than half complete.

In a nutshell, the Smollett Project is a huge cryptic crossword, one which seeks to determine which anonymous or pseudonymous (a/p) works published in 1737-70 were authored or edited by Tobias Smollett. For 1732-66 The London Magazine lists about 20,000 books, pamphlets, and prints, published in English, of which about half were anonymous or pseudonymous. In addition there were thousands of essays, letters, reviews, and sundry items in periodicals or newspapers. But no one has ever reviewed them, in a detailed, careful, methodical, and logical manner, looking for a/p works by Smollett, even though Smollett is regarded as one of the most prolific authors of the 18C. The process is akin to the work of an art historian who studies unsigned paintings in detail, in order to attribute an artist to the painting and/or to identify a sitter.
I acknowledge it will take several years until "conventional wisdom" accepts that a revision of Smollett's canon is required, but the evidence supporting all the new attributions to him has been tabled and is available for academic scrutiny. Some scrutiny has obviously started, as the page views recorded for that website are steadily rising. [I recently decided to add up page views across all my interconnected websites, including Smollett, to see what the combined total was, and was staggered to find total page views were over 750,000.] The Tobias Smollett research overlaps with many of Smollett's contemporaries and today, as part of my research into William Smellie, I came across this pithy observation by John Glaister, in his 1894 biography of William Smellie, which I cannot resist sharing!

"It is probably almost a truism to say that no man who tries to reform the existing order of things by teaching or otherwise escapes criticism, and that in most cases the amount and persistency of the criticism evoked are in direct ratio to the value of his work. This can be found abundantly illustrated in history."  

However, enough of Tobias Smollett as I have recently received a copy of a major new book on the subject of miniature portraits, which will be of more interest to visitors here.

It is another wonderful production by Bernd Pappe, drawing on the extensive and generous resources of the Louvre Museum and of the Tansey Foundation. This time it is a fantastic, detailed, and well illustrated monograph on Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin (1759-1832), one of the very best of French miniature painters of the late 18C and early 19C.

The book is of 384 pages, comprising 130 pages of text and notes, followed by 100 pages of full colour illustrations of Augustin's best works, and then by a catalogue of over 1200 works by Augustin, each with a small black and white image for reference purposes.

I have also included here an enlarged version of Augustin's miniature self-portrait which serves as the frontispiece, and which is simply stunning!

The image truly proves the adage that if a good miniature portrait, by a master of the art, is enlarged to life, or oil portrait size, it will not be possible to tell that it has been so enlarged.

Miniature portraits are generally treated as the "poor relations" of large oils, but in my opinion there was far more skill required for a miniature painted in watercolour, gouarche, or in enamel, than there was for an oil portrait; where any slip of the brush was easily wiped away, or else covered by a new layer of oil paint, so that x-rays can now reveal where the portraitist had changed his or her mind.  

Most of the examples depicted in the book are in public or private collections and so will never be available for purchase, but as a reference book and catalogue of the work of Augustin, the book is invaluable as a means of comparing and contrasting his work with other masters of the art of miniature portrait painting.

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