Academic Session 17: Loughborough 2017

43rd Annual Conference & Art Book Fair
Loughborough University
6th to 8th April 2017

Modern Lives – Modern Legends: Artist anecdotes since the 18th century


Hans Christian Hones, The Warburg Institute (Bilderfahrzeuge Project),
Anna Frasca-Rath, University of Vienna,

In John Nichols’ Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth (1785), one reads of how the painter died in the arms of his servant, his demise the result of overindulging in beefsteak. Seventy years later, a biography of John Flaxman tells of how the artist, in his childhood, showed his drawings to a famous painter – who asked if they were meant to represent flounders.

These are just two examples for a little-known tendency in the artistic literature of the 18th and 19th century: the re-adaptation of traditional anecdotes which had been repeated countless times since the trecento. Nichols’ story clearly refers ironically to Vasari’s description of Leonardo’s death in the arms of the French King, and Flaxman’s ‘flounders’ are an equally ironic take on the legend of Giotto’s discovery by Cimabue. Far from simply providing entertainment, they were also an opportunity for succinct commentary on the respective artist’s work – the ‘Englishness’ of Hogarth and the ‘flatness’ of Flaxman.
This panel explores these revisions and re-adaptations of traditional artist anecdotes and their function in the art theoretical debates of their time. What was the purpose of such re-writings? How does this flood of new anecdotes relate and react to the rise of ‘scholarly’ biographical writing? Which art-theoretical subtexts were carried in these ironic deflections from tradition? And how do they intersect with the equally prominent rise of depictions of anecdotal scenes from artists’ lives – Giotto painting sheep being just the most prominent example?

Papers examine these and other questions in a broad geographical context between the 18th and 20th century.

Click here to download a .pdf of this session's paper abstracts

Lois Oliver (University of Notre Dame (USA) in London) Visitors in the Artist’s Studio: 19th-century variations on a theme

Christine Hübner (Göttingen University) ‘Creations of the professor’s fertile mind’ – August Hagen and the novelisation of artist’s lives

Penny Wickson (Independent Scholar) ‘Caricaturisti e Caricaturati al Caffè Michelangelo’ – Telemaco Signorini and the anecdotal history of the Italian Macchiaioli

Benjamin Harvey (Mississippi State University) Refusing to play Vasari: Roger Fry’s Cézannian Anecdotes

Stefan Albl (Bibliotheca Hertziana Rome) Literary Tropes in Josef Engelhart’s Autobiography (1943)

Linda Goddard (University of St Andrews) Reading the Life-Writings of Women Artists