Fancy-Fantaisie-Capriccio conference

Fancy-Fantaisie-Capriccio: Diversions and Distractions in the Eighteenth Century

Musée Paul Dupuy, Toulouse, France

3-4 December 2015

Associated with the imagination and not reason, fancy (fantaisie) in the eighteenth century was a sort of whimsical distraction from the everyday. For Voltaire it was ‘a singular desire, a passing whim’ (‘un désir singulier, un goût passager’), while for Samuel Johnson it was ‘something that pleases or entertains without real use or value’. Together with its near-synonym caprice (capriccio), fancy was part of a rich semantic network, connecting wit, pleasure, erotic desire, spontaneity, improvisation, surprise, deviation from norms, the trivial and inconsequential. Unpredictable and quirky, it offered many outlets for artistic creativity. These study days will explore the expressive freedom of fancy (fantaisie, capriccio) in European culture during the eighteenth century ‒ in figure and landscape painting, architecture and garden design, philosophy and fiction, theatre and music.

Keynote speakers

  • Guillaume Faroult, Curator for 18th century Western paintings and for British and American paintings in the Louvre Museum
  • Martin Postle, Deputy Director of the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art. He is also a contributor to the catalogue.

The Fancy-Fantaise-Capriccio conference is scheduled to coincide with an exhibition of paintings, Figures de fantaisie, at the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, which runs from 20th November 2015 to 28th February 2016. Its subject is the fantasy figure in European painting of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To learn more about the exhibition, see here or there.

During the study days, there will be a guided visit of the fantasy figures exhibition by curators Melissa Percival and Axel Hémery, Director of the Musée des Augustins. The exhibition of c. 70 paintings brings together the Venetian bravi of the Renaissance, the isolated half-length drinkers and musicians of the Caravaggisti, the tronies of Dutch painting, the pitocchi vagabonds of the bamboccianti and other naturalist painters of Italy, the Espagnolettes of eighteenth century France and the British fancy picture. Among the artists represented are A. Carracci, Lievens, Schalcken, Van Dyck, Jordaens, Hals, Sweerts, Murillo, Giordano, Crespi, Piazzetta, Tiepolo, Rotari, Santerre, Grimou, Greuze, Fragonard, Mercier, Morland and Opie. There are many meaningful points of connection between the exhibition and the study days. Both seek a broader synthetic understanding of the concept of fancy/fantaisie, and both seek in to make new connections between schools, disciplines, artistic outputs and clusters of thought. That said, Fancy-Fantaisie-Capriccio represents a deliberate choice not to replicate the exhibition or its catalogue, but rather to use it as a rich visual and conceptual backdrop for a new venture.

Conference organizers


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