Description: After two years dedicated to the study of Leben und Kunst in Paris seit Napoleon I, the work first begun by Helmina von Chézy (1783-1856) in 1804, the new edition, edited by Bénédicte Savoy and recently published by the Akademie Verlag (Berlin), was unveiled at the Centre allemand d'histoire de l'art in Paris.
Alongside the actress Emilie Prévosteau, who delivered a vibrant and lively reading of a letter from Helmina describing cultural life in Paris around 1800, the art historian and centre director, Andreas Beyer, paid tribute to the importance of this work, Helmina von Chézy, Leben und Kunst in Paris seit Napoleon I and the writings of Helmina von Chézy, a character who was the embodiment of the social circles in which she moved and the cultural exchanges taking place at the beginning of the 19th century. Her writings are testament to the cultural dynamism and the state of the arts in Paris during the Empire.
The presentation of the book was given by the co-authors involved in the publication, including David Blankenstein (Technishe Universität, Berlin), Lisa Hackmann, Matthias Heuser (Freie Universität, Berlin), Eva Knels (PhD student and Institut historique allemand scholar), Malte Lohmann (publisher and former student at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) and Nina Struckmeyer (Freie Universität, Berlin).
Mirroring the urban dynamic which the young lady from Berlin experienced during her time in Paris, the work ignores any chronological order or hierarchy, instead preferring to focus on the various themes that constitute her life. This diarist, intellectual and art-lover was close to Vivant Denon (1747-1825, director of the Musée Napoléon, now the Louvre) and was often present at Juliette Récamier's salon (1777-1849, patron of the arts and friend of Madame de Staël and Chateaubriand). Based on von Chézy's writings, this work offers a unique and fascinating account of the contemporary private collections in Paris, including that of Lucien Bonaparte (1775-1840, brother of the Emperor). It also testifies to the period's taste for Orientalism, the growth and development of the "troubadour style" (which, partly in reaction to the Neoclassical style, adopted an idealised view of the Middle Ages), and describes the young, up and coming breed of French painters, including Gros, Gérard, Ingres and Girodet, as well as the public's reaction to their paintings.
Very aware of the clichés and preconceived ideas of the period, and ignoring nationalist considerations and any eventual comparative approach, Von Chézy paints a detailed, accurate and thoughtful portrait of an era.
With the publication of Helmina von Chézy, Leben und Kunst in Paris seit Napoleon I, an essential account of a defining moment in the history of French culture and art is finally available to the public.
Text in German.
Romain Condamine (tr. & ed. H.D.W.)
Place and publisher: Berlin: Akademie Verlag
Date of publication: 2009
Number of pages: 792