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Late nineteenth-century books about the French artist [#permalink]
23 May 2008, 01:35
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Late nineteenth-century books about the French artist Watteau (1684-1721) betray a curious blind spot: more than any single artist before or since, Watteau provided his age with an influential image of itself, and nineteenth-century writers accepted this image as genuine. This was largely due to the enterprise of Watteau’s friends who, soon after his death, organized the printing of engraved reproductions of the great bulk of his work—both his paintings and his drawings—so that Watteau’s total artistic output became and continued to be more accessible than that of any other artist until the twentieth-century advent of art monographs illustrated with photographs. These engravings presented aristocratic (and would-be aristocratic) eighteenth-century French society with an image of itself that was highly acceptable and widely imitate by other artists, however little relationship that image bore to reality. By 1884, the bicentenary of Watteau’s birth, it was standard practice for biographers to refer to him as “the personification of the witty and amiable eighteenth century.”
In fact, Watteau saw little enough of that “witty and amiable” century for which so much nostalgia was generally felt between about 1870 and 1920, a period during which enthusiasm for the artist reached its peak. The eighteenth century’s first decades, the period of his artistic activity, were fairly calamitous ones. During his short life, France was almost continually at war: his native region was overrun with foreign troops, and Paris was threatened by siege and by a rampaging army rabble. The dreadful winter of 1709, the year of Watteau’s first Paris successes, was marked by military defeat and a disastrous famine.
Most of Watteau’s nineteenth-century admirers simply ignored the grim background of the works they found so lyrical and charming. Those who took the inconvenient historical facts into consideration did so only in order to refute the widely held deterministic view that the content and style of an artist’s work were absolutely dictated by heredity and environment. (For Watteau admirers, such determinism was unthinkable: the artist was born in a Flemish town only six years after it first became part of France, yet Watteau was quintessentially French. As one patriotic French biographer put it, “In Dreden, Potsdam, and Berlin I have never come across a Watteau without feeling refreshed by a breath of native air.” Even such writers, however, persisted in according Watteau’s canvases a privileged status as representative “personifications” of the eighteenth century. The discrepancy between historical fact and artistic vision, useful in refuting the extreme deterministic position, merely forced these writers to seek a new formula that allowed them to preserve the desired identity between image and reality, this time a rather suspiciously psychic one: Watteau did not record the society he knew, but rather “foresaw” a society that developed shortly after his death.
14. Which one of the following best describes the overall organization of the passage?
(A) A particular phenomenon is discussed, the reasons that it is atypical are put forward, and these reasons are evaluated and refined.
(B) An assumption is made, results deriving from it are compared with what is known to be true, and the assumption is finally rejected as counterfactual.
(C) A point of view is described, one hypothesis accounting for it is introduced and rejected, and a better hypothesis is offered for consideration.
(D) A general characterization is offered, examples supporting it are introduced, and its special applicability to a particular group is asserted.
(E) A particular viewpoint is explained, its shortcomings are discussed, and its persistence in the face of these is noted.
15. The passage suggests that late-nineteenth-century biographers of Watteau considered the eighteenth century to be “witty and amiable” in large part because of
(A) what they saw as Watteau’s typical eighteenth-century talent for transcending reality through art
(B) their opposition to the determinism that dominated late-nineteenth-century French thought
(C) a lack of access to historical source material concerning the early eighteenth century in France
(D) the nature of the image conveyed by the works of Watteau and his many imitators
(E) their political bias in favor of aristocratic regimes and societies
16. According to the passage, explanations of artistic production based on determinism were unthinkable to Watteau admirers for which one of the following reasons?
(A) If such explanations were widely accepted, too many people who would otherwise have admired Watteau would cease to appreciate Watteau’s works.
(B) If such explanations were adopted, they would make it difficult for Watteau admirers to explain why Watteau’s works were purchased and admired by foreigners.
(C) If such explanations were correct, many artists who, like Watteau, considered themselves French would have to excluded from histories of French art.
(D) If such simple explanations were offered, other more complex arguments concerning what made Watteau’s works especially charming would go unexplored.
(E) If such explanations were true, Watteau’s works would reflect a “Flemish” sensibility rather than the especially “French” one these admirers saw in them.
17. The phrase “curious blind spot” (line 2 -3) can best be interpreted as referring to which one of the following?
(A) some biographers’ persistent inability to appreciate what the author considers a particularly admirable equality
(B) certain writers’ surprising lack of awareness of what the author considers an obvious discrepancy
(C) some writers’ willful refusal to evaluate properly what the author considers a valuable source of information about the past
(D) an inexplicable tendency on the part of some writers to undervalue an artist whom the author considers extremely influential
(E) a marked bias in favor of a certain painter and a concomitant prejudice against contemporaries the author considers equally talented
18. It can be inferred from the passage that the author’s view of Watteau’s works differs most significantly from that of most late-nineteen-century Watteau admirers in which one of the following ways?
(A) Unlike most late-nineteenth-century Watteau admirers, the author appreciates the importance of Watteau’s artistic accomplishment.
(B) The author finds Watteau’s works to be much less lyrical and charming than did most late-nineteenth-century admirers of the works.
(C) In contrast to most late-nineteenth-century Watteau admirers, the author finds it misleading to see Watteau’s works as accurately reflecting social reality.
(D) The author is much more willing to entertain deterministic explanations of the origins of Watteau’s works than were most late-nineteenth-century Watteau admirers.
(E) Unlike most late-nineteenth-century admirers of Watteau, the author considers it impossible for any work of art to personify or represent a particular historical period.
19. The author asserts that during the period of Watteau’s artistic activity French society was experiencing which one of the following?
(A) widespread social upheaval caused by war
(B) a pervasive sense of nostalgia for an idealized past
(C) increased domination of public affairs by a powerful aristocracy
(D) rapid adoption by the middle classes of aristocratic manners and life-style
(E) a need to reconcile the French self-image with French social realities
20. The information given in the passage suggests that which one of the following principles accurately characterizes the relationship between an artist’s work and the impact it is likely to have on a society?
(A) An artist’s recognition by society is most directly determined by the degree to which his or her works are perceived as lyrical and charming.
(B) An artist will have the greatest influence on a society that values art particularly highly.
(C) The works of an artist who captures the true and essential nature of a given society will probably have a great impact on that society.
(D) The degree of influence an artist’s vision will have on a society is conditional on the visibility of the artist’s work.
(E) An artist who is much imitate by contemporaries will usually fail to have an impact on a society unless the imitators are talented.