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Compte rendu: Jane Munro, Fitzwilliam's French Connections

posted 12 Jun 2015, 01:18 by Cambridge EMS
The final session of the series took us back to the Fitzwilliam, and to the founder of the collection that had been our focus across the year. Jane Munro, with the help of Lucilla Burn, explored Lord Fitzwilliam’s biographical links with France, and the influence those links had on his collecting. Fitzwilliam spent a significant amount of time in France in the latter part of the eighteenth century, initially as a music student and Grand Tourist, and later visiting his long-term mistress, the opera dancer Anne Zacharie (born Anne Bernard). Their correspondence provides a detailed and intimate record of their affair, including domestic minutiae relating to their three children (two of whom were named Fitz and Billie). A 1789 painting, by Sicardi, and titled ‘O che boccone!’, depicts what is apparently Fitzwilliam in the garb of a theatrical clown, standing beside his sleeping mistress.

Various elements of the collections display the traces of this sustained contact with Parisian artistic, musical and theatrical circles. Of 144 paintings in Fitzwilliam’s own collection, just seven were French, but a number were acquired through the sales of French aristocracy, including the Duc d’Orléans. Fitzwilliam was also a prodigious collector of prints, many of which had a French provenance. His albums, organised by engraver rather than subject (saving a single album on ‘Les Jésuites’), are among the most complete records of the works of particular individuals. The Founder’s Library – 10,000 volumes on Fitzwilliam’s death – contained not only many French volumes, but also ephemera such as copies of Parisian journals that he is likely to have brought back from Paris.

A handful of items relate to the architect Pierre Bernard, presumed to have been the brother of Zacharie. Some of his drawings, completed during a sojourn in Rome, are conserved along with his plans for a new opera house, produced in response to the project of Noverre. Present, too, are a set of plans – attributed to Bernard – for a ‘French house’ for Fitzwilliam and Zacharie. The project, referred to in contemporary correspondence, was never completed, thanks to the outbreak of Revolution. A final French connection is Fitzwilliam’s own book in French, Les Lettres d’Atticus, which was published in several editions, dedicated to Louis XVIII, and produced with the support of the Abbé Vinson. His glowing account of Catholicism in this text contrasts somewhat with what might have been expected of an Irish landowner of the period, and is symptomatic of how his links to France pervaded his life, work, and collecting – perhaps subtly, perhaps eclectically and inconsistently, but nonetheless visibly for those who seek them out.

We would like to express our thanks to the Fitzwilliam for their cooperation throughout the year, and to all our speakers for their fantastic contributions. Watch this space for news about next year's seminar!