FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

Transnational Artistic Training between France and Germany 1843-1870 – ArtTransForm II

Transnational artistic training: a major stake for a connected art history

Following German painters on their French training journey, or how to deconstruct the idea of national schools of art<br />The project is dedicated to the artistic training conditions in 19th century Europe from a transnational perspective. That issue allows questioning the fundamental categories of art history, especially those concerning national schools as they are deeply rooted within the scientific discourse.

Following German painters on their French training journey, or how to deconstruct the idea of national schools of art

The project is dedicated to the artistic training conditions in 19th century Europe from a transnational perspective. That issue allows questioning the fundamental categories of art history, especially those concerning national schools as they are deeply rooted within the scientific discourse. Working on circulation of art works, and on artistic and scientific protagonists of 19th century Europe, France Nerlich and Bénédicte Savoy have challenged the epistemological limits of their discipline, mostly based on emphatic nationalistic narratives. Paying attention to the training curriculum of artists, on that special time in their life when they are constructing their own identity, their professional socialization, their personal artistic experiments, is a good way to shed light on the shared experiences in Europe at that time. The itinerary of German painters who came to Paris to study art is particularly relevant to understand the numerous motivations of such (short-term or long-term) expatriation. Based on new sources, the project aims to reconstruct the artistic, economical, ideological or professional reasons of these complex career choices. The experiences in Paris and the retrospective assessment of the Parisian time are as well taken into the focus. By closely studying the experience of German painters in 19th century Paris, the project reveals the various possibilities of encounter and exchange that were the basis for artistic practice and use.

This research is principally based on the rediscovery and analysis of primary sources and archive material stored in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the United States. The primary sources give precious informations on the experience of German artists in Paris (private correspondence, diaries, drawings, etc.), on the logistic and economic aspects (administrative correspondences, accounts, registers) and on the consequences of their stays (transfer of techniques, naturalization, reforms, rejection of French legacy etc.). All the results of the preliminary research were from the beginning injected into a database especially designed for the project in order to create a shared dematerialized plate-form allowing a better convergence of knowledge and gained information. The biographical dictionary allows putting the facts into perspective, in order to show the reasons and circumstances of the Parisian training period and to avoid the usual prejudices.

More than 300 German painters came to Paris between 1843 and 1870, but only half of them to study arts. The results show an interesting Parisian landscape that differs from the usual narratives. Although 19th-century Paris is usually seen as the birthplace of the Ecole des beaux-arts or as the capital of artistic modernity, neither the first nor the latter aspect seems to have attracted German Painters over the studied period. They rather were looking for training places in the effective studios of Thomas Couture, Paul Delaroche, Léon Cogniet or Horace Vernet. And the Forest of Barbizon became a major place for German pupils who wished to work directly in front of the motives. The experience was not as usually described just learning FROM French artists like Rousseau, but working collectively in a cosmopolitan group of both sexes. The project shows therefore brand new material on the 19th century Parisian artistic scene. And by paying attention to several generations of young Germans attracted to Paris for their training, this research project tells also a brand new and exciting story of German painting – without any discrimination of success or reputation.

A specific database was created to register all the German artists who spent time in Paris between 1793 and 1870, as well as the people they met. This tool represents a form of Facebook for the artistic social network in 19th-century Paris. Beside the digital database, a biographical dictionary in two volumes gives background information on German painters who trained in Paris during that time (edited by De Gruyter). The articles are also included in the digital edition of the Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon.
In May 2015, an international conference addressed the topic in a broader perspective (including a global approach). The proceedings will put the emphasis on the theoretical aspects of this kind of transnational interrogation.

ArtTransForm is a cooperative project between the University François-Rabelais in Tours and the Technische Universität Berlin. The project is coordinated by France Nerlich (Tours) and Bénédicte Savoy (Berlin) within the frame of the French-German Programm for Human Sciences, funded by the ANR and the DFG. The 36-month project started in March 2012. It was supported by the ANR by 169.853 € for a global budget of 489.553 €.

The 19th century is described in history textbook as the century of nationalism; in art history, it is the notion of school which starts to crystallize the ideological trends of these national definitions. Yet, these categories pose difficulties, not only historically, but also in terms of the international mobility of artists and the close relationships they established with artists from other countries. Investigating such international careers, particularly during their years of training, reveals their complexity and the futility of such exclusive definitions. The nomadic character of the training itineraries of these artists reflects the networks linking artists, amateurs, art dealers, scholars, the artistic affinities between partisans of new aesthetic ideas; the trends which make of one particular workshop the melting pot where one has to be; the ideological motivations of exile or of keeping distance from the institution or even the economic issues which cause early delocalization.

The study of this transnational mobility of German artists lies at the heart of the project ArtTransForm II. Thanks to a comprehensive examination of archives in France and Germany, the French-German team of ArtTransForm has already shown the historical scope and the particular modalities of the training of German artists in France at the beginning of the 19th century (1793-1843). The mass of unpublished documents found so far has transformed the knowledge about the trajectories of artists, some of whom are still known today such as Gottlieb Schick, others completely forgotten, but who played a crucial role in the circulation of artistic techniques and styles, such as Ferdinand Jagemann, Carl Wilhelm Pohlke and Friedrich W. Martersteig.

The new project ArtTransForm II will therefore benefit from the methodology already developed and from the identified sources in order to tackle the period 1843-1870, for which so far no general synthesis exists. The choice of studying painting in Paris takes however another dimension in the context of emerging international political movements, the boom of plein air painting, international reflections on modern history painting, projects for monumental European decors, the substitution of Rome by Paris as the “metropolis of modernity”, the internationalization of the art market or the establishment of international artistic competitions through Universal Exhibitions.

In 1843, Paul Delaroche, who was the reformer of history painting in the eyes of Heinrich Heine, closed his workshop, although it attracted the most ambitious young painters from all over Europe. But this closure didn’t prevent German artists from coming to Paris: quite the contrary, they came in order to work with Thomas Couture, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Léon Gérôme, but also with Barbizon painters, sometimes adopting the same aesthetical postures as their French colleagues. But not always; indeed, if they engaged in some of the ideological and artistic debates of their masters and French friends, they also developed new forms, in a constant movement of interaction between the place they found themselves in and the public they addressed, the landscapes they encountered and the references they appropriated. At the same time, when some critics transformed artists into ‘brush-and-mallet-armed soldiers’ conquering adverse territories, the German painters continued to work side-by-side their French masters, shaping a unique style. The project ArtTransForm II will bring to light the material, economic, ideological, aesthetic and institutional reasons for their choice.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 169,853 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2011 - 36 Months

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