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To Instruct and Delight: Prints and Illustrated Books in Eighteenth-Century France

February 21–May 16, 2004

From Rococo exuberance to Neoclassical sobriety, more than one hundred French eighteenth-century prints and illustrated books selected from the museum’s collection trace the dramatic changes that occurred during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, a period when Paris held sway as the cultural capital of Europe.

Whether reproductions of grand works of art or poetry vignettes, anatomical illustrations or fashion plates, prints played a crucial role in the dissemination of French ideas and French taste.

Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) won a lasting reputation as the undisputed master of the fête galante with a set of 650 engravings published in 1735 that reproduced his entire output of paintings and drawings. Among scores of printmakers working on this vast project was François Boucher (1703–1770), future “First Painter“ to Louis XV who contributed 142 etchings of Watteau’s drawings. Such prominent artists as Boucher and his younger colleague Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), produced a handful of charming original etchings of their own, but like other successful artists, they generally relied upon highly skilled professional engravers to replicate their works in black and white or full-color. Single prints and book illustrations were avidly collected by an increasingly literate public, as eager to be informed about the most recent discovery as the latest change in fashion.

The prints in this exhibition capture the ebullient spirit of the eighteenth century in France during the Age of Enlightenment, presenting scientific expeditions and lovers’ trysts, village fairs and royal weddings—a society decisively transformed by the French Revolution.

Main Building


Rena Hoisington, Margaret R. Mainwaring Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs; John Ittmann, Curator of Prints

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