Master Classes

Artful Nature: Fashion and Theatricality, 1770-1830 Masterclass

February 7, 2020woman fainted in chair
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The Lewis Walpole Library
Farmington, Connecticut

The Lewis Walpole Library is pleased to host an objects-based masterclass around the exhibition Artful Nature: Fashion and Theatricality, 1770-1830 which opens at the library on February 6, 2020. The exhibition is organized by guest curators Laura Engel, Professor of English, Duquesne University, and Amelia Rauser, Professor of Art History, Franklin & Marshall College, with Cynthia Roman, the library’s Curator of Prints, Drawings and Paintings. 

Between 1770 and 1830, both fashionable dress and theatrical practice underwent dramatic changes in an attempt to become more “natural.” And yet this desire was widely recognized as paradoxical, since both fashion and the theater were longstanding tropes of artifice. This exhibition examines this paradox of “artful nature” through the changing conception of theatricality during these decades, as mirrored and expressed in fashionable dress. Theater and performance practices in the late eighteenth-century, including the vogue for private theatricals, reinforced the blurred lines between the theater and everyday life. Classical sculpture became a reference point for women, as its artistic excellence was acclaimed precisely because it seemed so “natural.” But when actresses, dancers, painters, or fashionable women posed themselves as classical statues come to life, they acted as both Pygmalion and Galatea, both the genius artist and the living artwork. “Artful Nature” refers simultaneously to the theatricality and deception typically attributed to fashionable women in the late eighteenth century, and at the same time to the potential survival strategies employed by women artists, authors, and actresses to craft their own parts.

The masterclass program will begin at 10:00 with a tour of the exhibition by Professor Rauser and Professor Engel. Following the tour, we will gather in the reading room at 11:00 for discussion around items selected from the library’s collection with Meredith Gamer, Assistant Professor of Art History, Columbia University, and Carolyn Day, Associate Professor of History, Furman University.

Participants may also want to attend a keynote lecture Fashionable Enemies: Glamour as Argument, 1770-1830 by Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Theater and Professor Emeritus of English, Yale University, at the Yale Center for British Art at 5:30 on February 6, 2020.

Space is limited. Registration is required. 

Register for the Artful Nature masterclass