ed. by Claire Jones. Ashgate, August 2014. 248 p. ill. ISBN 9781472415233 (cl.), $109.95.
Reviewed March 2015
Emily Davis Winthrop, Arts Collections Librarian, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sculptors and Design Reform in France 1848-1895: Sculpture and the Decorative Arts explores the intersections of sculpture and the decorative arts in mid-to-late nineteenth-century France. This book is an important contribution towards the growing interest in art history to explore design and decorative art from a more critical and scholarly perspective. It is a significant title for the history of art and design.
Jones is to be commended for her research and analysis of the neglected field of decorative art. She explores the subject in a manner far more sophisticated than the connoisseurship of typical scholarship and argues against such simplistic readings. Her work reconstructs the complexity of French design reform as well as the fluid nature of sculpture and the decorative arts, a fluidity ignored by art historians constructing a conveniently narrow definition of modernism in the twentieth century.
Jones covers many issues related to sculpture and design in France during a very active period. Her examination exposes a multitude of collaborations, overlap, and cross-pollination. She provides a history and context for design reform; examines figures active in industrial art whose work has been marginalized or ignored within art history; explores the relationship of Rodin and his design work; and endeavors to bring the decorative arts into the "central field of scholarly activity."
The book is extremely valuable for the amount of archival research concerning the policies, organizations, and exhibitions of industrial and decorative art in the mid-nineteenth century. This period saw the establishment of ideals and critical perspectives related to design with lasting effects for the remainder of the century. The third chapter as well as the conclusion lead into discussions based more around individuals and specific works. At times the book can read as separate projects: one devoted to establishing a history of organizations and policies related to the decorative arts and another seeking to study the work of sculptors, in particular Rodin, in the various arenas of the decorative arts.
Chapter headings and an excellent index ensure that the amount of information is easily accessible. Works of art discussed in the text are illustrated when images are available, though there are only four color plates. The section of color plates seems unnecessary when many images were a similar size to those included in the text.