Jon Whiteley

Jon Whiteley has made an extensive study of French Salon painting: his Ingres was published in 1977. He is Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Modernism’s Future

Jon Whiteley, 18 March 1982

Has the art of our century an identity of its own? Is it consistent? Has it common interests? The Oxford Companion to Art, published in 1970, is not helpful in answering these questions. It has no entry for ‘Modern Art’ while the title of the new companion, the Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Art, also edited by Harold Osborne, cautiously avoids the issue. Yet 90 per cent of the artists mentioned inside the recent book (although not, of course, 90 per cent of 20th-century artists) are the spiritual progeny of two or three French artists working at the turn of the century. Not a movement, perhaps, but certainly a family. The founding fathers of the High Renaissance never had success like this. In a century from now, when the nature of ‘Modernism’ will be clearer, the pundits may, after all, decide that ‘Modern Art’ (as distinct from Cubism, Surrealism, Minimalism and the many lesser eddies all conscientiously described by Harold Osborne) is no more useful as a term than Romanticism or Classicism have been in helping us to understand the art of the past.

Middle Way

Jon Whiteley, 2 April 1981

With his talent for working on a large scale and with the good will which he enjoyed at court, Thomas Couture could easily have been the Rubens of the Second Empire. What he achieved during the Empire, however, was disappointing and fragmentary. He lived for ten years or so on the credit of his big, frozen orgy, ‘The Romans of the Decadence’, exhibited sensationally at the Salon of 1847, but he never painted another picture that equalled its success. The murals in the recently restored church of Saint-Eustache, the one official commission that he completed, were severely criticised and two other major works, The Enrolment of the Volunteers’ and ‘The Baptism of the Prince Imperial’, were left unfinished in a state which charms the modern taste for the ‘instinctual’ but fell short of what his patrons had expected.

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