Home      Work       Studio       Bio

The Twelve labors of Manfield Park

Portefoin Galery, Paris 2018

Enamelled earthenware

Twelve glazed earthenware plates depict scenes from Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park, with the difference that a Herculean-looking figure (who could also be the artist) plays the role of Fanny Price.

All of Jane Austen's stories begin with a clear description of the transfer of capital that marriage entails. So much the worse for those who are fooled by the prettiness of the Georgian gentry; seeing it, like Mr William Collins, as nothing more than a mushy novel, or as it were too effeminate.

Mansfield Park has as its heroine Fanny Price, whose name connotes sex and money. She is the poorest heroine in Jane Austen's work. We follow her class transition. Published in 1814, the Western world is in the midst of a transition. That of the classes that the nascent industrial capitalism brings (the violent social conflict of Luddism takes place between 1811 and 1812, and whose leader is represented with female clothes). That of the territories that are being re-drawn, further separating the city from the countryside (illustrated in the novel by the difficult friendship between Fanny and the Crawfords, sophisticated Londoners). The exclusion of women from public life since the Napoleonic Civil Code was enacted in 1804, despite the hopes raised by the French Revolution. But also the slow struggle for the abolition of slavery (the novel alludes to the Somersett case of 1772 made precisely by the Earl of Mansfield, as well as to his niece, a black adopted daughter, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whom Jane Austen met).

The violence of all these conflicts is not set in the great historical painting but rather in the genre. The heroes are no longer the conquering men, but here Fanny Price, who intelligently and resiliently endures the humiliations of her gender and class and achieves emancipation. The hero par excellence, Hercules, is often reduced to this archetypal male figure. Society from the 19th century to the present day has limited the representations of Hercules, erasing from its subjects the myth of his relationship with Omphale, which was more ambiguous and still appreciated until the 18th century. Under the brushes of Gentileschi and Rubens, there is, among others, a languid Hercules draped in silk and jewels, wielding a distaff and a needle, and an Omphale holding a club, standing upright, with the skin of a lion. As a slave bought by the latter, it is not on the battlefield but in private, domestic, sexual and psychological labour that he will have to prove his heroism.

It is in these transitional narratives, from the novel to fanfiction (and its practice of cross-over or Mary-Sue), that decontextualisation becomes a critical, sometimes erotic or comic, but also political tool. These games of identification and friendship allow for solidarities that go beyond chronology.

Floral compositions by Portefoin Galery
Painting in the background : Hercules & Omphale, Artemisia Gentileschi

Arthur Gillet
54 rue de Turbigo 75003 Paris
+33 6 49 82 24 14