Home      Work       Studio       Bio

Transition - Travail en cours

Hôtel Lantin, Chagny, 2021.

Peinture sur toile.

My project revolves around transition, in the style of French decorative arts and sexual transition. Confusing the common decorative register with the more personal one of my own transition. The latter is infiltrated by a perverse restoration project of a 17th century mansion.

The house has been undergoing restoration since 2000. Each room is to be dedicated to a period of the decorative arts in France, and their enfilade thus becomes a chronological journey starting from the date of construction of the Hôtel Lantin and going up to the present day. I have been involved in this project since 2015. It requires a great deal of research, which makes it possible to approach the history of the techniques used in the decorative arts in France, and therefore also those of knowledge, gestures and production systems, social organisations, between the 17th and 20th centuries. To remake always implies to situate oneself in the present. Thus the idea of a strict restoration to the identical historical grammar of styles in France is constantly changing, in other words, it is in transition.

A pivotal style at the heart of the house's history, Transition recurs as a motif, deliberately employed and deployed in an equivocal manner. Transition refers both to the style of the décor of a specific room in the house, and to the general narrative of the whole restoration in the sequence of rooms. Finally, it reflects the difficulties of my own transitional journey in the 'sensitive' suburbs of a medium-sized town in France in the 2000s.

To conceive the fluidity of the passage between the rooms in a row, I called upon my reading of Orlando, the novel by Virginia Woolf. In this novel, the character crosses centuries and genders. Each chapter is devoted to a century, the end of which, like a change in the theatre, transfigures the London landscape in an instant. Virginia Woolf underlines how from the 18th to the 19th century a difference between the sexes becomes a binary opposition between the private domain, that of women, and the public space reserved for men. This idea is well represented in the ornamental language of the decorative arts that runs through the Lantin Hotel. This building began in the Louis XIV style, but very quickly gave way to the Regency and then Louis XV styles, with their vegetal forms inspired by libertinism. It was in the second half of the 18th century that the Transitional style appeared, gradually announcing the neo-classical reaction of a more "male" taste, to use the terms of the architect-ornemanist Jean-François de Neufforge (1714-1791). This style continued quietly despite the violent political changes at the end of the 18th century in the Directoire and then Empire styles, sinking into an increasingly literal and heavy interpretation of neo-classicism, and the enactment of a Napoleonic Code in which women were evacuated from the political, artistic and intellectual world, stigmatised as the reason for the moral and political failure of the old regime. The history of decorative styles mobilised here is thus reminiscent of a political history of gender.

I am presenting a series of portraits in the Hôtel Lantin. Each one is intended to be displayed in each of the rooms. Each painting is painted according to the codes of the period represented, and follows the gendered transformations operated in the language of the ornamentalists of each period concerned. Each portrait, a pastiche of the period, is also a reworking of a photograph from my adolescence, progressively following the gender transformation that I made from 2000 to today. Each one simulates the effects of oil with acrylic paint.

The choice of portraiture is reminiscent of Valtesse de la Bigne's strategy. From a poor young woman in Normandy, she became rich enough to rise to the rank of countess under Napoleon III. She had Edouard Detaille paint her a set of false portraits from different periods in order to invent an ancient lineage, which she donated to the Caen Museum of Fine Arts. She also bequeathed her imposing bed to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where it remains stigmatised by a cartel on prostitution.  

It is also here a question of infiltrating the self-patrimonialization proposed by artists' personal museums, such as Canova's in Posagno or Thorvaldsen's in Copenhagen: and by the same token to undo the hegemonic, patriarchal, Western notion of the omnipotence of the Author over his history, to replace it with the disturbance of the simulacrum and the factice.

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