The deviance of the collector

Dominique Pety, ” The character of the collector in the Nineteenth century : from the eccentric to the amateur distinguished “, Romance, 2001, n° 112, pp. 71-81

In this article, the character of the collector is analyzed from 1840 to the end of the century from a wide range of texts, literary and non-literary. Dominique Pety has been a shift in the representation of the figure of the collector, which passes the eccentric monomane recluse in his home in the amateur socialite to the one who shows off his possessions. This evolution of the representation reflects a dramatic re-evaluation of the practice, and the mutation of the values associated with the collection: values-aristocratic, traditional art and the art of living, republican values, new knowledge and science. Private collections, formerly sources of enjoyment, personal, now participate in the duty of preservation of the national heritage.

In the social imaginary of 1840, the collector is described as an individual’s abnormal and social. The collector is not only passionate about, but also a “fool” and a “monomane”. Present in The Heather, Balzac, but also by its marginality in narratives of eccentric and imaginary : the fairy tales or fantasy novels, it will be used in the realistic novel. Until the 1860’s, this is the true collector, the enthusiast who is mocked; in the 1870s, those who are referred by the irony, the satire, or even a tract, on the contrary, are the false collectors, those whose collection is more than the average ambition. The collection, which is criticized as a practice deviant, is now in its form deviated : since everyone collects them, a discrimination is necessary, according to criteria that bear on the objects acquired (the true and the false, the ancient and the modern, the rare and the common, the beautiful and the ugly), but to punish then the choice of the collector, his taste, his knowledge, as it relates ultimately to its origins and its social motives. The articles of Maupassant in Le Gaulois and Gil Blas in the early 1880s were particularly use of these criteria. Subsequently, this will be the exhibitionism of the petit bourgeois, the provincial government, which will be pinned. Bouvard and Pécuchet will be mocked by Flaubert because they are specialists and pride themselves of the scholarship. The two characters want to give a support book, a motivational scientist at their activity. “They are not seeking the beautiful, but the former, which bears historically testimony, and to enable them in their turn, if not to write, at least to say the story (this is the meaning of the tour they do of their so-called museum, where they have for each piece is a comment) “

At the end of the century appears in the novels a new figure of the collector who is opposed to conformism collectors and neophytes, and referred to utilitarian (education of the tastes of the people, the training of artists, inspiration industries of art), specialists in the collection: aristocrat, art collector affirms its superiority by virtue of an ancient practice, the authentic, the collection is for him a legacy and a tradition.

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