This autumn, the Kimbell will premiere the international loan exhibition Casanova: The Seduction of Europe, a free-spirited exploration of mid-18th-century Europe. The celebrated Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798), who epitomizes the sophistication of the 18th century, will act as our guide. His famous memoirs portray an individual perfectly suited to his era: one of glamour, creativity, sensual pleasure and social and political ambition. Inspired by Casanova’s story, the exhibition will introduce 21st-century viewers to the variety and complexity of European art and culture that form the backdrop of his life.
“Casanova’s era has plenty in common with our own,” commented Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum. “The 18th century’s cult of celebrity, of shifting identity, its use of gossip as currency and its obsession with travel and novelty are all cultural forces that confront us today. I’m confident that this exhibition will resonate with visitors and am thrilled to welcome them on a grand tour of the visual delights of Casanova’s time.” Casanova emerges as daringly modern in his freewheeling approach to life and his apparently limitless capacity for self-invention. Although his name is now synonymous with the archetypical seducer and adventurer, he was in fact much more than that: contemporaries regarded him as a charming and witty conversationalist, an expert on many fascinating topics and an international man of letters. Casanova lived in or visited many of the principal art centers of 18th-century Europe, particularly Venice, Paris and London, but also the capitals of Central and Eastern Europe. Moreover, he knew many of the greatest figures of the age: the philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau; the celebrated opera singer Farinelli; Benjamin Franklin, American ambassador to France; two Popes; and such monarchs as Louis XV of France, George III of Great Britain and Catherine the Great of Russia.
This exhibition will feature approximately 200 works of art, including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, furniture, metalwork, porcelain, costumes and musical instruments. Together, they will illustrate the splendor of mid-18th-century Europe, gently structured around the chronology, geography and major incidents of Casanova’s life, and will address such themes as travel; courtship and seduction; theatre, identity and the mask; and the pleasures of dining.
Casanova’s colorful life experiences will be evoked by the work of the great Italian artists Canaletto, Bellotto, Tiepolo, Longhi and Piranesi; by the French masters Boucher, Nattier, Houdon and Fragonard; and by such British painters as Hogarth and Reynolds. Evocative vignettes of costumed figures in settings enlivened by extraordinary period furnishings will bring to life the sumptuous world in which Casanova lived—a world that he seduced not only with charm and romance but through his keen wit and his rare intelligence.
Casanova: The Seduction of Europe has been organized by the curators of the three presenting institutions. In Fort Worth, C.D. Dickerson, now head of sculpture and decorative arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., first proposed the idea for the exhibition to deputy director George T.M. Shackelford, who has supervised the project. In San Francisco, former curator in charge of European paintings Esther Bell (now at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown), her successor, Virginia Brilliant, their colleague Kirk Nickel and curator in charge of European decorative arts and sculpture Martin Chapman have given their expertise to the project. Finally, in Boston, art of Europe chair Frederick Ilchman, senior curator of decorative arts Thomas Michie and Pamela Parmal, chair of textile and fashion arts, assisted by Courtney Harris, were responsible for the stewardship of the loan process and the assembly of the exhibition catalogue. Bell, Dickerson, Ilchman and Michie are essayists for the lively book that accompanies the exhibition, in conjunction with a panoply of international scholars. The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue, Casanova: The Seduction of Europe, available for $45 in the Museum Shops. It is organized by the Kimbell Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Promotional support is provided by American Airlines, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and NBC5.