The Labours and Pleasures of Distinction. The mechanical arts, the interior and court society in 18th century France

The genesis of this course was a personal wish and a friendship with the Wallace Collection. England has a long history of taste in French decorative art of the 18th century. The Wallace Collection has the depth and breadth of high quality French objects. Its curators had the knowledge and expertise to teach a course in this period. I had long wanted to establish a course, for which a collection of objects which can be handled was an essential component. The course, a collaboration between The Courtauld Institute and The Wallace Collection, grew out of my discussions with the Director Rosalind Savill and her very able curators, Jo Hedley, Curator of Paintings, Peter Hughes, Curator of Furniture, Robert Wenley, Curator of Metalwork, all of whom will be teaching on the course with me.

Pierre-Edmé Babel. Design for a Cartouche
Pierre-Edmé Babel. Design for a Cartouche c.1745-50


The course will offer an introduction to the fine and decorative arts as they came together in the decoration of secular interiors in 18th century France. The course is divided into two balanced components: the first will involve the study of the materials, technologies and institutions that governed the production of furniture and furnishings for the interior: the second will analyse the interior as a site for display, use and enjoyment of luxury goods.

In addition to familiarising students with the specific, tangible qualities of decorative objects, with reference to the Wallace Collection, the first term approaches the manufacture of luxury goods from the broader perspective of the history of material culture. Attention will thus be given to the meaning and representation of craft and industry as well as to their practices.

Likewise in the second term the interior will be approached both as a physical site and as a discursive space. Thus consideration will be given both to the ways in which decorative objects came together and were arranged within an architectural framework and to the meanings that attached themselves to the resulting patterns of distinction, issues of class and gender will be of concern throughout.

The material scope of the course will range over architecture, painting, sculpture, furniture, textiles (tapestry and silk), porcelain, metalwork and printmaking. The teaching will take place at the Wallace Collection where curators will provide in-depth analysis of objects and at the Courtauld Insitute where Katie Scott will run seminars. A trip to France at the end of the Autumn term will be organised.

Dr. Katie Scott
Course Tutor