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France Honors Charlotte Vignon

On May 23, 2018, Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, awarded Charlotte Vignon with the insignia of the Chevalier of Arts and Letters in a ceremony held at the Frick Collection.

 

Remarks by Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy 

Good evening!

As Cultural Counselor, it is my pleasure to welcome you here at the Frick Collection to bestow the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters upon Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Frick Collection.

In 1957, the Order of Arts and Letters was established by the French government to recognize renowned artists and writers and those who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.

As curator of the Frick’s vast collection of decorative arts since 2015, Charlotte Vignon has worked tirelessly to care for the collection, research the holdings, and share them with the Frick’s audiences. With her expert knowledge and critical eye, she has organized dozens of exhibits—many of them focusing on French decorative arts—that have brought thousands of visitors to the Frick. In her expertise, care, and integrity regarding decorative arts, she has been integral in promoting French culture in the United States and we honor her today for her contributions.

 

Dear Charlotte Vignon,

As a young girl, you used to follow your mother in museums around Europe. From a very early age, you started developing the keen critical sense for decorative objects that you use in your practice daily.

Despite this, your formal educational pathway was not initially oriented toward the decorative arts, but rather, toward another form of art, music: in 1991, you graduated from the Conservatoire de musique de Toulouse. You received your licence de droit, graduating summa cum laude, from the Université de Toulouseand then went on to receive a licence d’histoire de l’art from the Sorbonne. You remained at the Sorbonne to receive your Master’s degree in art history, specializing in the history of 18th- century furniture, and graduating with top honors.

You initially came to the United States in 2001 as a fellow at the Cleveland Museum of Art. There, you worked on the first catalogue of the permanent collection of eighteenth-century French decorative arts. You researched over 500 objects in the permanent collection and wrote 100 entries for the catalogue, documenting the carved furniture, silver, and snuffboxes collections. You spent these early years of your career traveling between Europe and the United States, conducting research and consulting with other curators. You went on to hold various other fellowships in the United States, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

After years of research, in 2011, you returned to the Sorbonne to earn your Ph.D. and earned the highest academic distinction in the university. Your dissertation examined the role of the Duveen Brothers in shaping the international market for European decorative arts and Chinese porcelain between 1880 and 1940. This topic was actually inspired by your initial fellowship at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Arriving there, you wondered, “How was it that these eighteenth- century French treasures managed to arrive in the American Midwest?” This question sparked the beginning of your quest, researching the provenance of French decorative arts, and in the spring of 2019, your extensive research on this topic will be published as a book, co-published by the Frick and D. Giles Ltd.

In 2009, you were appointed as the Associate Curator of Decorative Arts at The Frick Collection and in 2015, Curator of the Frick Collection. During this time, you worked tirelessly to expand the Frick’s decorative art holdings, to enhance the knowledge surrounding these treasures, and to increase the public’s familiarity with them. The Frick Collection is such a valuable museum here in New York, and in fact, the world, as it holds one of the greatest privately-owned collections in the United States. In your time as curator, you have attracted thousands of visitors to see sculptures, decorative objects, furniture and paintings and have simultaneously received critical acclaim by the press in doing so.

Your work is driven by an impeccable standard of quality—what your friends and colleagues call “Charlotte being French.” You have passed this trait on to your daughter, Lucie, who has such a refined taste for macarons that she can tell from first bite if the one she has been given comes from anywhere but Ladurée!

In 2016 you curated the acclaimed exhibition Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court. This exhibit was groundbreaking in so many ways. Most notably, it was the first monographic study on this French bronze chaser and gilder who worked for Louis XV and Louis XVI. It has now traveled to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. It was also nominated by Apollo Magazine as one of the best international museum exhibitions of the year.

I want to highlight how the catalogue for this exhibition captures the pinnacle of French and American cultural exchange. You edited this 400-page work with Christian Baulez, the former chief curator at the Musée de Versailles, and it is the first major study on Pierre Gouthière since 1912 and the only comprehensive one published in English. The catalogue, first written in French, includes essays from international specialists including Christian Baulez, Anne Forray-Carlier, Joseph Godla, and Helen Jacobsen. 

You have, of course, curated multiple other engaging exhibits at the Frick centering on French art. One beautiful exhibition created under your care was Charles Coypel’s Don Quixote tapestries : Illustrating a Spanish Novel in Eighteenth-Century France. It showcased the paintings that this eighteenth-century French painter to Louis XV created with the intent of having them woven into tapestries. These beautiful works capture the most memorable scenes of chivalric mischief from the Spanish novel that captivated the imagination of all of Europe. The exhibition included five of Coypel's original paintings, which had never before been exhibited in New York, on loan from the Palais Impérial de Compiègne and the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris.

You have done a remarkable job in enriching the knowledge and expanding the context surrounding the decorative arts for audiences in the United States and worldwide. Along with the exhibitions you create as curator, you also develop education programs and publications. You have led some of the wonderful educational programs at the Frick, which has allowed you to teach the public not just about an object or artwork itself, but about its origin. As one of the foremost scholars on the decorative arts, you have published various catalogues, book chapters, and articles, among which are The Frick Collection’s Handbook to the Decorative Arts. 

Furthermore, you are also an outstanding educator, having participated in numerous art conferences spearheaded by BGC Partners, and lectured at the Cleveland Institute of Art. A current Trustee of The Bard Graduate Center in New York; you also lecture there as a Visiting Associate Professor. You teach courses focusing on European decorative arts and the history of collecting, and you have also spent much of your time focusing on educating students who wish to follow in your footsteps.

Along with your curatorial work at the Frick, you have also rendered a great service to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy: you are part of the Scientific Committee for the renovation of the Venetian Room at the Payne Whitney Mansion, where our offices are located. You can only imagine how sacred this room is to us—completed in 1906 by renowned architect Stanford White, it is not only a beautiful and rare example of the Gilded Age in New York, but it is also the very last creation of the architect. You have overseen various crucial stages in undergoing this room’s renovation, assuring that the project is completed with utmost integrity to the space and playing a large role in raising funds for the project.

Throughout your career as a student, researcher, lecturer, writer, and curator, you have produced work of the highest standards and have honored the rich legacy of the decorative arts in doing so. At the Frick, you have been a crucial ambassador for French decorative arts and have enriched American understanding of these valuable objects. For these reasons, it is my pleasure to present you with the Order of Arts and Letters.

Charlotte Vignon, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

 

Remarks by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Frick Collection

Thank you, Bénédicte, for that glorious portrait. And thank you for conferring on me  the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. I am particularly delighted to receive it from you, who, as a cultural diplomat, fosters French culture with such energy and intelligence. I am honored that my role, which is far more modest, is recognized today by the French state and government. For this reason, I would also like to thank French President Emmanuel Macron; Madame Francoise Nyssen, the French Minister of Culture; and Hervé Ferrage and Rima Abdul-Malak from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, as well as Dorothée Charles.

When I left France twenty years ago, I certainly never expected I would be standing here today, in the Frick’s Fragonard Room, to receive such an honor. Ironically, I came to the United States to pursue my studies in French art and not, as you might expect, to study American art. I came here to pursue what I continue to do today: to study French decorative arts from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries and to bring to the public (American, as well as foreign)—through exhibitions, publications, and other projects—a better awareness, understanding of, and appreciation for this art form.

It has been particularly rewarding for me to work on French decorative arts here in the United States, outside their cultural and historical context, and to share these incredible objects with a largely American public, less familiar with French decorative arts than the French. In France, most people visit chateaux, churches, and museums from a young age, during school visits or on family vacations. Thus, Sèvres porcelain, gilded chairs, and Gobelins tapestries are more familiar to the general public. Such works of art are, at the least, generally understood in a rough historical context and experienced in a setting similar, if not identical, to that of their time of manufacture. The French are also proud of their “industrie du luxe” or luxury industry, which derives as much from the old royal manufactories of the ancien regime as from local craftsmanship, so while visiting Paris or vacationing in the French countryside, you can—if you want—easily learn how to weave a piece of tapestry or fashion a vase in faience. In America, this type of experience with traditional craftsmanship and antique objects is much rare, both more unfamiliar and not as well understood. During the last twenty years, I have worked toward a single goal: the study of beautiful objects from the past—which I believe can continue to inspire, surprise, and maybe even amuse us, especially far from the time and place in which they were originally created—and the exploration of their relevance for the public, particularly in America.

For helping me to achieve this goal, I would like to thank Ian Wardropper, Director of the Frick Collection, Xavier Salomon, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of the Frick, and the Frick’s trustees, especially Margot Bogert and Betty Eveillard. They have provided continuing support of my exhibition and book projects, as well as my recent work to bring art and culture to a younger and more diverse community with my educational initiative with PS84, a bilingual French and English public school on the Upper West Side.

It has been and continues to be a tremendous honor to work at The Frick Collection, a museum where French art has a place of honor and one of the French’s favorite museums!

I would like to thank Colleen Tierney from the Frick and Paula Cianci from the French embassy for organizing this beautiful ceremony and reception. My gratitude also goes to all of you—my friends and colleagues—for being here and supporting me today, as well as to those who have not been able to join us. My appreciation extends to all those who have helped me in one way or another in my personal and professional journey to forge and develop a strong relationship between France and the United States. Finally, I would like to thank my husband Joe for raising our bilingual daughter, Lucie, who so beautifully embodies the dual cultural context in which she is growing up. Thank you again for this honor.

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