Tag Archives: Jules Lefebvre

A Copy of a Copy

A trip to the Camp­bell House Muse­um guar­an­tees a cou­ple of things:

1.) You’re going to walk up and down a lot of stairs.

2.) You’re going to get a great, engag­ing tour from one of our awe­some docents or interns.

3.) You’re going to see some incred­i­ble exam­ples of Vic­to­ri­an inte­ri­or design and beau­ti­ful works of art.

This post focus­es on the last point—the out­stand­ing col­lec­tion of art accu­mu­lat­ed over the years by Robert and Vir­ginia Camp­bell and their sons—and we have our recent­ly depart­ed Spring intern Amy to thank for the great research that went into what you’re about to read.

Painting of James Campbell by Jules Lefebvre, 1899 © Campbell House Foundation 2013

Paint­ing of James Camp­bell by Jules Lefeb­vre, paint­ed in Paris in 1895.

While Camp­bell House does boast some beau­ti­ful orig­i­nal works of art, like the por­trait of the dash­ing James Camp­bell hang­ing in the library paint­ed by renowned artist Jules Lefeb­vre, many of the art­works that you see on a trip to the muse­um are copies of orig­i­nal works, some going back to antiquity.

What’s pret­ty inter­est­ing though is that, upon fur­ther exam­i­na­tion, resource­ful intern Amy unrav­eled the sto­ry of one of our sculp­tures and revealed that it’s actu­al­ly a copy of a copy… of a copy.

A huge­ly pop­u­lar trend for wealthy fam­i­lies like the Camp­bells in the 19th cen­tu­ry was to dis­play works by well known artists in their homes.  How­ev­er, dis­play­ing orig­i­nal sculp­tures by leg­endary artists would have been imprac­ti­cal and often finan­cial­ly impossible—even for wealthy fam­i­lies like the Camp­bells.  On top of that, most of the orig­i­nals were incred­i­bly heavy—made out of mar­ble, so buy­ing plas­ter copies of the orig­i­nals made them eas­i­er to ship and were much more prac­ti­cal to dis­play in a res­i­den­tial setting.

Bust of "Venus Italica" by Antonio Canova © Campbell House Foundation 2013

Bust of “Venus Ital­i­ca” by Anto­nio Cano­va in the Camp­bell House Morn­ing Room.

One artist for which the Camp­bells seem to have had a par­tic­u­lar affin­i­ty was Ital­ian sculp­tor Anto­nio Cano­va, whose work dates from the late 18th and ear­ly 19th cen­turies.  The most detailed of his works on dis­play here at Camp­bell House can be found in the Morn­ing Room—a bust of his Venus Ital­i­ca.

Canova's original "Venus Italica"

Canova’s orig­i­nal “Venus Italica”

Ok, so you’re prob­a­bly assum­ing that this isn’t the orig­i­nal sculp­ture by Cano­va.  And you’re right.  In fact, the orig­i­nal is sig­nif­i­cant­ly larg­er, and a bit…exposed.  Not nec­es­sar­i­ly some­thing Vir­ginia Camp­bell would have want­ed greet­ing guests as they walked through her home.

What’s inter­est­ing is that, in real­i­ty, Canova’s orig­i­nal Venus Ital­i­ca isn’t actu­al­ly all that orig­i­nal.  In fact, it’s a copy of a much old­er piece called the Medici Venus that Cano­va was com­mis­sioned to recre­ate and onto which he put his own unique spin by adding clothes and repo­si­tion­ing Venus’ hand.  The Medici Venus dates all the way back to the first cen­tu­ry BCE, near­ly 2,000 years before the Camp­bells decid­ed that Venus’ head would look nice on dis­play in their sit­ting room.

Medici Venus

The “Medici Venus”, dat­ing from the first cen­tu­ry BCE

But wait!  There’s more!  Not only is the Camp­bells’ bust of Venus a copy of Anto­nio Canova’s Venus Ital­i­ca, which is a copy of the Medici Venus, but the Medici Venus actu­al­ly has its begin­nings as a copy of an even OLDER sculp­ture- the Venus of Knidos craft­ed in ancient Greece.  Though the orig­i­nal is no longer in exis­tence, we do still have (you guessed it!) copies of what the orig­i­nal is thought to have looked like.… and it’s miss­ing a cou­ple of key features.

Venus Knidos

A copy of the “Venus Knidos”, which dates back to Greek antiquity

So there you have it.  The Camp­bells’ bust of Venus is actu­al­ly a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.  Is your head spin­ning yet?

This prac­tice of repro­duc­ing clas­si­cal sculp­tures for dis­play in the home became increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry and artists began more and more to use clas­sic works as inspi­ra­tions for new pieces.  This move­ment, known as neo­clas­si­cism, posed a pret­ty big prob­lem for schol­ars and crit­ics at the time—was this art new? Or was it just a copy?  The answer that’s gen­er­al­ly been agreed upon is, quite sim­ply, both.  We can see how much change that the orig­i­nal Venus under­went before its lat­er incar­na­tion end­ed up in the Camp­bell House, with dif­fer­ences added slow­ly over time and mak­ing the fig­ure more nat­u­ral­is­tic.  Though these changes and the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of famous works made art more acces­si­ble to the com­mon man, it has been argued this neo­clas­si­cal move­ment actu­al­ly marks begin­ning of art’s decline, throw­ing artis­tic inno­va­tion and iden­ti­ties out the win­dow in favor of cheap reproductions.

Venus (center left) in the Morning Room of the Campbell House, ca. 1885 © Campbell House Foundation 2013

Venus (cen­ter left) in the Morn­ing Room of the Camp­bell House, cir­ca 1885
© Camp­bell House Foun­da­tion 2013

Regard­less of the posi­tion you take, it can’t be denied that even these neo­clas­si­cal pieces spared no lack of atten­tion to detail and, when push comes to shove, we’re pret­ty pleased that our copy of Canova’s Venus has kept watch from the cor­ner here at Camp­bell House for the last 150 years.  Even if it is a copy of a copy…of a copy.

Campbell Kids » Campbell House Goes to the Dogs

James’ young col­lies in Cam­bridge, MA. The sol­id brown one on the right is named Guy.

This Fri­day is Bring Your Dog to Work Day, and although we don’t want our staff’s pooches traips­ing through the rose gar­den, track­ing mud through the house and drool­ing on guests that come to the door, dogs have a long his­to­ry at Camp­bell House.

The Camp­bells loved their dogs, par­tic­u­lar­ly the youngest adult son James. He immor­tal­ized them not only in his Jules Lefeb­vre (pro­nounced “luh-FEV-ruh”) por­trait that hangs in the Library, but he also had pic­tures tak­en of them. Lots of pic­tures. After grad­u­at­ing from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty, James attend­ed Har­vard from 1886 through 1888 for law school. The pic­ture to the right cap­tured his beloved pair of col­lies in the dri­ve­way of his Cam­bridge home. (Awwww…)

After he grad­u­at­ed from Har­vard, James and his broth­ers Hugh and Hazlett took an extend­ed trip to Europe. Of course, the pups went along for the ride:

Pups on the bal­cony in Geneva.….

…stand­ing guard at the door­way to the Hotel Con­ra­di in Italy, and…

…sit­ting nice­ly for the cam­era in an unknown Euro­pean location.

The Camp­bells weren’t the only folks in his­to­ry who were wild about their pooches. A black New­found­land accom­pa­nied Lewis and Clark on their trek west. Cap­tain Meri­wether Lewis bought Sea­man the pup for $20 in Pitts­burgh before the expe­di­tion in 1803 while he was wait­ing for the boats to be completed.

The 1400-pound sculp­ture of Sea­man that sits at Sea­man’s Over­look in Wash­burn, North Dako­ta. (Sea­man is also fea­tured in a stat­ue of Lewis & Clark in St. Louis next to the Eads Bridge!)

Robert’s friend Ulysses S. Grant also owned a New­found­land named Faith­ful, and she lived in the White House while Grant was pres­i­dent! (Since the Grant and Camp­bell fam­i­lies were close friends, the Camp­bells sure­ly spent some time with Faithful.)

Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy owned sev­er­al dogs (Char­lie, Pushin­ka, Clip­per, Shan­non, Wolf, White Tips, Black­ie and Streak­er), and he was the first pres­i­dent to request that his four-legged friends be allowed to greet him on the lawn when he arrived at the White House in the pres­i­den­tial helicopter.

Do you have a spe­cial fur­ry canine friend at home? Grab your pen­cil, paper, mark­ers and paint and make your very own por­trait! After you’re done and show your fam­i­ly, email a pic­ture of it to shel­ley [at] camp­bell­house­mu­se­um [dot] org, and we’ll post the sub­mis­sions on our blog! And you nev­er know.…we may decide to bring Har­vey and Vio­let to work next year.