Collecting in the Eighteenth Century: On the Archeology of a Perfect Collection

Collecting in the Eighteenth Century: On the Archeology of a Perfect Collection

From Paris to Saint Petersburg, the paintings of the Comte de Baudouin and Czarina Catharine II of Russia 

The goal of the program is to gain a better understanding of the social practice of art collection during the long eighteenth century through European case studies. The project primarily addresses a both typical as well as exceptional collection from the second half of the eighteenth century, a model of the ideal collection, namely that of the Parisian officer and amateur artist Sylvain-Raphaël Comte de Baudouin (1715–1797). Baudouin sold the majority of his painting collection to the Russian czarina Catherine II, whose “fever for paintings” led her to acquire Baudouin’s collection, the last of her acquisitions, as a gift for her favorite Alexander Lanskoy. 
Baudouin himself practiced art as an amateur engraver and assembled a collection of paintings praised by his contemporaries for its perfection. As the author of the catalogue of his collection, he had engravings and copies made of a large number of his works before they were transported to Russia in 1784. The empress purchased exactly 115 of the 118 paintings in Baudouin’s collection, 76% of which were works by Dutch and Flemish painters; among them were also works by Italian artists and, in smaller proportion, a few French paintings. Contemporary sources confirm the image of an ensemble regarded as the paragon of a painting collection, the masterpieces in which still count among the prominent pieces in the collections of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and Lisbon’s Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.    
The study of this collection—based on the critical edition of inventories and related sources—raises very basic questions about such issues as the importance of schools, and thereby the function of collecting for the discipline of art history in the context of the history of scholarship, or the socio-historical function of private art collection in the eighteenth century. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to better understand the complex relationship between personal preference, political responsibility, and judgements of taste—questions raised by the czarina’s acquisition of a Parisian collection at the height of her rule. Its functionalization in its new Russian context stands in contrast to the practice in Paris, the significance of the collection of a noble officer, who established himself in the intellectual circles of the salons (those of Madame de Genlis, Madame Geoffrin, as well as the Société des Lanturlus, formed by the latter’s daughter, the Marquise de la Ferté-Imbault) and who, in the end, sold his collection to a European dynasty. In this way, Baudouin’s ideal collection offers an outstanding example through which to understand the history of taste and mentalities in eighteenth-century Europe in the context of art history as well as from a historical-anthropological perspective.

Critical Edition of Baudouin’s Inventory: the establishment of a critical edition of the inventory, complete with relevant contemporary sources, is planned for the first stage of the project.

Essay Volume: A volume of essays will address, among other points, the following aspects of the phenomenon: 
the meaning and shifts in meaning of the term “schools”
the ideal collection and proto-art history 
collections and spatial concepts
methods of reproduction, from engraving to copying
distribution strategies in the case of a private collection 

Collections to be examined 
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; Russian State Archives, Moscow; Pushkin Museum, Moscow; Documentation du Musée du Louvre, Paris; Fondation Custodia, Paris; Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon; French National Institute of Art History, Paris (INHA); National Archives, Paris. 

Participation and Collaboration 
Direction: Markus A. Castor in collaboration with Guillaume Nicoud (DFK Paris)
Academic Assistance: Blanche Llaurens, Lara Pitteloud
External Coordination: Irina Sokolova, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Photo: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Leiden, 1606 – id., 1669), Pallas Athéna, um 1655, Oil on canvas, 1,18 × 0,91 m, from the ancient collection of the Comte of Baudouin, later on of Czarina Catherine II, Lissabon, Calouste-Gulbenkian- Museum, Inv. 1488

Project start


Markus A. Castor

Dr. Markus A. Castor

Research Director / Head of the Publication Series Passages Online
Phone +33 (0)1 42 60 67 13

Dr. Guillaume Nicoud

Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio (september 2018 – december 2020) / research project : Architektur und Urbanismus in Frankreich und Russland um 1800