On Friday 9th November, members of European Romanticisms in Association (ERA) and others met in the idyllic grounds of Maison de Chateaubriand in La Vallée-aux-Loups, just outside Paris, for the first workshop of the AHRC-funded Dreaming Romantic Europe network (PI Professor Nicola J Watson, Open University, Co-I Professor Catriona Seth, University of Oxford). The workshop, entitled ‘Consuming Romanticism’, brought together 18 scholars and heritage professionals from across Europe, including colleagues from universities and museums in the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, to explore the key question ‘How did contemporaries construct themselves through objects (broadly conceived) as consumers of Romanticism?’ over two days of stimulating and productive presentations and conversation.
After a tour of the grounds and the house in which François-René de Chateaubriand lived between 1807 and 1817, followed by a visit to Maison de Chateaubriand’s current exhibition on Napoleon Bonaparte, ‘L'empire en boîtes’, the afternoon got underway with a series of ten-minute papers, each exploring an iconic Romantic object with reference to a single image. The innovative short format of the presentations, which aimed to generate contributions for Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition (RÊVE), was a great success, allowing attendees to think and speak about European Romanticisms in new ways and to approach the concept of the Romantic object from new angles. The diverse range of proposed exhibits and interpretations was particularly inspiring, with papers addressing objects from travelling boxes, furniture, automata, artworks and print publications to tombs and monuments, and even trees, clouds and mountains. It was agreed that the format had made for an engaging first day and as the evening drew to a close, conversations continued to flow on the journey on the metro back towards Paris.
On Saturday morning discussions kicked off with thought-provoking presentations reflecting on the development of RÊVE. Subjects covered included the concept of the pan-European, the potential and future shape of the virtual exhibition, and what the process of writing and rethinking Romanticism through short-form histories of material (or sometimes immaterial) objects had thrown into prominence. The presentations sparked a range of lively and fruitful conversations around topics including: how to design, organise, map, and guide visitors through the collection; how to bring the project to new audiences, communities, and collaborators; the ability of the exhibition to draw new links between objects, their owners, and their locations; and the way in which the exhibition allows us to bring inanimate objects to life through the stories we tell about them. The upsurge of ideas from all participants demonstrated the huge potential which RÊVE holds for fostering new ideas about and approaches to Romanticism, its study, and its dissemination and, as Catriona Seth summarized, established the “10 Cs” at the centre of the project: new conversations, connections, commissions, crowds, circulation, circles, categorization, curiosity, comparison and curation.
After a steering group meeting to discuss the details of Workshop 2 which will be held next year in Ravenna, Italy, all that remained was to thank Bernard Degout, Veronica Martin Baudouin, Anne Sudre, Pierre Téqui, and the rest of the team from Maison de Chateaubriand for hosting, attending, recording and live-tweeting the event, and to all the participants and contributors for their enthusiastic involvement.