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Casting Nature: François-Thomas Germain's Machine d'Argent at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, July 11, 2006–March 25, 2007

June 29, 2006

LOS ANGELES—The Machine d'Argent (1754)—a sculptural centerpiece of remarkable beauty, extraordinary naturalism, and virtuoso execution—ranks as one of the finest works by François-Thomas Germain (1721–1791), a foremost silversmith in 18th-century France and official sculptor-goldsmith to king Louis XV.  The work remained in the family of the German Duke Christian Ludwig II of Mecklenburg, for whom it was created, for almost 250 years until it was recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum.  Now, for the first time, this work will be on view in the exhibition Casting Nature: François-Thomas Germain's Machine d'Argent, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, July 11, 2006–March 25, 2007.

The finely cast silver ensemble depicts a bountiful display of naturalistically rendered animals and vegetables and introduces a genre—a still-life trophy of the hunt—not yet represented in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s sculpture and decorative arts collection.  It was commissioned to complement a series of paintings related to hunting and exotic animals by the French artist, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755).  The Machine d'Argent will also be included in a later exhibition, Oudry’s Painted Menagerie, which will run from May to September 2007.

Casting Nature explores the significance of Germain's Machine d'Argent by presenting it along with other 18th-century works—including paintings, drawings, and prints—that places it within the context of artistic production at the time.  Together, these works reflect the Enlightenment's fascination with documenting nature through science and art.  Other objects by Germain will also be included to show the breadth of his work and his relationships with other artists. The exhibition features works drawn from the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the special collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute, and loans from the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory in France; the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm; and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

By featuring works of various media, the exhibition reveals the interconnectedness of the Getty's different collections and illustrates how new acquisitions can complement the existing collection and broaden understanding of an artist, genre, or period. It also shows the relationships between sculpture, painting, decorative arts, and prints in the 18th century.

Included in the exhibition are a painting, Silver Tureen with Peaches, from the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, and two oil sketches from the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory archives by François Desportes (1661–1743) that depict Germain’s works in silver.  Desportes, a neighbor of the Germain family, was known to have borrowed models from the silversmith’s studio for use as props in his paintings.  Similar compositions of forms copied or adapted from nature by other artists are illustrated in a number of 18th-century decorative prints.  The exhibition features a volume of Diderot's and d'Alembert's famous Encyclopédie, which illustrates works of silver similar to those produced by the Germain workshop.  Also on view is a silver tureen by Germain’s father, the famous silversmith Thomas Germain (1685-1748), from the Detroit Institute of Arts, that is the first known example of a tureen made by the Germain family decorated with a naturalistically rendered still life.

François-Thomas Germain created the Machine d'Argent just seven years after the death of his father, whom he succeeded as sculptor-goldsmith to Louis XV and head of the most important silver workshop in Paris.  He also inherited his father’s remarkable collection of animal models in lead, bronze, terracotta, plaster, and wax. Created over a period of nearly seven months, the Machine d’Argent exemplifies Germain’s attempt to replicate—even rival—nature in its diversity of life forms, proportions, and textures.  The extraordinary quality of the sculpture was recognized when it was made, as it was assigned the title machine d’argent (literally “silver machine”).  In the 18th century, the French word machine implied a work of artistic genius or spirit and was broadly used to describe a centerpiece that rested on a formal dining table.  Germain continued the family business with great success, achieving such skill in casting from the models that his work was indistinguishable from his father's.  His artistry was so renowned that he received commissions from royal courts across Europe, from Portugal to Russia.

Casting Nature is curated by Jeffrey Weaver, assistant curator, and Bieke van der Mark, graduate intern, in the department of sculpture and decorative arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

All events are free, unless otherwise noted. For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit

The Art of the Chase: Hunting and Dining in 18th-Century Europe
Tracey Albainy, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, discusses how hunting—the privilege and passion of the nobility—was a lively source of inspiration for silversmiths and ceramic factories in 18th-century Europe.  Still lifes of game, fish, and vegetables weighted down tureens and table centerpieces, while scenes of the hunt were painted, modeled, and engraved on a variety of tableware. Her lecture examines the impact of the vogue for the hunt on the 18th-century table, from the happy informality of the hunt picnic to the elaborate setting of the court banquet.
Sunday, October 8, 4:00 p.m., Harold M. Williams Auditorium, the Getty Center.

Painting versus Sculpture in the 18th Century
Mikael Ahlund, curator of 18th-century painting and sculpture, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, explores the academic rivalry between painters and sculptors in the 18th century, using as a point of reference the work of the sculptor-goldsmiths Thomas Germain and his son, François-Thomas Germain, and the painter François Desportes.
February 7, 2007, 3:00–5:00 p.m., Museum Lecture Hall, the Getty Center.

Curator's Gallery Talk
Jeffrey Weaver, assistant curator of sculpture and decorative arts, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a gallery talk on the exhibition. Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.
Thursdays, August 17, 2:30 p.m., and September 28, 1:30 p.m., the Getty Center.

Learn more about the Machine d'Argent, the Germain workshop, and the 18th-century fascination with replicating nature in art.
Available anytime in the Museum Entrance Hall, the Getty Center.

Made for Manufacture: Drawings for Sculpture and the Decorative Arts
At the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, February 6–May 20, 2007
Many of the greatest draftsmen of the Renaissance and Baroque eras made drawings for sculpture and the decorative arts. This exhibition comprises drawings for objects to be executed in a range of media, including metal, wood, glass, ceramics, and stone. It explores how artists translated two-dimensional designs into three-dimensional objects. Spanning the 15th through 18th centuries, the exhibition includes drawings from the Italian, German, French, Spanish, Netherlandish, and Flemish schools, all from the Getty's permanent collection.

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Miranda Carroll
Getty Communications Dept.

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