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Dr Kathrin Yacavone reports on the study day La Portraitomanie: Intermediality and the Portrait in 19th-Century France held at the IMLR, Senate House, London in September 2018.

On Friday 14 September 2018 the Institute of Modern Languages Research hosted an interdisciplinary stay day that brought together scholars from Belgium, France, the UK and the USA who are currently collaborating on a special journal issue of L’Esprit créateur on La Portraitomanie: Intermediality and the Portrait in 19th-Century France, guest-edited by Érika Wicky and Kathrin Yacavone (forthcoming in March 2019).

Scholars have hitherto tended to analyse the portrait through the lens of a specific medium (such as painting, photography or literature), a particular individual, or a group of writers and artists for example. The aim of the study day, by contrast, was to examine the nineteenth-century portrait in France with an emphasis on transmediality – that is, how the portrait genre travelled from one medium to another – as well as intermediality, whereby portraits originating in different media were brought together in the same works. This context was outlined in the opening remarks by Dr Érika Wicky and Dr Kathrin Yacavone who focused on the portrait/‘portraitomanie’ and intermediality, respectively.

Nadar, Self-portrait, 1864 (BNF, Paris)

The following six papers and response papers examined the highly malleable definitions and manifestations of the ‘portrait’ – in written and visual forms – in nineteenth-century France. Professor Adeline Wrona presented on caricatures and photographs of the journalist Émile de Girardin, while Professor Elizabeth Emery focused on the journalistic ‘portrait’ as a genre mastered by Adolphe Brisson and developed out of the interview and the literary portrait. The representation in popular print media of the famous maître d’hôtel François Vatel was the topic of Professor Michael Garval’s paper and Dr Edward Nye looked at portraiture in the context of theatre, that is, the portraits of the Pierrot actor Jean-Gaspard Deburau reproduced in Jules Janin’s Deburau, ou L’Histoire du théâtre à quatre sous. The author portraits of George Sand by the famous caricaturist and photographer Nadar were the topic of a paper by Dr Kathrin Yacavone and Dr Érika Wicky presented on close-up portraits of painted figures that circulated independently of their original painterly contexts in photographic formats. The discussion of these core papers was enriched by three responses: Dr Frédérique Desbuisson identified the ideas of marketisation and recycling as an integral part of ‘portraitomanie’; Dr Maria Scott highlighted the common themes of vanity, politics and the blurring of the distinction between private and public, as all relevant to portraiture and intermediality; and Professor Richard Wrigley concluded the day’s reflections with thoughts on the limits of the portrait genre from an art historical perspective.

During the day there were many opportunities for discussion and debate and all participants were grateful for the warm welcome at the IMLR. The organiser thanks the IMLR and Jenny Stubbs, in particular, for her support before, during and after the event and also wishes to acknowledge financial support by the Cassal Endowment Fund, the Society for French Studies and the University of Nottingham International Collaboration Fund.

Dr Kathrin Yacavone is Assistant Professor in French at the University of Nottingham and, from February 2019, Humboldt Research Fellow at the Universities of Constance and Cologne (Germany). Her research focuses on author portraits and the construction of literary authorship in France from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries (see