CACD 2020 | Summary

The Smile Revolution of the late eighteenth-century France had proved a false dawn — or a damp squib. It would not be until the twentieth century that the smile made what has proved to be a spectacular comeback. This was initially a slow process, but the twentieth-century Smile Revolution was complete by the middle decades of the century. As with its predecessor in the eighteenth century, it was a complex phenomenon which involved social and cultural as well as scientific and technological changes. France was not in the vanguard of change as it had been earlier. Now, particularly in the later stages, the USA led the way.

The virtual prohibition on the use of the white-tooth smile in western portraiture had been ended by Madame Vigée Le Brun in 1787. The smile did thereafter feature in portraits, as we have suggested, but it was still very much a minority taste. And it remained very heavily gendered. Women might occasionally be shown with white-tooth smiles, but this was invariably seen as an unbecoming gesture for males. In France, no artistic movement embraced white teeth as wholeheartedly as, for example, the Pre-Raphaelites in England. Oddly, the artistic movements which did highlight the open mouth in their art, following the wake of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893), were the expressionists, the Dadaists, and the Surrealists. For them, the open mouth and the display of teeth were more likely to be linked to the grimace, the Democritan smile of mockery, or the gaping Gothic hole.

Taken overall, the upshot of Le Brun’s work was to endorse de convention that, in Western art, if one wanted to be portrayed pleasantly smiling (as opposed to laughing), then it was best to smile like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Her smile — which, though admired, was not in fact a great favourite in Elightenment France — had been gracious, genteel, controlled and mild. The Mona Lisa was not alone in smiling, but she was also best minded to keep her mouth firmly shut. For individuals to have their mouths open in a painting in Western art, back to Antiquity, generally signified that, if they were not in the grip of extreme passion, they were plebeian or insane. The dark, forbidding facial orifices of beggars, gypsies, strolling players, and other social marginal portrayed by Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, Velazquez, and others fitfully generate a sense of menace.

England’s Queen Victoria was famously “not amused”, and her official portraits are certainly very glum. In fact, in 1843, she commissioned the German court artist Franz-Xavier Winterhalter to paint an intimate portrait of her to present as a special gift to her new husband, Prince Albert. She chose to be represented in reclining fashion, smiling charmingly, and displaying her teeth. This probably makes her the first European monarch to wear the Vigée Le Brun smile in a portrait. Yet the circumstances of the commission were significant. Victoria made the painting a personal gift to Albert, and hung it in their private suite. It was never seen publicly in her lifetime.

Only right at the very end of the nineteenth century were teeth and smiles timidly finding their way more evidently into painted portraits. Interestingly, it seems to have been female artists, such as Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, who gave lead to this. The pace of change was initially slower in regard to photographic portraiture. Strangely, perhaps, given the new medium’s more naturalistic, even documentary potential, white teeth failed to establish themselves in photography in the nineteenth century. There were technical reasons for this. For all the nineteenth century, and especially during the early days, posing times were long (thirty minutes at first). In the 1860s and 1870s, sitters frequently wore neck-braces, arm-bands, and waist-restrainers to ensure stillness. Even when the exposure time was reduced to a minute or less, this still removed the possibility of anything like instantaneousness or spontaneity in capturing identities. The possibility of a wide smile morphing into a smirk or a rictus was still present.

In the event, the emergence of new cultural models was needed to stimulate change. In the eighteenth century, the cult of sensibility had acted as a trigger: people wanted to cry and smile like their novelistic heroes and heroines. In the early twentieth century, new media took this path-breaking emulative role. Of prime importance was film and the associated medium of studio photography. More even than novels, film encouraged processes of identification with the lifestyle and self-presentation of celebrity of fantasy figures. Before the First World War, film studios in Hollywood started to make the posed images of their stars into media outputs with mass appeal. The smile was gradually becoming a key feature of this new medium.

Where film-stars led the way, private individuals followed, particularly in the inter-war period. Even some politicians began to go with the flow. By the beginning of the Second World War, the practice of saying “cheese” in front of a camera had begun. The display of teeth in photography was becoming the norm for those who watched films as much as for those who starred in them.

The triumph of the twentieth-century Smile Revolution stimulated a postmodernist response in the early 1960s to the emergent Smile Revolution. Andy Warhol’s ironically flat depiction in 1962 of thirty-two Campbell’s soup cans satirized art practice and taste as much as it did the mindless replicability of advertising images. Warhol added an extra twist in his Marilyn Monroe diptych, also in 1962. A witty commentary on the times, the work highlighted how the smile of this highly individualistic and charismatic film star was just as replicable as a can soup. (943 words)

Jones, C. (2017). The Smile Revolution in eighteenth-century Paris. Oxford University Press, with adaptations.

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A tarefa do resumo trouxe, como em anos anteriores, um texto de tipologia argumentativa. Apesar de não ser um texto muito longo, o texto pode ter apresentado dificuldade de compreensão e de reescritura para os candidatos, por se tratar de um texto sobre história sociocultural da perspectiva das artes.

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