Fancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

BookFancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

Fancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2020:04


April 13th, 2020



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Fancy in the eighteenth century was part of a rich semantic network, connecting wit, whimsicality, erotic desire, spontaneity, deviation from norms and triviality. It was also a contentious term, signifying excess, oddness and irrationality, liable to offend taste, reason and morals. This collection of essays foregrounds fancy – and its close synonym, caprice – as a distinct strand of the imagination in the period. As a prevalent, coherent and enduring concept in aesthetics and visual culture, it deserves a more prominent place in scholarly understanding than it has hitherto occupied. Fancy is here understood as a type of creative output that deviated from rules and relished artistic freedom. It was also a mode of audience response, entailing a high degree of imaginative engagement with playful, quirky artworks, generating pleasure, desire or anxiety. Emphasizing commonalities between visual productions in different media from diverse locations, the authors interrogate and celebrate the expressive freedom of fancy in European visual culture. Topics include: the seductive fictions of the fancy picture, Fragonard and galanterie, fancy in drawing manuals, pattern books and popular prints, fans and fancy goods, chinoiserie, excess and virtuality in garden design, Canaletto's British 'capricci', urban design in Madrid, and Goya's 'Caprichos'.

‘The fifteen essays published here are focused more specifically on the eighteenth century, ad consider a broad range of potential gateways to fantasie/fancy offered by artists, artisans, writers and tradesmen. The result is a refreshingly expansive overview of a concept that hitherto was largely confined to discussions of painting and to the exclusive consideration of such artists as Joshua Reynolds or Fragonard.’ 
Yuriko Jackall, The Burlington Magazine

Author Information

Melissa Percival is Professor of French, Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter. She has published widely on theories of facial expression, fantasy figures and portraits, with particular reference to eighteenth-century France; these include a monograph on Fragonard’s fantasy figures. Muriel Adrien is Associate Professor of art history and visual culture within the English Department at the University of Toulouse. She has published numerous articles on 18th and 19th-century British and American art, especially as related to scientific context. She is chief editor of the online scholarly journal Miranda (

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of figures9
The fantasy figures of Jean-Baptiste Santerre and the limits of generic frameworks of interpretation33
The Parisian world of printmaking at the heart of the invention of a genre? Poilly, Courtin and Bonnart’s fantaisies (1713-1728)47
Windows of opportunity: the French fantasy figure and the spirit of enterprise in early-eighteenth-century Europe67
Modelling for the fancy picture in eighteenth-century England87
The influence of drawing manuals on the British practice and reception of fancy pictures105
A galant fantasy: Fragonard’s fantasy figures and The Music lesson in relation to Van Dyck, Watteau and Carle Vanloo123
Fans, fantasy and fancy139
Fancy as a mode of consumption153
‘A butterfly supporting an elephant’: chinoiserie, fantaisie and ‘the luxuriance of fancy’171
The garden as capriccio: the hortulan pleasures of imagination and virtuality189
Grand Tour capricci209
Venetian reminiscences and cultural hybridity in Canaletto’s English-period capricci and vedute225
From the private cabinet to the suburban villa: caprices and fantasies in eighteenth-century Madrid241
Satire and fantasy in Goya’s Caprichos259
‘Fancy paints with hues unreal’: pictorial fantasy and literary creation in Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novels277
List of contributors303