<div style="text-align: left;"> The fourth annual Prix Pierre Daix, created in 2015 on françois pinault's initiative, was awarded to art historian Pierre Wat for his book <i>Pérégrinations: Paysages entre Nature et Histoire (Peregrinations: Landscapes as Nature and History)</i>. </div>

<a class="switch">Text</a><br> <b>Marie-Karine Schaub</b> <br/> <span style="display: none;"> Teaches modern history at <br/> Université Paris Est-Créteil </span>

<div style="text-align: left;"> <span class="alinea"></span>In his latest work Pérégrinations. Paysages entre nature et histoire (Peregrinations. Landscapes as Nature and History), Pierre Wat invites readers to travel the world seeking out the traces and strata of history. The book opens with Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 painting, <i>Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog [Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer]</i>, which shows a man, with his back to the viewer, gazing out onto the landscape; it concludes with a photograph by David “Chim” Seymour, in which a group of children, wearing suits, play in the ruins of Warsaw’s ghetto, in 1948—stigmata of the disastrous twentieth century. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>The time period it covers is meaningful to both Pierre Daix and Pierre Wat: for Wat, landscape is history, while Daix spent much of his life thinking through on the connections between war and art. Starting with Friedrich’s figure of the <i>Wanderer</i>, an artist who has withdrawn from society, allows Wat to search for traces and signs of the presence of Man in the landscape: “Landscape painting (…) calls forth a relationship to the world that isn’t one of dominance or of separation: between nature without Man and human history” (p23). <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Wat is a prowler, like Michel de Certeau; searching for clues, as instructed by Carlo Ginzburg; crouching behind a hedge in a British landscape by Constable; arriving late to the battlefield, like Turner, once the trenches have been returned to nature. Not blinded like Fabrice at Waterloo in Stendhal’s <i>Charterhouse of Parma</i>, on the contrary: Wat opens our eyes. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>As we follow Wat throughout his peregrinations, we encounter tragedy. First, in the nineteenth century, the tragedy of victory and defeat, of war, of revolution, of empires built and conquered, of the savage progression of history, when men leave behind ruins and war-torn landscapes, in which “war leads only to defeat,” depicted for instance in works by Delacroix and Goya. Wat exhumes bodies and examines the archeological strata of the destroyed lands and terrains, abandoned and finally rediscovered. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Once we reach the twentieth century, Wat presents artists for whom landscapes are a means of capturing something indescribable, a destruction that left no traces and events that went unwitnessed. Wat describes how landscapes conquered by death were captured in photographs, films, and paintings: of the Shoah (by Roberto Frankenberg, Claude Lanzmann, and Gerhard Richter, and including those four photographs taken by a Sonderkommando at Birkenau), of the Rwandan genocide (the overgrown hills photographed by Alexis Cordesse), and more. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>The journey concludes in the martyred city of Warsaw in the late 1940s—or really ends in the present day, when the author connects the threads of History to his own personal history. </div>

Pierre Wat is a professor of art history at the Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University. He is an authority on romanticism and the author of monographs dedicated to Pierre Buraglio and Claude Viallat; he is also the author of <i>Constable</i> (Hazan, 2002). Pierre Wat has also published numerous texts on modern and contemporary painting, including a significant essay titled <i>Turner. Menteur magnifique</i> (Hazan, 2010). He is currently working on a monograph on the painter Hans Hartung, to be published in autumn 2019, also by Hazan.
<span class="title">Summary of the book</span> <br /> <br /> <div> <span class="alinea"></span>A landscape only exists in the eye of its beholder. Studying humanity’s peregrinations—encounters between the individual and nature—is necessary in order to understand how our relationships to the world and to history have taken shape. A landscape is nature traversed, nature possessed, nature sublimed, terrifying nature, nature that escapes those who try to conquer it. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Artists capturing the landscape offer us far more than a mere representation of a slice of nature. They are archaeologists, studying the surface of the ground for traces of human memories. Writing a history of the landscape today involves taking note of a shift that took place at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when landscape painting took on the role, formerly played by history painting, of reflecting the vast narrative of humanity and its attempts to know and fashion the world. <br/> One genre runs its course, another flourishes in order to explore other forms of representation, other questions. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>When the French sculptor David d’Angers, contemplating <i>The Sea of Ice [Das Eismeer]</i> in Caspar David Friedrich’s Dresden studio, noted that the painter had created a new genre, the “tragedy of landscape,” he was referring to this perception of landscape as a site where things are buried and where history emerges. Because history becomes a chilling present—rife with revolutions, wars, massacres, genocides—artists turn to the landscape as a means of absorbing the unspeakable, holding it close, and expressing that which blinds, terrifies, or fascinates us. From Goya and Sophie Ristelhueber, to Otto Dix, Zoran Mušič, and Anselm Kiefer, painters, graphic artists, and photographers have tackled the landscape as the site where man’s anxiety in the face of history can be expressed. Along with his desires, his beliefs, and his freedom. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>It is these stages of man’s adventure in the world that we follow in Wat’s work: landscapes of ruins, wartime landscapes, landscapes where history oscillates between emergence and invisibility, landscapes that force us to confront the world’s indifference. It is also a personal meditation on a need felt by many artists today, to return to the landscape to face the worst of what the twentieth century has left us: a desolate annihilation. The landscape, modest and moving, establishes itself as one of the major forms of contemporary history. <br /> <br /> <br /> <br /> <i>Pérégrinations. <br> Paysage entre nature et histoire, <br></i>Paris, Éditions Hazan, 2018 </div>

Pinault Collection

Pinault Collection Magazine - Issue #12


Pinault Collection