The laureate by Marie-Karine Schaub
Historian and member of the jury
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, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog [Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer], 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.
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 Starting with Friedrich’s figure of the Wanderer, an artist who has withdrawn from society, allows Wat to search for traces and signs of the presence of Man in the landscape: “Landscape painting (…) calls forth a relationship to the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” (p. 23). 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 Charterhouse of Parma, on the contrary: Wat opens our eyes.
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. 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.
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.
Landscape painting […] brings to light a relationship with the world which is neither domination nor separation: art of the inter-reign, between nature without man and human history.
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 Constable (Hazan, 2002). Pierre Wat has also published numerous texts on modern and contemporary painting, including a significant essay titled Turner. Menteur magnifique (Hazan, 2010) and a monograph on the painter Hans Hartung (Hazan, 2019).
For the 2018 edition, the jury was composed of:
Former Minister of Culture, former President of the Centre Pompidou, President of Pinault Collection
Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Art historian, publisher, university lecturer, director of the Laboratoire Arts et société de Sciences-Po (Arts and Society Laboratory of Political Science)
Deputy Director of the Collection Pinault Paris and the Bourse de Commerce
Former Director of France Culture
Jean de Loisy
Director of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris
Director of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona
Deputy Director of the National Museum of Modern Art
Laurent Le Bon
President of the National Picasso Museum in Paris
President of AM Conseil, essayist
Former Director of the National Museum of Modern Art
Historian and academic (University Paris-Est Créteil-Val de Marne)