The 26th Norma U. Lifton Lecture in Art History: Hollis Clayson: "Episodes from the Visual Culture of Electric Paris"


Thursday, October 9, 6:00 p.m.
SAIC Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave.

26th Annual Norma U. Lifton Lecture

This analysis of the visual culture of the French capital city takes root in the often overlooked fact that lighting (éclairage) was a key attribute of 19th-century Paris, the City of Light. The pitched social, aesthetic, and technical debate about new forms of artificial illumination took shape along an axis defined by dazzle (blindness) at one end, and illumination (visibility) at the other. Clayson maintains that the new lights, their visual properties, and the era's debates about them provided circumstances that stimulated aesthetically innovative art gingerly balanced vis-à-vis the lights themselves between rejection and embrace, between disavowal and enthusiasm. Her lecture will analyze works by John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, and several of the era's leading caricaturists.

Hollis Clayson (BA, Wellesley College; MA, PhD, UCLA), a historian of nineteenth-century art, is Professor of Art History, Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities, and a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University. Her first book, Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era, appeared in 1991 (reprinted by the Getty in 2003 and now available free of charge in the Getty Virtual Library). A co-edited thematic study of painting in the Western tradition, Understanding Paintings: Themes in Art Explored and Explained, came out in 2000, and has since been translated into six other languages. Paris in Despair: Art and Everyday Life Under Siege (1870–71) was published in 2002 (paperback 2005). Her current book, Electric Paris: The Visual Cultures of the City of Light in the Era of Thomas Edison, is well underway. In 2013–14, she served as the Samuel H. Kress Professor in the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. She was recently made a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes académiques by the French government in honor of her advancement of French culture.