Illuminated Paris: Essays on Art and Lighting in the Belle Époque

Univ. of Chicago. May 2019. 320p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780226593869. $55. FINE ARTS
Coining the term illumination discourse, Clayson (art history, Northwestern) contextualizes art and visual culture produced in late 19th-century Paris in relation to the forms of illumination such as gaslight and electric light used in the French capital during this period. She shows, for example, how artists such as painter Gustave Caillebotte and photographer Charles Marville incorporated the gaslights of Paris into their work, and in contrast, how John Singer Sargent’s night scene of the Luxembourg Gardens employs modern sources, such as electric light, more subtly into the formal qualities of this painting. The author further notes that the French impressionists did not paint any outdoor night scenes, whereas American artists visiting Paris, such as Childe Hassam, took on the nightscape and gave it a romantic feel, rendering both gas and electric light to create a pleasing atmosphere. This differed with the discourse of many of the French caricatures of the time, which critiqued and satirized the new electric light in humorous terms.
VERDICT Blending theory from art and anthropology, this erudite work is recommended primarily for readers with a solid academic background in 19th-century art history.
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