Electric Paris

Sargent, Luxembourg Gardens PMA

On view at the Bruce Museum from May 14 through September 4, 2016, Electric Paris offers a revealing look at the role of new lighting technologies in the work of the Impressionists and their contemporaries. While the nickname “City of Light” first arose in the 18th century when Enlightenment philosophers made Paris a center of ideas and of metaphorical illumination, the term came to be associated with the blaze of artificial light that began to illuminate the streets of Paris by the 1840s and 1850s. Illuminated public spaces and private interiors appear frequently in works of art and popular depictions of contemporary life in the second half of the 19th century, yet the different types of lighting that animate such spaces have never been considered in detail. This exhibition is the first to explore the ways in which artists depicted older oil and gas lamps as well as the newer electric lighting that began to supplant them by the turn of the 20th century. Whether nostalgic renderings of gaslit boulevards, subtly evocative scenes of half-shadow, or starkly illuminated dance halls, these works of art record the changing appearance of both interior and exterior spaces, and suggest the ways in which Parisians experienced the city as it transitioned from old to new technologies.

Organized thematically into four sections––Nocturnes and Panoramas, Lamplit Interiors, Street Light, In and Out of the Spotlight––the exhibition will reveal the era’s fascination with forms of artificial lighting (éclairage) as opposed to natural light (lumière). A selection of approximately 50 works—paintings, prints, photographs, and drawings—by artists such as Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Georges Seurat, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jean Béraud, James Tissot, Childe Hassam, Charles Courtney Curran, Alfred Maurer, and Maurice Prendergast, among others, will be on view.

Co-curated by S. Hollis Clayson, Professor of Art History and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, and Margarita Karasoulas, PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of Delaware, Electric Paris will be accompanied by a scholarly lecture series, film series, audio guide, and supplemental brochure, along with the sale of Clayson’s book, Electric Paris: The Visual Cultures of the City of Light in the Era of Thomas Edison, forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

This is an expanded version of an exhibition first organized by the Clark Art Institute, also curated by S. Hollis Clayson, in 2013.

For more information, visit www.brucemuseum.org.