The City of Light. For many, these four words instantly conjure late nineteenth-century Paris and the garish colors of Toulouse-Lautrec’s iconic posters. More recently, the Eiffel Tower’s nightly show of sparkling electric lights has come to exemplify our fantasies of Parisian nightlife. Though we reflect longingly on such scenes, in Illuminated Paris, Hollis Clayson shows that there’s more to these clichés than meets the eye. In this richly illustrated book, she traces the dramatic evolution of lighting in Paris and how artists responded to the shifting visual and cultural scenes that resulted from these technologies. While older gas lighting produced a haze of orange, new electric lighting was hardly an improvement: the glare of experimental arc lights—themselves dangerous—left figures looking pale and ghoulish. As Clayson shows, artists’ representations of these new colors and shapes reveal turn-of-the-century concerns about modernization as electric lighting came to represent the harsh glare of rapidly accelerating social change. At the same time, in part thanks to American artists visiting the city, these works of art also produced our enduring romantic view of Parisian glamour and its Belle Époque.
About the Author: Hollis Clayson, Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern, is a historian of modern art who specializes in 19th-century Europe, especially France, and transatlantic exchanges between France and the U.S. Her first book, Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era, appeared in 1991 (Yale U. Press). Paris in Despair: Art and Everyday Life Under Siege (1870-71) was published in 2002 (U. of Chicago Press). In 2013, she curated the exhibition ELECTRIC PARIS at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. An expanded version of the exhibition was at the Bruce Museum of Art in Greenwich, CT during the spring and summer of 2016. Her co-edited book (with André Dombrowski), Is Paris Still the Capital of the Nineteenth Century? Essays on Art and Modernity, 1850-1900, appeared in 2016 (Routledge). Her new book, Illuminated Paris: Essays on Art and Lighting in the Belle Époque (U. of Chicago Press), will appear in spring 2019. Her current project is The Inescapability of the Eiffel Tower.