History-Making as Place-Making: Landscape as a Documentary Tool
in Benson J. Lossing's Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution
Shirlynn Sham, Yale University
In mid-nineteenth century America, the enterprise of history making and historical instruction was a manifestly unstable one. Historical writing straddled the boundary between realist, documentary fact and sensationalist embellishment; there was a fundamental distrust of the printed image, borne out of a fear of its sensory dross; and sectional tensions threatened American unity. Amidst the volatility of this epistemological climate, the pictorial histories of one popular American historian, Benson J. Lossing, became a commercial success. Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (1848 – 1850), the work for which he became most renowned, was a compendious volume published by Harper & Brothers in thirty installments between 1850 and 1852. The Field-Book was Lossing’s attempt at setting down America’s struggle for freedom and independence during its Revolutionary War, against what he saw as the unpatriotic forces of waning memory. Lossing’s composite style of exposition, in which first-person observational practice and interviews are interlaced with known historical facts, seemed to reflect the ambivalence of subjective positions in knowledge production at the time. In Lossing’s Field-Book, memory therefore became a medium of history in itself. This paper will examine Lossing’s use of vignetted landscapes in his Field-Book (see attached image), and will propose that the mobility of these landscape fragments throughout his text was nonetheless a marker of a documentary impulse that undergirded Lossing’s work. It will suggest that landscape was a chorographic tool that fastened factual history to the nebulous scrim of memory. Thereafter, this paper will deliberate on the utility of a value-free, objective history, and the role which landscape plays in that dialogue.
Perspective as Social Form: Monet and Sisley in Argenteuil
Harmon Siegel, Harvard University
In 1872, Alfred Sisley visited Claude Monet at his new home in Argenteuil. Planting their Easels on the main street in town, the two painters sat side-by-side and painted the same landscapes and street scenes from their parallel vantage points, yielding a set of six paintings of three such scenes.
This paper asks: what did this practice mean to these two artists? Why paint sitting beside one another? What role do figures play in these street scenes? How does the practice relate to and transform the artists’ burgeoning impressionist styles?
I argue that the collaborative practice of painting side-by-side served as a means of acknowledging the necessity of other people to experience. Recognizing that the concept of impressionism as the registration of subjective perception opened their art to solipsistic tendencies—vision as merely personal—the artists’ sought to disclose the complex relation between what each one saw and what there was to be seen, to triangulate the external, objective world via their two parallax perspectives. In doing so, they modeled a new understanding of perspective, one that was rooted less in spatial illusionism than in the philosophical principle that all seeing occurs from a single point of view within a wider, inter-subjective and social environment.
“The Cradle of Things”: Origins and Ontogenesis in the Late Landscapes of Gustave Courbet
Nicole Georgopulos, Stony Brook University
In early 1864, Gustave Courbet returned to his home region of Franche-Comté and painted a series of landscapes that took as their subjects various natural points of origin: grottoes, caves, waterfalls, etc. Through his loose and expressive facture, Courbet renders visible in these landscapes the ongoing becoming of the world, investigating the nature of origination and evolution. Courbet’s interest in such subjects comes just two years after the publication of the French translation of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which irreversibly unsettled the traditional understanding of humankind’s position within the world. The early years of evolutionary biology made clear the human body’s implication in the history of the earth: no longer could the body be understood in isolation from its environment; rather, it was embedded within a geological history that tied it irrevocably to the earth itself through a common point of origin.
This paper situates these natal or ontogenetic landscapes within the context of the wider dialogue concerning the nature and origins of the body in mid-nineteenth-century France, extending from evolutionary biology to proto-phenomenology, and culminating in Henri Bergson’s notion of creative becoming. Seen through a phenomenological lens informed by the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Elizabeth Grosz, it becomes evident that though Courbet’s landscapes do not take the body itself as their immediate subject, they constitute a reimagining of corporeality as both an epistemological and ontological category, a reordering of the understanding of the body’s place in the world.
Floral Meditations: Modernist Visions in Nineteenth Century French Still-Lifes
Samantha Niese, George Washington University
Between the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, floral still-lifes experienced a resurgence of popularity. The paintings were commercially popular as decoration for growing bourgeois interiors as well as products of a rising fascination with flower symbolism. However, flower paintings were more than the superficial products of a growing art market. Inspired by earlier Dutch artists’ use of the genre, nineteenth century painters like Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Édouard Manet (1832-1883) began the consideration of florals as apt modernist subjects. Their paintings recognized the unlimited potential of the genre for visual explorations and material experimentations in pursuit of the ‘real.’ Reveling in the eye of the artist, their florals offer insight into how modern realists began to reevaluate the perceived world, depicting it with a greater skepticism, intensity, and abstraction.
Charting the modernist rejuvenation of the floral still-life by Courbet and Manet at two distinct periods between the mid- to late- nineteenth century, this paper argues that their flower paintings confront the prevailing aesthetic issues of their time: visual perception and the identity of the artistic-self. By exploiting the tactile, vibrant, and multifarious nature of flowers, they created a body of floral paintings that present pioneering forays into modernist theories. Often neglected in studies of their makers’ visual theories, these still-lifes reflect significant examinations of perception and the self, inaugurating for later artists, like Odilon Redon (1840-1916), a new genre for modernist meditation.
Framing Nature: Built and Natural Environments in Jules-Emile Saintin’s La Bouquetiere
Kristan Hanson, University of Kansas
I propose to analyze Jules-Émile Saintin’s 1875 painting La Bouquetière, which depicts a plant shop whose storefront frames a bouquet maker and a sidewalk display of fresh flowers, in relation to the sudden interest that certain artists showed in representing the types of public horticultural sites where the built and natural environments intertwined. The fashionability of this topic within particular segments of French visual culture, especially among painters who used an illusionistic technique to produce scenes of modern life, dovetailed with an expansion of the number of flower markets and shops that bloomed throughout Paris in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. In La Bouquetière, Saintin represents one of these places, an upscale florist’s boutique where elements that suggest the recent modernization of the cityscape, such as freshly laid sidewalks and an orderly cobblestone street, interact with specially grown varieties of roses and pelargoniums, like the ones that Parisian gardeners planted to revitalize greenspaces. Through his enframing of these floriated forms within a geometric composition, the artist studies the significance of framing as an architectural feature that presented the natural world in a novel way within commercial spaces, and as an artistic strategy that thematized the constructed-ness and salability of images. My paper argues that Saintin, by framing nature in this manner, prompts us to reconsider how he and other artists engaged with the bourgeoning of France’s horticultural industry and the concomitant greening of the city, which occurred as part of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s and Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand’s urban renewal project.
Climatology in Abstract Modern Art
Linn Burchert, Friedrich-Schiller University, Germany
Atmospheric and climatic qualities such as temperature, light and humidity were not qualities of interest only to the art of the Impressionists and the Neo-Impressionists. In consequence of the life reform (Lebensreform) movements in Europe around 1900 and beyond, knowledge about the living conditions provided by nature became crucial to the image concepts of abstract modern artists such as Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, František Kupka, Johannes Itten and others. In my current dissertation project, I am investigating ecological concepts connected to models of image reception and effects. Picking up few examples, in my paper I want to provide an overview of this yet unexplored field of study.
The artists investigated understand their paintings as equivalents to a certain climate, to the sunlight, to atmospheres and/or to rhythmic organisms corresponding to the life providing, rhythmic principles of nature (e.g. the seasonal cycle) and biorhythms (e.g. breath). Taking into consideration knowledge and ideas from naturopathy, climatology, environmental psychology as well as esotericism, artists thought about their work as producers of healing atmospheres and spaces. In contrast to the (neo-) impressionist concept of nature, the abstract artists are not interested in the very fugitive meteorological changes in the atmosphere but in the more general concepts of climate and environment. Their strategy to ‘frame nature’ thus is to use abstraction in order to make visible equivalents to natural powers otherwise represented in the form of diagrams providing average values of i.e. temperature or humidity. In their approach, however, the artists are moving away from principles of representation in favor of making forces and energies present and effective through their works in the form of color, light/ ‘radiation’ and rhythm among others.