Step Into the Clark and Off the Beaten Path

For Immediate Release

September 08, 2009

Technical innovations, artistic daring, and shifting socio-political circumstances led to a dramatic change in the photography of Rome in the late nineteenth century. Photographers of the Eternal City began to capture everyday scenes alongside ancient ruins, Baroque churches, and backstreets on the verge of being transformed by industrialization. Through the images in the exhibition Steps off the Beaten Path: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of Rome and its Environs, viewers today can step into a Rome that was about to step out of the pre-industrial age. Steps off the Beaten Path is on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute October 11, 2009, through January 3, 2010.

“This important collection of images, on loan from W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, includes works by some of the most accomplished, yet lesser-known, European photographers of the nineteenth century,” said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. “Steps off the Beaten Path highlights their artistic contributions to the history of photography while offering a stunning pictorial tour of Rome.”

During the 1860s and ’70s, Rome was on its way to becoming a modern city and the capital of a unified Italy. As is still the case today, there was great public fascination with the allure and beauty of Rome, which has attracted visitors since ancient times. During this period, photography was twenty years old and experiencing its own renaissance. Early techniques such as daguerreotypes, paper negatives, and salted prints were replaced by albumen prints from glass negatives that produced a precise image. Photography, whether commissioned for documentary or preservationist purposes, became more portable, opening up new possibilities and encouraging artists to envision their art in a new way. The fleeting images they captured record the charm of Roman byways, in contrast to the conventional picture postcard views of their peers. Many of the scenes they documented were subsequently swept away by modern development.

Through 100 photographs taken between 1850 and 1880, Steps off the Beaten Path encourages a “walking tour” through Rome with recognizable sites among the out-of-the-way scenes nineteenth-century Romans and Europeans encountered in their daily lives. Photographers used the camera to focus on fragments and the dense history that remained embedded in popular ruins and churches. These photos walk a fine line between documentation and art, while providing a fresh and modern look at nineteenth-century Rome.

Organized geographically, the exhibition Steps off the Beaten Path gathers works by Vincenzo Carlo Domenico Baldassarre Simelli, Gustave Eugène Chauffourier, Robert MacPherson, James Anderson, A. De Bonis, and Edmond Lebel, some of the most accomplished photographers of their day. The exhibition complements the Clark’s paintings of Rome such as Camille Corot’s The Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, which is represented in several photographs.

Steps off the Beaten Path was first presented at the American Academy in New York and Rome between 2006 and 2008, and draws works from the Collection of W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg. The project was curated by Dr. Bruce Lundberg and Princeton architectural historian John Pinto. Jay A. Clarke, the Clark’s Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, worked with Ralph Lieberman, a photographer, art historian, and guest curator for the Clark presentation. Lieberman will provide an artist’s perspective on selected images in the exhibition with special wall texts, as well as discuss the exhibition during a conversation with Lundberg and Pinto on Sunday, October 11, at 3 pm.

The Clark’s collection of photographs dates from the invention of photography to the early twentieth century and now comprises nearly 1,000 works. The collection includes important photographs by Gustave Le Gray, Édouard Baldus, Nadar, Eugène Atget, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Francis Frith, Roger Fenton, Carleton Watkins, William Bradford, Winslow Homer, and Alfred Stieglitz. The collection of works on paper may be viewed by appointment in the department’s study room. To arrange a visit, call 413-458-2303, extension 360.

The Clark is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm (open daily in July and August). Admission June 1 through October 31 is $12.50 for adults, free for children 18 and younger, members, and students with valid ID. Admission is free November through May. For more information, call 413-458-2303 or visit clarkart.edu.

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