February 17 through April 21, 2013


Paris had been known as "The City of Light" long before the widespread use of gaslight and electricity. The name arose in the eighteenth century, when Enlightenment philosophers made Paris a center of ideas and metaphorical illumination. The nickname came to be associated with actual light in the 1840s and 1850s, when the blaze of lights in the streets and boulevards of the French capital increased dramatically with the widespread use of gaslight. Theaters, nightclubs, and cafés soon began to adopt the new technology. Illuminated public spaces and private interiors appear frequently in works of art and popular depictions of contemporary life in the second half of the nineteenth 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 and the newer electric lighting that emerged around the turn of the twentieth century. These images record the changing appearance of both interior and exterior spaces, and suggest the ways in which Parisians experienced these spaces as the city transitioned from old to new technologies. Paintings and prints in both high art and popular culture demonstrate that the systems of lighting, rather than the abstract idea of light itself, played a key role in defining Paris as a modern city.

Electric Paris was curated by S. Hollis Clayson, Professor of Art History and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, and coordinated by Sarah Lees, associate curator of European art at the Clark.

This exhibition was organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and is supported by Elizabeth A. Liebman, Ph.D.

Reproduction, including downloading, of the Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard works are prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Gustave Barry and Philippe Jacques Linder, Waltz at Mabille, c. 1860–70. Color lithograph, heightened with watercolor and gum arabic, on paper. The Clark
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