Alexandre Lunois, The Department Store (Le Bon Marché), 1902. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1990.14

Electric Paris

February 17, 2013 - April 21, 2013

Long before the widespread use of electricity, Paris had been known as “The City of Light” — the name arose in the eighteenth century, when Enlightenment philosophers made Paris a center of ideas and metaphorical illumination. By the late nineteenth century, the term had come to be associated with “real” light in the artificially illuminated streets and boulevards of the French capital, and its showy spaces of public entertainment and leisure.

While these locations are familiar from the works of such artists as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard, the different types of lighting that animate such outdoor spaces as well as commercial and private interiors at the time have never been considered in detail. This exhibition is the first to explore the ways in which artists depicted both older gas lighting and the newer electric illumination that began to supplant it around the turn of the twentieth century. Assembling images from both high art and popular culture, including paintings, prints, magazine illustrations, and photographs, the exhibition will demonstrate that lighting was a key aspect of the way in which Paris was defined as a modern city.

Curated by S. Hollis Clayson, Professor of Art History and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, Electric Paris draws primarily from the collection of the Clark and the Troob Family Foundation, with several key works lent by other institutions.

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