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Renowned scholar of French art and culture to speak at Buffalo History Museum

by jmaloni

Press release

Sat, Mar 9th 2013 07:00 am

Talk investigates impact of electrification of Paris on turn of the century art

The University at Buffalo Department of Visual Studies will host Dr. S. Hollis Clayson, professor of art history and Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University. Clayson's talk, titled "John Singer Sargent's Paris Moon Light: Twilight Disenchanted?", will explore her work analyzing the electrification of Paris and its impact on the art of the time. Clayson will speak at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, at the Buffalo History Museum. The talk is free and open to the public.

Specializing in the social history of 19th century Parisian art, Clayson has organized three exhibitions and has written two books; more than 30 articles; book chapters and exhibition catalogues; and given more than 100 conference talks. The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships for her scholarly work, her excellence in teaching has also been recognized by several awards. Her long career has culminated in appointment as next year's Samuel H. Kress Professor at the National Gallery of Art, one of the most prestigious academic appointments in the world.

Jonathan D. Katz, director of the visual studies Ph.D. program, will introduce Clayson. He said of her work, "Long celebrated as one of the premier voices in the study of 19th century French art, Holly Clayson has worked on everything from the image of the courtesan in Impressionism to the conditions of life and art in Paris under the siege of 1870-71. After earning recognition for redefining Impressionism through including the perspective of the unheard, Clayson now sets out to chart the impact of the unseen; the electrification that literally redefined visibility in the last quarter of the 19th century."

Of late, Clayson has begun turning her attention to the effects of electricity in the development of modern painting, and it is out of that research that this project emerges. Titled "John Singer Sargent's Paris Moon Light: Twilight Disenchanted?", Clayson argues that Sargent's supposedly most "impressionist" canvases, the two Luxembourg Garden paintings of 1879, are nothing of the kind. They are read instead as extraordinary redefinitions of the Whistlerian nocturne that respond explicitly and imaginatively to the electric street lights that newly impinged upon the Jardin du Luxembourg, the largest green space on the Left Bank. From within the matrix of illumination discourse, Sargent's canvases displace the brutality of electric into the poetry of reflected moonlight. 

Hosted by the University at Buffalo's Department of Visual Studies, Clayson's talk is co-sponsored by the Buffalo History Museum; the New York Power Authority; M. Pascal Soarès, honorary consul, Consulat Général de France; and the Alliance Française de Buffalo.

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