La Belle Époque: France and the Rise of Modernism June 25-30, 2017
Harlequin by Paul Cézanne, 1888-90
Between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, 1871- 1914, much of Europe enjoyed a period of peace, prosperity, optimism, rapid developments in science and technology, and relative political stability. It was "the beautiful era," a golden age, a time best characterized by the expression joie de vivre (from the title of a book by Émile Zola). With this prosperity and the ascension of the Third Republic in France, La Belle Époque also sponsored a remarkable renaissance in the visual arts. Impressionism laid the groundwork in the 1870s and 1880s in works by Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. By the 1890s, such Postimpressionist masters as Cézanne, Matisse, Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec had found their patrons. These artists were the vanguard of modernism in painting, a new freedom within the medium that inspired similar experimentation in all of the arts.
Paris hosted the World's Fair in 1889 with its great exclamation mark, the newly constructed Eiffel Tower serving as the beacon in a world of new possibilities. Georges-Eugène Haussmann's redesign of Paris was nearly complete. By then, the Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère also were open for business. Hosting another World's Fair in 1900, Paris seemed, indeed, the place to be. To be sure, there were less salutary aspects of this period: the Dreyfus Affair exposed the era's deep-seated anti- Semitism, which would have catastrophic consequences later in the 20th century. While French imperialism, especially in Africa, brought new riches to the wealthy, the working classes remained largely impoverished. Anarchists began to toss bombs, a practice that continued right up to the advent of the Great War.
In this Alumni College, we'll study primarily the many achievements of the era, with Paris as our central focus. Modernism in painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts will be a key topic, but so will be the political and economic circumstances that helped produce such a remarkable period of creativity and well-being. Among the W&L faculty serving this program are Sarah Horowitz, associate professor of history; Elliott King, assistant professor of art; and Christa Bowden, associate professor of art.
Above: Le déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81.