In this issue, nonsite features new work on 19th-century French art and visual culture, from telegraphy to lithography, Orientalists to Post-Impressionists, Manet to Degas. Edited by Bridget Alsdorf.
It is to the afterlife of optical telegraphy that this article turns, less to trace a linear technical history characterized by patterns of evolution and decay, rupture and regress, than to suggest that visuality continued to inflect the subject of telegraphy in France after the 1850s, and to draw out some of the ways in which telegraphy provided a means of conceptualizing the historical meaning of diverse media. As the century progressed, the emergence of other media with an ability to conjure the past—most notably photography, in its various forms—did not lead to a decline in telegraphic metaphors: rather, it gave them new life.
Bonnard produced over one hundred paintings and prints in the 1890s that capture the bustling pace and brisk energy of Paris. He later referred to this subject as “the theater of the everyday,” and it is his particular vision of this sidewalk theater, and the viewer’s involvement in it, that I will investigate here, with particular attention to how his engagement with new media mattered to developing this vision. Playing off the chromatic constraints of lithography and echoing concurrent developments in early cinema, Bonnard shuttles the viewer between foreground and background, intimate proximity and distance. In so doing he explores the duality of the street as a disorienting amalgam of schematic backdrops and looming intrusions into our personal space, both seemingly captured at the limits of our visual field.
As they reconsidered the role of surface and depth in art, both Gérôme and Rodin took their cue from, and attempted to reinvigorate, earlier theories about the contiguity between the exterior and the interior in sculpture. In the process, both stumbled upon a new approach to facture. If there is an aura to be talked about in this new facture, it is not one of immediacy, but of an invisible interior. The resulting works imagine grounds that are highly charged as interfaces—between the present moment inhabited by the viewer, and the past buried below.