Lecture: Gülru Çakmak “Parodying the Past in Second Empire Paris: Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Anachronistic Duelists”
7:30 PM–8:30 PM
240 Art Building West
141 N. Riverside Drive, Iowa City
The French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1857 Salon blockbuster Duel after the Masquerade epitomizes the nineteenth-century’s obsessive engagement with history. Populated by six masquerade-goers dressed in pseudo-historical costumes and carrying old-fashioned chivalresque swords, the painting offers a tragi-comedy in showing the conclusion to a duel. The costumes and weapons in the painting, as visible markers of historical mores, link the figures to earlier practices and bygone values: these modern Frenchmen cannot come to terms with the changing of the times, trapped as they are in tragi-comical repetitions of the past. The Second Empire no longer offers any meaningful avenues for heroism beyond anachronistic—and often quite fatal—reiterations of history. Created two years before Bac’s birth, the painting’s demonstration of the identity crisis of masculinity as experienced by Gérôme’s duelists expands on the exhibition’s themes, in particular on the notion of nostalgically looking back at the past to craft a story for one's modern self. Just as Bac re-imagined both his own past and the historical past in his works as he reflected on modernity, so did the figures in Duel after the Masquerade attempt to re-fashion their present after the models of the past.
Gülru Çakmak is an assistant professor of nineteenth-century European art at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has curated A Very Long Engagement: Nineteenth-Century Statuette and Its Afterlives at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and Polychromies: Surface, Light, and Colour at Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute. Her forthcoming book Jean-Léon Gérôme and the Crisis of History Painting in the 1850s will be published by the Liverpool University Press later this year.
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