Paris had been known as the City of Light long before the widespread use of gaslight and electricity. The name arose during the Enlightenment, when philosophers made Paris a center of ideas and of metaphorical illumination. By the mid-nineteenth century, the epithet became associated with the city’s adoption of artificial lighting: in the 1840s and 1850s, gas lamps were first installed, while electric versions began to proliferate by the end of the 1870s. Even as rivals, including Berlin, London, New York, and Chicago, increased the quantity of light in their rapidly electrified cities, Paris managed to maintain its reputation because of the beauty of its illuminations. Light remained and remains to this day a key signature of the French capital.
Organized thematically into four sections––Nocturnes, Lamplit Interiors, Street Light, In and Out of the Spotlight––Electric Paris explores the ways in which artists responded to older oil and gas lamps and the newer electric lighting that began to supplant them around the turn of the twentieth century. While artificially illuminated public spaces and private interiors appear frequently in works of art and popular depictions of contemporary life during this period, the different types of lighting that animate such spaces––and their distinctive visual properties––have not been considered in detail.
Electric Paris will feature approximately 50 works––paintings, prints, photographs, and drawings––by such artists as Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Marville, Jean Béraud, James Tissot, Childe Hassam, Charles Courtney Curran, Alfred Maurer, and Maurice Prendergast, among others.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website