This study analyzes the impact of color-making technologies on the visual culture of nineteenth-century France, from the early commercialization of synthetic dyes to the Lumière brothers’ perfection of the autochrome color photography process. Focusing on Impressionist art, Laura Anne Kalba examines the importance of dyes produced in the second half of the nineteenth century to the vision of artists such as Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet.
The proliferation of vibrant new colors in France during this time challenged popular understandings of realism, abstraction, and fantasy in the realms of fine art and popular culture. More than simply adding a touch of spectacle to everyday life, Kalba shows, these bright, varied colors came to define the development of a consumer culture increasingly based on the sensual appeal of color. Impressionism—emerging at a time when inexpensively produced color functioned as one of the principal means by and through which people understood modes of visual perception and signification—mirrored and mediated this change, shaping the ways in which people made sense of both modern life and modern art.
Demonstrating the central importance of color history and technologies to the study of visuality, Color in the Age of Impressionism adds a dynamic new layer to our understanding of visual and material culture.
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Chapter One Michel-Eugène Chevreul, Color, and the Dangers of Excessive Variety
Chapter Two From Blue Roses to Yellow Violets: Flowers and the Cultivation of Color
Chapter Three Impressionism’s Chemical Aesthetic: The Materials and Meanings of Color
Chapter Four Fireworks: Color, Fantasy, and the Visual Culture of Modern Enchantment
Chapter Five Chromolithography: Posters, Trade Cards, and the Politics of Ephemera Collecting in Fin-de-Siècle France
Epilogue Autochromes and Neo-Impressionism: The End of the Age of Impressionism
“As much a book about the chemistry of thought as it is about the chemistry of Impressionist painting.”
—Michael Rossi, Critical Inquiry
Laura Anne Kalba is Associate Professor of Art History at Smith College.