IN AND OUT OF SPOTLIGHT

In the later nineteenth century, Parisian entertainment spaces were bathed in brilliant artificial light. Electric illumination in particular, from the 1880s on, cast new light on these spectacles, which viewers considered either vulgar or alluringly desirable, or both. Entertainment entrepreneurs were leaders in the deployment of new lighting technologies. The realms of the theater, café, circus, hippodrome, and nightclub were thus among the first to experiment with the most trendy and brilliant forms of lighting.

Artists were drawn to the excitement and aesthetic possibilities offered by dramatic, glaring, and often lurid environments. Some representations of popular entertainments focused on the margins, representing the thresholds between spaces as ambiguous sites of transition. Others depicted the spectacles more openly, reveling in the dazzle of the spotlight.

Edgar Degas, Entrance of the Masked Dancers, c. 1879. Pastel on paper. The Clark

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