June 27, 2018
[Digital images available upon request]
Williamstown, Massachusetts—A City Transformed: Photographs of Paris, 1850–1900 explores the documentary role of photographers commissioned to record the sweeping architectural renovations, demolitions, and new construction that transformed the French capital in the second half of the nineteenth century. The works on view demonstrate the technical exactitude and artistry of many of the leading architectural photographers of the era, who provided government officials with minutely detailed, large-format photographs that served as practical reference tools intended to document the changes underway, to preserve the memory of the city’s architectural heritage, and to direct future restoration efforts. The exhibition presents thirty photographs and will be on view in the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper July 1–September 23, 2018.
“During a summer in which several of our exhibitions focus on Paris in the late nineteenth century, we consider this photography show as an ideal complement, allowing us to more fully understand and appreciate the changes taking place across the city during this period. A City Transformed shows us both the historic neighborhoods and new boulevards that would have been familiar to the artists featured in the exhibition Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900. It also provides wonderful context to see examples of the types of ironwork featured in our Art of Iron exhibition at just the moment in which modernization was relegating these architectural elements to the scrap heaps,” said Hardymon Director Olivier Meslay. “The Clark’s own photography collection has been supplemented by a generous loan of eighteen works from The Troob Family Foundation to create this exhibition. We are indebted to the Troob family for their support of this show, and for their continuing generosity in supporting our photography exhibitions.”
During the Second Empire (1852–70), Emperor Napoleon III sought to remap Paris from the ground up. He appointed civil servant Georges-Eugène Haussmann to redesign the city, working toward improved safety, traffic circulation, and public health and sanitation. A self-described artiste démolisseur (demolition artist), Haussmann razed densely settled areas of the medieval city center, its labyrinthine streets rapidly giving way to new axes of orderly, wide boulevards anchored by monuments and open spaces for recreation.
During this unprecedented intervention into public space, specially commissioned photographers created a visual archive of Paris—from the heights of cathedral spires and the imposing monuments honoring French history and achievements, to the sweep of the new grand boulevards and the depths of the catacombs beneath the old city. Architectural photographers including Édouard Baldus (French, 1813–1889), Charles Marville (French, 1816–1879), and Louis-Émile Durandelle (French, 1839–1917) worked alongside imperial architects, engineers, masons, and sculptors, recording the building projects in progress. Beginning in the 1890s, Eugène Atget (French, 1857–1927) methodically recorded the city’s streets, making thousands of images that he marketed as “documents for artists,” or visual aids intended to enhance the work of painters, sculptors, metalsmiths, and architects. Among the works on view are several images that were exhibited in a series of spectacular World’s Fairs held in Paris, where the city celebrated itself as a model for urban development.
“These photographs provide a fascinating record that will allow our visitors an opportunity to experience views of a Paris that no longer exist, as well as views of a new Paris as it emerged,” said Esther Bell, the Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Senior Curator. “Our curatorial assistant for works on paper, Kristie Couser, who also served as exhibition curator, worked closely with former Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Jay Clarke to assemble a selection of images that illuminate this remarkable moment in history.”


The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of more than 270,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
The Clark, which has a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm; open daily in July and August. Admission is $20; free year-round for Clark members, children 18 and younger, and students with valid ID. Free admission is available through several programs, including First Sundays Free; a local library pass program; EBT Card to Culture; Bank of America Museums on Us; and Blue Star Museums. For more information on these programs and more, visit clarkart.edu or call 413 458 2303.
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