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Art and Ecology, from the Barbizon School to Impressionism

Date: 25 March 2010 (Thursday)
Time: 5:00pm
Venue: Room 2.38, Main Building, HKU

Modern ecology and environmentalism have their origins in the 19th century, when scientists made major advances in understanding the interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, and when politicians instituted the first land preserves in response to early capitalism. The first person successfully to advocate for land preserves, however, was a French landscape painter, Théodore Rousseau; the French emperor acceded to his demands for preserves in the Forest of Fontainebleau in 1853, a decade before the creation of the more famous Yosemite Park in America. Set against this context, this paper first explains the ecological dimensions of Rousseau’s pioneering art before tracing the further development of ecological ideas in the art of Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, and Claude Monet. Each of these painters related human beings to the broader natural environment in different ways, constituting four distinct modes of ecological aesthetics responding to different aspects capitalist development between the 1840s and 1920s.

Speaker: Greg M. Thomas

Dr. Thomas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at HKU. In addition to various essays on 19th-century French art and interactions between Europe and China, he is the author of Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau (Princeton, 2000) and the forthcoming Impressionist Children: Childhood, Family, and Modern Identity in French Art (Yale, expected 2011).

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