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HEADLINES FOR AN UNSETTLED FIN DE SIÈCLE
The Didaktika project offers visitors the chance to complement their experience of the exhibitions on view with didactic presentations in educational spaces and with special activities. On this occasion, Didaktika focuses on the unsettled sociopolitical and cultural context of the art created in the last decades of the 19th century in Paris.
The press played a principal role in spreading information about current events, politics, and cultural happenings, ultimately influencing public opinion regarding these. Newspapers and journals published les faits divers (crimes, accidents, and tragedies reported in a few pithy lines), and spurred gatherings and political and social discussions both on the streets and in cafes and salons, where intellectuals gathered.
The importance of the press in this era has inspired this didactic space where newspaper headlines present a selection of significant events that affected or stimulated the ideas and production of artists.
The Dreyfus Affair sparked a political debate that revealed the rise of anti-Semitism and strident nationalism in France. Contemporaneously, the emergence and proliferation of cabarets was lambasted as a symptom of social decadence. An overall sense of anxiety seemed to increase due to alarming reports about cases of psychological malaise, including suicides and diagnoses of hysteria among women. On the other hand, the headlines that announced technological developments and the latest investigations and discoveries in the sciences, as well as new artistic techniques, reflected the cultural vibrancy and scientific advances of the time.
POLITICAL UPHEAVAL: THE DREYFUS AFFAIR
Paris, 1894. The Dreyfus Affair Divides Public Opinion
Alfred Dreyfus, a French captain of Jewish-Alsatian descent, was accused of treason for handing over documents to the German government. Several intellectuals—such as writer Émile Zola in his famous letter "J'accuse" published in the newspapers—blamed the French government of being anti-Semitic; in contrast, the nationalist newspapers wanted the traitor’s blood.
The origin of the tension between France and Germany dated from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, when France lost its northeastern territories of Alsace and Moselle (Lorraine). Deep seated resentment led to a widespread mistrust of anyone of "Germanic" origins from these regions, especially if they were in the French government or army.
MORAL DECADENCE: THE POPULARITY OF CABARETS AND CAFÉ-CONCERTS
Paris, 1881. Artist Rodolphe Salis Opens the First Cabaret in Montmartre: Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat)
Frequented by artists and intellectuals, cabarets abounded in Paris and set off alarms among the city’s more conservative sectors, who condemned them and their habitués as evidence of society’s moral decadence.
Cabarets were night-time entertainment venues mainly attended by men from different social classes, who enjoyed the shows, often while discussing events happening in the city. Sometimes these included confidential matters, which later spread, either intentionally or not, across all of Parisian society.
After Le Chat Noir opened, numerous other cabarets were launched, many of them run and attended by artists. Their atmospheres differed and focused on a variety of themes. For example, L'Enfer (Hell) bowed to the Parisians interested in occultism, with reliefs of skeletons on the walls and coffins as tables, whereas Le Ciel (Heaven), located right next to its infernal twin, represented Paradise and waiters dressed as angels served customers.
Pont des Arts, Paris, 1906. Increasing Anxiety in Paris: The Number of Suicides on the Rise
A woman who jumped off of the Pont des Arts bridge is rescued from the Seine River. The dramatic events that took place on Rue Saint-Sébastien and the Pont des Arts illustrate the increase in suicide rates in Paris. The surge in crime, reported cases of madness, and the economic crisis leaving many in abject poverty, were among the main reasons for this angst, which spread around a city that was in the throes of unbridled growth. It was not unusual to read about suicides in Paris's papers such as Le Petit Journal, Le Petit Parisien, Le Figaro or La Dépêche, which reported on them quite graphically, further heightening the pervasive sense of anxiety in the city.
Paris, ca. 1887. Neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot Diagnoses New Cases of Hysteria
In the late 19th century, numerous cases of hysteria and mental disorders were diagnosed.
Hysteria (from the French hystérie, which comes from the Greek hysteron, "uterus") was considered a mental illness which manifested in patients in the form of distress and numerous other physical or psychological symptoms, such as seizures, paralysis, or hallucinations. Known as the father of modern neurology, Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) published his research on hysteria in Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System (1879)
In a society in which female sexuality was harshly repressed, most cases of hysteria were diagnosed in women, leading the illness to be associated with their physiology, specifically the reproductive system, and utilizing science to enforce misogynist stereotypes.
TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS: THE FIRST FILM SCREENING
Paris, 1895. Early Public Film Screening
More than 200 people gathered at the Société d'encouragement pour l’industrie nationale in Paris, on March 22, to see Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon (La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon), among the first public film screenings in history. Organized by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, the inventors of a film projector, it proved an unforgettable, almost traumatic, experience for the people attending this early motion picture, who were astonished by what they viewed. The 46-second film signaled a benchmark in the history of the moving image. Film was taking its first steps.
This discovery captivated a visionary, Georges Méliès, an aspiring illusionist who offered to purchase the Lumière brothers' film projector after coming into some money in 1888. Since they refused, Méliès found and improved a similar device and built his own film studio. With his films, he became a key figure in the early days of the film industry.
THE MERGER OF SCIENCE AND MYSTICISM: THE THEORIES OF CAMILLE FLAMMARION
Paris, 1880. Astronomer Camille Flammarion Suggests Using Science to Unravel the Mysteries of the Universe
Camille Flammarion promoted science through his publications. His seminal 1880 work, Popular Astronomy, was extremely well received by the French middle classes. Flammarion suggested merging science and religion, and he defined Spiritism (the study of the occult) as "the scientific religion."
"For gentlemen," Flammarion claimed, "spiritism is not a religion but a science, a science whose motives we barely know (…). The time of dogma has come to an end. Nature embraces the Universe, and God himself."
At the fin de siècle, science and religion seemed incompatible. In fact, many scientists denied the existence of God and the soul. In contrast, Flammarion proposed a vision that connected science and religion.
THE EXPLORATION OF VISUAL TECHNIQUES: JAPONISME
Paris, 1892. Gallery Owner and Collector Siegfried Bing Joins the "Japan Society"
The English Society much expanded by German-French dealer Samuel Bing allowed lovers of Eastern art to gather eight times a year in different places around Paris and share and express their admiration for Japanese aesthetics.
In mid-19th-century Paris, the vogue for Japanese art and design was fueled by the resumption of trade with Japan and the World Exhibitions, which began around this time and displayed articles from the Far East. These expositions spotlighted unknown and "exotic" peoples and places, as well as sumptuous objects and materials, such as textiles, glassware, paintings, ceramics, and furniture. This fascination led Bing to join the Japan Society, to publish the magazine Le Japon Artistique (appearing monthly between 1888 and 1891), and to open a gallery-store, the Maison de l’Art Nouveau (1895–1901), which would become highly prestigious.
THE EXPLORATION OF VISUAL TECHNIQUES: THE SCIENCE OF COLOR
Paris, 1886. Art Critic Félix Fénéon Describes the Quest of the Neo-Impressionists, such as Paul Signac, to Create Optical Illusions through New Painting Techniques, like Pointillism
The exploration of new painting techniques characterized fin-de-siècle art and opened up new possibilities and alternatives to classic oil paintings, and to the and pastels, drawings, engravings, and lithographic and woodcut prints of the era. One of the most celebrated innovations was Pointillism, the application of individual strokes of distinct color on the canvas, which blended optically to create an image in the viewer’s eye. Artists like Henri-Edmond Cross and Georges Seurat sought to do more than merely depict reality and instead elaborated on Pointillism to convey certain sensations and emotions with their works.
"It is through the harmonies of line and color, which he can manipulate according to his needs and will, and not according to subject, that the painter must awaken emotion." [Paul Signac]
A Talk about Art in Paris at The Turn of The Century
Wednesday, May 10
A conversation about art and artists in Paris at the turn of the century between Vivien Greene, curator of Paris, Fin de Siècle, and Cornelia Homburg, curator of Washington University Gallery of Art specializing in late nineteenth-century French art.
Venue and time: Museum Auditorium, 7:00 pm.
Tickets: Free admission. Tickets available in advance at the admission desk.
The Beginnings of Film and Live DJ Music
Saturdays, May 27 and June 3
Watch the early films by the Lumière Brothers and Georges Méliès to the sound of live vinyl music, as part of the Paris, Fin de Siècle exhibition.
Venue and time: Museum Auditorium, 7:00 pm.
Tickets: Museum Members €4 and General public €6
Course: French Tunes from The Turn of The Century
Tuesdays, May 16, 23 and 30, June 13 and 20; Thursday, June 8
You can become acquainted with the most popular late-nineteenth-century French composers under lecturer Teresa Merino Guereñu’s guidance.
Venue and Time: Education Room, 6 pm
Lesson duration: 60 min / Lesson with tour of the exhibition: 90 min
*With the collaboration of the Bilbao Philharmonic Society
Audio guide and adapted guides
The audio guides, available at the Museum entrance, provide further information on the works in each exhibition.
Ask at the Information desk for audio/video guides for people with cognitive, hearing and/or visual impairments.
Free quick tours on the artworks exhibited. Check times, topics, and available languages at the Information desk.
Schedule: Tuesday to Friday, 5 pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm. There are no express tours on holidays (except Sundays) Length: 30 min.
Tickets: Free admission. Min. 5 people, max. 20 (first come, first served; no prior reservation). Groups will not be admitted