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Paris in Despair: Art and Everyday Life under Siege (1870-1871) Hardcover – July 1, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0226109510 ISBN-10: 0226109518 Edition: First Edition
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Editorial Reviews


"Important and original . . . A beautifully produced (and reasonably priced) book, whose illustrations--more than 200--are the substance of the argument rather than mere decoration.  Clayson's outstanding strength is that she combines the painstaking technical expertise of the art historian with the broad perspectives of an accomplished social and political historian.  This is a much rarer combination than one might wish."

(Robert Tombs Times Literary Supplement)

“[Clayson] uses current methods of cultural history and feminist theory that look behind battles, monuments, and leading politicians in order to evoke the everyday lives of women, children, and men as they were transformed by war and siege. . . . The best part of Clayson’s study is her demonstration that the domestic duties of women were transformed into public service and that, as a result, women generally became heroically identified with the wartime state. As she points out, this central engagement of women with matters of life and death subsequently created the militant and collective consciousness of women in the Commune.”

(Robert L. Herbert New York Review of Books)

“The numerous illustrations . . . and dozens of anecdotes that highlight what happens to a large, smug, wealthy, and internationally familiar urban center suddenly constrained by catastrophe . . . will leave a vivid impression on readers.”

(Ronald C. Rosbottom French Review)

“Clayson establishes the intellectual and disciplinary context of her study and breaks new ground.  The book is a magisterial work and historians and art historians alike will find it pleasurable and mandatory reading.”

(Gay L. Gullickson International History Review)

"The fusion of this focus on artitic agency with a meticulously researched social history of art during the siege of Paris enables Clayton . . . to reap a hefty reward: a richly drawn and revealing study that moves seamlessly between biography, cultural history, and art history, vividly exposing the historical characters and vie quotidienne of the Prussian siege. . . . An important contribuiton not only to the history of nineteenth-century French art, but to the history of France tout court."."
(Patricia Tilburg CAA Reviews 2005-11-07)

"In her remarkable book, Hollis Clayson fashions a landscape of narratives, offering a fascinating glimpse of everyday life during the siege. Her exhaustive primary research introduces a wide range of voices and convinces the reader of her argument that this short but intense period of political disgrace and cultural restriction did indeed affect the future development of French art and life. . . . The book is beautifully designed."
(Patricia Mathews The Historian)

From the Inside Flap

The siege of Paris by Prussians in the fall and winter of 1870 and 1871 turned the city upside down, radically altering its appearance, social structure, and mood. As Hollis Clayson demonstrates in Paris in Despair, the siege took an especially heavy toll on the city's artists, forcing them out of the spaces and routines of their insular prewar lives and thrusting them onto the ramparts (as many became soldiers).

But the crisis did not halt artistic production, as some have suggested. In fact, Clayson argues that the siege actually encouraged innovation, fostering changed attitudes and new approaches to representation among a wide variety of artists as they made art out of their individual experiences of adversity and change—art that has not previously been considered within the context of the siege. Clayson focuses especially on Rosa Bonheur, Edgar Degas, Jean-Alexandre-Joseph Falguière, Edouard Manet, and Henri Regnault, but she also covers a host of other artists, including Ernest Barrias, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Detaille, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Albert Robida, and James Tissot. Paris in Despair includes more than two hundred color and black-and-white images of works by these artists and others, many never before published.

Using the visual arts as an interpretive lens, Clayson illuminates the wide range of issues at play during the siege and thereafter, including questions of political and cultural identity, artistic masculinity and femininity, public versus private space, everyday life and modernity, and gender and class roles in military and civilian society. For anyone concerned with these issues, or with nineteenth-century French art in general, Paris in Despair will be a landmark work.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226109518
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226109510
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,778,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lavishly illustrated, this book tells a remarkable and little-known story about how denizens survived the Siege of Paris at the height of the Franco-Prussian War (1770-71). It looks at the war through the eyes of the artists who recorded it, and of some who even fought in it. Privileged artists like Degas, Manet, and Regnault suited up and mounted the ramparts, even as they recorded the struggle of day to day life with their charcoal and paint brushes. We encounter other artists--Courbet, Puvis de Chavannes, and Rosa Bonheur--who each served France in his or her own way.
Clayson is an excellent writer and storyteller. In her book, we encounter the endless bread lines, the staving masses who grew so hungry that even the elephant in the zoo was slaughtered and devoured; what role innovations in public lighting played, mail being sent by carrier pigeons that soared above the Prussian troops surrounding the city. Clayson is always sensitive to the role that gender plays in French culture, and we learn how gender roles were challenged during this stressful time. Vividly anecdotal and highly learned, this is the first book to explore the subject of life and art in Paris during one of the most critical moments in French history. A must for anyone interested in Paris or French art and history. And a pleasure to read.
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