Thomas Nast and French Art
The Topic of Swann Grantee’s Talk on March 25
Swann Foundation grantee Marie-Stéphanie Delamaire will present a lecture entitled, "The Artist as Translator: Thomas Nast and French Art,” Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at 12 noon, in the West Dining Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, DC.
In her illustrated talk, Delamaire will examine American cartoonist Thomas Nast’s appropriation of the visual language used in prints and photographs of grand manner and history paintings in his political cartoons of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. The analysis of Nast’s cartoons suggests that they functioned much like visual, cultural, and political translations of the era’s leading issues and articulated the cartoonist’s artistic identity.
Thomas Nast (1840-1902) began his career as a newspaper illustrator in the antebellum era for the growing illustrated press of the 1850s in New York. During the Civil War years, Nast developed a new style of large-scale cartoons that made extensive use of the visual vocabulary of old masters and contemporary French academic painters, particularly those whose works were reproduced in prints then being disseminated by the American branch of Goupil & Cie in New York. Nast referenced or alluded to specific French paintings as a means of capturing and engaging his viewers’ interest in major political developments of the day as seen in such cartoons as “Democracy” or “The Tammany Tiger Loose” (published respectively in Harper’s Weekly on November 11, 1865 and November 11, 1871). In so doing, Nast not only translated “facts into black and white,” as suggested by Clarence Cook (Putnam Magazine, July 1869), but also transformed history painting into a mass medium and appropriated the significance of foreign images into the American national or local political sphere.
Delamaire contends that looking closely at Nast’s cartoons demonstrates that the artist deliberately emphasized the discontinuity between the original painting and his final image in order to construct the cartoon’s underlying meaning. Nast’s translations of history paintings into cartoons can thus be seen to question the authority and priority commonly associated with the grand tradition of European history painting. Delamaire suggests that Nast’s appropriations reveal a shift from his role as a newspaper illustrator to that of a translator of fine art’s visual language mediating the political significance of foreign works of art widely
disseminated in print form to his American audience.
Delamaire is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at Columbia University. Her dissertation project entitled, “Art in Translation: Franco-American exchanges in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era,” has been awarded a Terra Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution and a Swann Foundation grant. Her research interests focus on transnational exchanges in relation to the development of reproductive technology in nineteenth century visual culture, the international art market and the emerging apparatus of international exhibitions. She completed a Master’s Degree in Egyptian Archaeology. She has published several essays on the American perception of ancient Egypt, the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle, and the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition.
This presentation is part of the Swann Foundation’s continuing activities to support the study, interpretation, preservation and appreciation of original works of humorous and satiric art by graphic artists from around the world. The Swann Foundation’s advisory board is composed of scholars, collectors, cartoonists and Library of Congress staff members. The foundation strives to award one fellowship annually (with a stipend of up to $15,000) to assist scholarly research and writing projects in the field of caricature and cartoon. Applications for the academic year 2009-2010 are due Feb. 15, 2010. More information about the fellowship is available through the Swann Foundation’s Web site: www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/swannhome or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.