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October 18, 2002

Impressionist Scholar Robert Herbert to Lecture on Monet

Those who love to travel but loathe the tourists who share their passion will appreciate "Monet and the Tourist View," a lecture by Robert Herbert, world-renowned impressionism scholar and MHC Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts. Set for Friday, October 25, at 5 pm, in Clapp Hall's Hooker Auditorium, the lecture is cosponsored by the Weissman Center for Leadership and the art department as part of the Weissman Center's series Destinations: New Meanings of Travel.
French impressionist Claude Monet frequently made paintings of Europe's most popular tourist destinations but systematically eliminated in those works all signs of tourism. Surrounded by restaurants, hotels, inns, casinos, bathers, and landscapes cut by artificial walkways, stairs, and railings in France's coastal resorts, for example, he created uncluttered paintings of pristine cliffs, unpeopled beaches, and empty seas. Herbert, a social historian of art who analyzes not only the formal structure (shapes, colors, brushwork, and composition) of art but also its relationship to social beliefs and conditions, explains the paradox this way: "Monet considered himself a poetic traveler, not a tourist," says Herbert. "He created pictures that allow the viewer to imagine being the only person looking at a site, the ideal traveler who disdains the mere tourist (although one of them)."

In his lecture, Herbert will explore the theory and practice of tourism by focusing on Monet's work between 1883 and1886 in Etretat, a coastal town of Normandy, France, where he made seventy-five paintings that depict a landscape quite different from the one found in photographs, guidebooks, and popular prints of the same period. "We're extremely fortunate to have in our neighborhood someone like Bob Herbert," said Christopher Benfey, professor of English and codirector of the Weissman Center. "He has gone more deeply than any other scholar into Monet's ambivalent engagement with tourism and travel."

One of the world's leading experts on impressionist art, Herbert is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and has been named Officier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He was chief curator of the Georges Seurat retrospective at the Grand Palais and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991 and has written numerous books, including Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society (1991), Monet on the Normandy Coast: Tourism and Painting, 1867–1886 (1994), Nature's Workshop: Renoir's Writings on the Decorative Arts (2000), Seurat: Drawings and Paintings (2001), and From Millet to Léger: Essays in Social Art History (2002), all published by Yale University Press. Soon to be published are three articles, one titled "Millet, Courbet, and Theophile Thore," another on a proposal of 1848 by a group of French artists for a radical overhaul of the government's institution devoted to exhibiting current art, and a third on art during the Franco-Prussian War. His current work is the organization and catalog of an exhibition devoted to the Art Institute of Chicago's famous painting by Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

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