Graduate Student Research: Catherine in Paris!

[written by second year M.A. student Catherine Southwick]

"La Commune: 1871, Paris Capitale Insurgée" exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville

Last spring, I was lucky enough to receive the first Patricia Moore Segnan Award for international research in art history. I used the award to travel to Paris in May and June to research my thesis on Impressionism and the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune, which I will be completing with Dr. Juliet Bellow. The timing was perfect, because the Hôtel de Ville had two relevant exhibitions, “Paris in the Time of the Impressionists” and “The Commune: 1871, Paris Insurrection.”  I also spent time at the Musée Carnavalet, or the Museum of the History of Paris, and the Impressionist galleries at the Musée d’Orsay.

"Paris Au Temps des Impressionistes" exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville

I made sure to plan my travel to arrive in time for the Commune exhibition, which closed at the end of May. The exhibition displayed historical material from the Commune, such as original posters, documents, etchings, and photographs. I’ve found that these kinds of objects are hard to find reproduced online or in books (and there was no exhibition catalogue for this show), so I photographed everything in order to refer to it again stateside.

Photo line-up of Communards (Commune participants) at the Hôtel de Ville exhibition

Another aspect of my Parisian research was visiting the original sites where Commune events occurred, and which are the settings for some of the Impressionist paintings I am researching. These included the Place de la Concorde and the Place Vendôme, as well as the Moulin de la Galette in the Montmartre neighborhood. Even though nearly 150 years have passed since these events took place, it was still helpful to see the sites in person.

Me at the original site of the Moulin de la Galette

I also took a side trip to Argenteuil to try to find the bridges Monet painted there. The bridges were destroyed in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and were being rebuilt at the time he was painting. Needless to say, a lot has changed since he sat on the banks of the Seine.

Claude Monet, The Argenteuil Bridge (1874), Musée d'Orsay


Argenteuil bridge today. The beach is now a highway.






All in all, it was a very productive and a very fun trip. In the evenings, I took advantage of Paris’ late night museum hours at the Orsay, Louvre, and Museé du Quai Branly. Fellow students of Dr. Bellow’s Museums and Society course will understand why I had to see the Quai Branly, which we discussed in detail last semester.

Museé du Quai Branly

I am incredibly appreciative of Dr. Romeo Segnan for sponsoring this scholarship and to the American University art history faculty for selecting me! I will be spending this semester combining my travel experiences with other research to complete my MA thesis.


One thought on “Graduate Student Research: Catherine in Paris!

  1. Pingback: “Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting” at the Frick Collection | Art History at American University

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