French Modern Art and "Indochina": Aesthetics and Cultural Politics, 1880-1940
University of Idaho Seed Grant
Although France's colonial involvement in Southeast Asia (primarily Vietnam and Cambodia) lasted nearly 100 years, very little art-historical research has been published on the influence of Asia on French art. My research addresses this gap in the scholarly literature by exploring how French modern artists understood (or misunderstood) the art, religion, and culture of Southeast Asia between 1885 and 1940. For this grant, I will be focusing on two aspects of this larger cultural relationship: 1) an understudied leftwing strand within Symbolist art and literature (1880-1900) that was influenced by the utopian cultural politics of Theosophy, an invented religion whose adherents both opposed colonial policy and colonial-era racism. Artists like Paul Ranson and his friends among the Nabis group like Georges Lacombe were heavily influenced by Theosophy in their Symbolist paintings. And 2) the largely unstudied influence of Cambodian sculpture on the art and aesthetics of Auguste Rodin and his circle (1900-1930s), especially their efforts to revitalize the classical tradition of French sculpture by drawing on Cambodian art.
A Seed grant will fund a research trip to France to consult archives and libraries with primary materials unavailable in North America. As well, the grant will cover the cost of publication rights for photographs of art works. The outcome of the grant will be two related scholarly articles to be submitted to peer-reviewed journals; the articles will also be folded into a book that I am developing, Modern Primitives and Primitive Moderns: French Visual Culture and Indochina, 1878–1968.