Theses Doctoral

An Art of Translation: French Prints and American Art (1848-1876)

Delamaire, Marie-St├ęphanie

This dissertation calls attention to the significance of translation for two related trends in American art and visual culture of the antebellum and Civil War eras: the transatlantic expansion of the nineteenth-century French art publishing industry, and the conceptual shift in the period's literature on reproductive prints from the notion of imitation to that of translation. The production, circulation, and consumption of reproductive prints were tied to the period's innovations in printing, and to broader patterns of transatlantic economic integration and exchange. These developments placed Americans in increased contact with European art and visual culture.

Focusing on the decades following the Parisian firm Goupil & Company's establishment in New York, this dissertation investigates the impact of the proliferation and widespread dissemination of what Americans saw as translated images--that is, French-made reproductions of European and American works of art. The first part of this dissertation explores how Goupil's establishment in New York in 1848 and the firm's subsequent investments in lavish publications of American paintings destabilized the American approach to the translation of the image and influenced the manner in which both critics and artists conceived of the visual arts as a repository of American national identity.

Engravers' lines were more than a place for the adaptation and representation of the European artistic legacy. They were also a locus for critical cultural, social, and political transformations. The second part of this dissertation examines how American artists working either in the United States or in Europe engaged with the period's transatlantic visual culture of reproduction, and with a notion of translation conceived both in literary and visual terms. George Caleb Bingham and Richard Caton Woodville, two of the leading antebellum American genre painters, and Thomas Nast, the most influential cartoonist of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, deployed the visual possibilities of translation in relation to the transatlantic production and circulation of reproductive engravings not only to address various local, national, and transnational audiences but also to articulate their own creative practices and mode of artistic expression in an expanding art world.

Unlike earlier studies, which focused on American artists' expatriation to Europe in the later part of the nineteenth century, this dissertation shifts attention to the early impact of French prints on the visual imagination of American artists and illustrators during the antebellum and Civil War eras. Focusing on the circulation and displacement of images rather than artists' migration, this thesis demonstrates that continuous processes of integration, representation, and transformation were as significant to the artistic relationship between France and America as were the later experiences of rupture and estrangement highlighted by the studies of artists' expatriation. By foregrounding American artists' approach to the metaphorical understanding of reproduction as translation, this dissertation extends our understanding of the nineteenth-century practices and processes of Euro-American exchanges beyond the tensions between the recognition of an artistic affiliation and the search for artistic independence. Positioning American art in a world frame, this dissertation enriches the broad investigation of cultural exchanges that have been at the core of the recent scholarship on American art.


  • thumnail for Delamaire_columbia_0054D_11179.pdf Delamaire_columbia_0054D_11179.pdf application/pdf 47.8 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Hutchinson, Elizabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 8, 2013