'Paris at Night'
Charles Courtney Curran
c. 1889, oil on panel, 23x31.1cm
Terra Foundation of American Art
'Charles Courtney Curran's Paris at Night captures the dazzling nocturnal spectacle of a rain-soaked city street under artificial illumination. The diffuse glow of gas streetlights, lighted kiosks, and lanterns vies with reflections of light on wet pavement. Passersby huddled under black umbrellas, horse-drawn cabs, and a fruit vendor pushing her wheeled cart fill the scene against the dense silhouette of urban buildings. In Curran’s image, weather and time of day have transformed crowded, bustling Paris into a magically tinted fairyland. Yet this romantic effect is a celebration of modern technology: street illumination by gaslight was a recent innovation, one that radically altered life in late-nineteenth-century cities by allowing safe mobility at night.
In Curran’s composition, the random assortment of passing figures and the truncated form of the cab at lower left evoke the rapid pace and the anonymity of urban life, which is also suggested in his In the Luxembourg (Garden) of about the same date. The artistic interpretation of the modern city was pioneered in the 1860s and 1870s by French impressionist painters, who influenced such Americans as Childe Hassam and Maurice Prendergast, in addition to Curran. Although Curran did not follow the French example by dissolving his pictured forms into flecks of pure color, the inspiration of the impressionists’ new approach to painting is reflected in the spontaneous composition and paint application of Paris at Night.'-terraamericanart.org
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