Revolution in Translation: Transnationalism and Nineteenth-Century French Visual Culture
Exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1850, the International Exhibition of 1855 in Paris, at the 1860 French Exhibition in Pall Mall in London, and at the New York Metropolitan Sanitary Fair in 1864, Muller’s "The Last Roll Call of the Victims of the Reign of Terror" (1850), its reduced replicas, and reproductive prints were remarkably popular in Europe and America.
This paper will focus on the dynamic relations between the meaning of Muller’s work, its exhibition space, and its medium as they underwent processes of cultural and formal transformations in the course of the painting’s reproduction and international circulation. Despite its national historical subject matter, I will suggest that these ‘translations’ allowed Muller’s depiction of the French Revolution to be perceived transnationally as a realistic vision of history.
At the Paris Salon of 1850, Muller’s "Last Roll Call" was easily recognized as a politically conservative interpretation of the June days of 1848. However, the international reception of The Last Roll Call of the Victims of the Reign of Terror demonstrates a strong preoccupation with the realism of Muller’s depiction of revolutionary events. Focusing on three well-documented exhibitions in Paris, London and New York, I will argue that this common perception of Muller’s representation as ‘real’ did not result from the establishment of universal criteria for the representation of history in the European and American art critique of the 1860s. Rather, the ability of Müller’s representation to appear ‘real’ was deeply subjective and related both to its formal characteristics and to local concerns. The Last Roll Call’s perceived realism can thus be seen as the outcome of the painting’s adaptability to local historical circumstances and of the emergence of a transnational visual culture of reproductive images, in which Muller’s painting participated.
Keywords: Transnationalism, Translation, Exhibition, Reproduction, Realism
Ph. D. Candidate, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University