Edwin Lord Weeks: An American Artist in North Africa and South Asia
Garvey, Dana M.
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Artist, adventurer, travel writer and cultural commentator Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903) was one of America's most celebrated expatriate artists. From the 1870s through the 1890s the Boston native and Paris resident traveled throughout Spain, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Persia and India, venturing well beyond "the Orient" familiar to many of his professional colleagues. His scenes of Egypt and Morocco established early successes in France and America. Travels to India beginning in 1882 inspired a new vision of that region centered on its monumental architecture, colorful street life and vibrant culture. His fresh, bold images of India distinguished Weeks from rival American and European Orientalist painters, established his mature reputation, and brought sustained international acclaim. The dissertation situates Weeks' life and work in a broad socio-political context. For the first time, Weeks' reputation as an intrepid "artist-adventurer" is examined relative to critical and popular reception, the construction of artistic identity, the interdependence of text and image, and the evolving definition of the modern American artist. Original research confirms, clarifies and augments Weeks' biography. New analysis places Weeks at the center of artistic life in 1870s Boston, sheds light on his confusing Moroccan excursions of the 1870s and early 1880s, and brackets his Indian itineraries of the 1880s and 1890s. Weeks' enduring associations with the École des Beaux-Arts, Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme are considered in depth. Despite these academic affiliations, Weeks' consistent emphasis on the effects of sunlight, glare, immediacy and viewer participation indicates that he was thoroughly immersed in contemporary aesthetic concerns. Weeks' major paintings of India, exhibited at the Paris Salon and internationally, emerge as conceptually innovative and transformative when viewed against the long French and British traditions of visualizing India. Moreover, they may be read as richly layered commentary on contemporary topics such as architectural preservation and the geopolitics of Central/South Asia. The cross-cultural circumstances of their production, their integration of French and British visual and textual sources, and the pervasive backdrop of colonialism reveal Edwin Lord Weeks' career as a complex transnational project grounded in an American identity and perspective.
- Art history