Paul Delaroche: Painting and Popular Spectacle explores the connections between painting and an emergent popular visual culture in the early nineteenth century, which included new forms of optical entertainment such as Panoramas and Dioramas and innovation in fields such as illustration, art reproduction, and stage decor. Delaroche’s paintings caused a sensation at the Paris Salon, with critics comparing the emotional response they elicited to that of popular melodrama. Yet his appeal to a certain type of spectator lay behind the increasingly hostile criticism to which his works were subjected, and has in our own time led to his uncertain status in the art historical canon. This book focuses on Delaroche’s appeal to a newly expanded audience. Lacking in specialist knowledge, but nevertheless keen to engage with and deeply affected by art, the behaviour of this new public prompted lively discussions about who has the right to judge art and on what grounds.
Working across disciplinary boundaries, this book proposes a new reading both of Delaroche and of the connections between the arts in this period. The artist emerges as a figure at the cutting edge of an emergent trans-medial popular visual culture in which we see the formation of modern spectatorship.
'Through sustained analysis of the critical reception of Delaroche’s work, this welcome book brings into the foreground the role played by illusion in popularising his distinctive style, and relates his 'reality effects’ to current debates about the significance of ‘theatricality’ in the development of French painting from the eighteenth century onwards.'
Professor Stephen Bann CBE FBA, University of Bristol
'In a work of impressive interdisciplinary scope, Patricia Smyth applies 21st century theories regarding the immersive and self-commenting technologies of new media to provide an enlightening new way of understanding the simultaneous illusionistic transparency and legibility of Delaroche’s art, created for a 19th century audience already affected by technologies of spectacular realism.'
Beth S. Wright, Distinguished University Professor of Art History, University of Texas at Arlington