Eyes and ears


Culture dictates the way that we see art and listen to music, argues the Smart Museum exhibit Looking and Listening in Nineteenth-Century France. Throughout the 19th century, the way people viewed the world changed as audiences became increasingly sophisticated due to their increased exposure to the arts; mechanically reproduced images became more common; recorded sound emerged; and museums, galleries, and concert halls proliferated.

Artists in turn sought to reflect the evolving conceptions of viewing and listening. Such works as Émile-René Ménard’s Homer, which features three shepherds listening attentively to a craggy-looking Homer playing a lyre and reciting verses, focus on the listener's experience. The exhibit also examines the interaction between the visual and aural arts by accompanying a painting like Édouard Vuillard’s The Lerolle Salon with François Chaplin’s piano performance of “Lent (mélancolique et doux),” the first movement to Claude Debussy’s Images (oubliées). Debussy wrote the piece for Yvonne Lerolle, the teenage daughter of Henry Lerolle, whose home is believed to be the setting for Vuillard’s painting.

The exhibition is the culmination of an interdisciplinary course taught at the University by Martha Ward, associate professor and chair of the art-history department, and Anne Leonard, Mellon projects curator at the Smart Museum, in spring 2007. It runs through March 23.


Photo: Homer, 1885. Émile-René Ménard, oil on canvas.

Photo courtesy Smart Museum.

December 10, 2007