Images of the East and French fin-de-siècle spiritual pursuits

Gill, H. 2009. Images of the East and French fin-de-siècle spiritual pursuits. International Journal of Francophone Studies. 12 (4), pp. 541-556.

TitleImages of the East and French fin-de-siècle spiritual pursuits
AuthorsGill, H.
Abstract

The chief motivation behind this article is to investigate the spiritual context behind the ‘second’ French expansion in the latter part of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth as reflected in painted representations of the colonized East. It arises from a simple curiosity regarding the impact – if any – of the new and by then politically dominant concept of Laïcité on French representations of colonized territories. This context ought to set the ‘second’ French expansion apart from other colonial ventures, such as the ‘first’ French expansion, under the staunchly Catholic rule of the absolute monarchy, but also from the moral justifications for empire invoked by other expansionist Western (Christian) powers. The investigation is conducted here through the study and contextualization of painted representations of the time, some of which are usually labelled ‘Orientalist’, whilst others have been recognized as forming part of the French aesthetic canon. The outcome is shown to be a clash between an aestheticism inspired by the mystical East in painters of exotic themes and the increasingly secularist mentality of the time. This clash stands to reason, but has rarely been emphasized in studies of French colonialism. The article highlights a number of complexities, tensions and paradoxes prompted by examples drawn from the painted work of the time, from J.-L. Gérôme to Etienne Dinet.

KeywordsOrientalism, cultural studies, colonial and post-colonial studies
JournalInternational Journal of Francophone Studies
Journal citation12 (4), pp. 541-556
ISSN1368-2679
YearDec 2009
PublisherIntellect
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1386/ijfs.12.4.541/1
Publication dates
PublishedDec 2009

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