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Traffic: On the Displacement of Art in Early Twentieth-Century France


This dissertation is about the image and the reality of traffic in early twentieth-century France, from the late 1890s to the mid-1930s. It comprises three chapters, each of which centers on a different artist’s encounter with the emergence of the modern traffic system: Camille Pissarro’s Boulevards Montmartre and Avenues de l’Opéra series of 1897-98, Le Corbusier’s first projects in and around Paris between 1917-1923, and Fernand Léger’s “object-drawings” of 1928-33. Together, these chapters shed light on the emergence of a new scene of modernization three decades after Baron Haussmann’s first campaign of urban renovations, from which would result the transformation, not simply of the old core of central Paris, but of the road network in its entirety, encompassing city and country alike. Tracking the development of the traffic system in broad strokes, from the policing of the street in the moment of the Dreyfus Affair to the planning of the first autoroutes in the late 1920s and early ’30s, my dissertation asks how the modernization of street traffic came to be seen as a natural and normal aspect of the human environment, and how, in turn, artists, architects, and other advocates of modernism sought to grapple with the contradictions of the new infrastructural landscape.

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