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The Visibility of the Eiffel Tower

Maurice Garin, La Tour Eiffel embrasée, le soir de l’inauguration de l’Exposition, le 6 mai 1889, 1889. Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Lecture M. Victor Leventritt Lecture

Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street
Cambridge MA

“There is virtually no Parisian glance it fails to touch at some time of day. . . . The Tower is also present to the entire world.”
—Roland Barthes, “The Eiffel Tower,” 1964

La Tour Eiffel—the 300-meter open-work iron pylon erected in Paris for the Exposition Universelle, making it the tallest structure on earth in 1889—continues to pose questions about its function and meaning, despite its global fame and the abundant scholarship it has inspired. In this talk, S. Hollis Clayson, the Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, will investigate connections between the landlocked lighthouse’s illuminations, visibility, and reception.

A key question Clayson will ask is: did the tower’s much-debated visual prominence, in both daylight and illuminated darkness, add up to inescapability in Barthes’ first sense? If the tower was unavoidable, was the encounter pleasant or unpleasant? If the latter, did a craving to escape La Tour de 300 mètres define the relationship between the “Mechanic Monster” and many Parisians, then as now? And did a wish to erase or ignore Eiffel’s iron giraffe explain its avoidance on the part of most Parisian visual artists in their urban imagery? Why did American and other non-French artists embrace its representation at the same time?

Following the talk, Clayson will be joined in conversation by Jennifer Roberts, the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, and A. Cassandra Albinson, the Margaret S. Winthrop Curator of European Art at the Harvard Art Museums.

Co-sponsored by the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard and the Harvard Art Museums.

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway. Doors will open at 5:30pm.

Free admission, but limited seating is available. Tickets will be distributed beginning at 5:30pm at the Broadway entrance. One ticket per person.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

Support for the lecture is provided by the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, which was established through the generosity of the wife, children, and friends of the late M. Victor Leventritt, Harvard Class of 1935. The purpose of the fund is to present outstanding scholars of the history and theory of art to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities.