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Photography, 3

Arts and sciences

"It doesn't matter if we descend from the ape: the point is not to return to it".

Photography, 2

Nineteenth-century painting seems accessible to the twenty-first-century viewer. Yet these works were coded, imbued with scientific knowledge - physiognomy, evolutionism and New psychology - whose rules have fallen into disuse.

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1. Physiognomy and Darwinism

Scientific progress,1


  • Physiognomy: the size of the skull or the angle of the face determines temperament or intellect.

  • Evolutionism: Man is descended from apes and is in a constant state of mutation, with the consequent risk of regression to a primitive state. 

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2. Degas' monster

Lttle Dancer Aged Fourteen


We think she's pretty, despite her unattractive face. Presented under a glass globe by Edgar Degas at the Fifth Impressionist Exhibition, she was actually considered repulsive, her face bearing the clinical signs of regression.

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3. The founders of the New psychology

Scientific progress, 2

At the end of the nineteeth century, the New psychology developed by Jean-Martin Charcot and Hippolyte Bernheim shattered the certainties inherited from the Enlightenment: man was no longer guided by reason alone.

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4.  Decorative arts and New psychology

Émile Gallé, Auguste Rodin

A reinterpretation of Émile Gallé's vases and Auguste Rodin's Gates of Hell in the light of the new psychology, proposed by the historian Debora Silverman.

Readings Shearer West, Fin De Siècle, Overlook press, 1994 Anthea Callen, The Spectacular Body, Yale University Press, 1995 Debora L. Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France, University of California Press, 1992

Iconographic study

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