Susan Sidlauskas

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Department of Art History


Professor Sidlauskas is the author of Cézanne’s Other: The Portraits of Hortense (University of California Press, 2009), winner of the Motherwell Book award from the Dedalus Foundation.

A chapter in Therese Dolan’s edited volume, Perspectives on Manet (Ashgate Press, 2012) on the artist’s portrait of Victorine Meurent of 1862, demonstrates my commitment to using contemporary art to see historical works afresh. I ask why this relatively small portrait continues to exert an impact that rivals that of recent large format color photographs and watercolors of the face.

Two new research projects, already underway, build upon prior work, but expand both my range of interests and the media I study. The first is a trans-national study of John Singer Sargent’s later portraits and genre scenes, whose working title is Skins: John Singer Sargent’s Metamorphoses (see link: Probing the Interior). Sargent was featured in my first book on interiority, Body, Place and Self in Nineteenth Century Painting (Cambridge University Press, 2000), as were Degas, Vuillard, and Sickert.

Sargent’s Madame X is discussed in “Painting Skin,” of which a short excerpt was included in Susan Shifrin’s Re-Framing Representations of Women, 2008 (Ashgate Press). I ask: what happens when a female subject’s lack of beauty comes to define the reception of her portrait?  Sargent was also discussed at some length in a public TV series: and (Channel 13 series on The Portrait and the Body)

The second new project, provisionally entitled The Medical Portrait, 1886-1946, will address the very porous boundary between the “objective” and the “aesthetic” in the visual culture of medicine from around 1886 to 1946. (see: AAH Annual Conference, 2011). This project has been reinforced by my collaboration with Professor Tanya Sheehan, in our Rutgers course “The Art of the Body: The Visual Culture of Medicine.” I’ve presented some of this research at workshops organized by the King’s College Centre for the Humanities and Health in London.

“Before and after” photographs of neurasthenic patients in 1880’s England; casebook photographs from an asylum for the middle classes built in Surrey around the same time; pictorial narratives of plastic surgeries taken in the years after World War I; and early films on mental illness were all hybrid forms of representation in which the expectations of medical objectivity vied with the aesthetic conventions of portraiture. My participation as a faculty fellow in two different research institutes at Rutgers—the Institute of Research on Women and the Center for Cultural Analysis has been crucial to the development of this topic, as I had challenging interlocutors from literary criticism, gender studies, philosophy, history of science, anthropology, sociology, and cognitive science.