Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Kevin D. Murphy

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


fin-de-siècle France; graphic arts; history of printmaking


In fin-de-siècle Paris, the print portfolio experienced a popularity that was unprecedented over the course of its long history. Adapted sporadically by graphic artists from the Renaissance onward, prints were produced as series in greater numbers and by a wider range of artists than ever before between 1880 and 1900, and symbolized new, bold, and varied aspirations for the graphic arts as an original and experimental medium. In addition to its stylistic value, artists valued the print portfolio for the subject matter it could cultivate. A growing number of works produced at this time highlighted social issues and expressed political views, especially given the fluctuating boundaries of public space and morality in fin-de-siècle Paris. Print portfolios often engaged these social shifts and built upon an association between the series and evocative, literary subject matter developed by great printmakers throughout history, from Albrecht Dürer to Francisco Goya. Although such works were inevitably produced by male artists, they frequently engaged women as subject matter -- less as a means of social activism but rather of symbolism, of revealing a site in which the morals, impropriety, and hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie were exposed.

This dissertation argues that the print portfolio provided a direct forum for artistic expression of the growing sense of unrest that followed these shifts and defined life in fin-de-siècle Paris. Privately circulated and viewed, print portfolios were revived at this historical moment because they epitomized and brought together those qualities that were most revolutionary about the graphic arts: circulation of ideas, community formation, and subversion of the traditional channels of artistic exchange. Beyond its subject matter, the print series diverged from formal traditions of art production and consumption by allowing extended thematic exploration, technical experimentation, and engaged viewing.

This study considers the print portfolio as a material object in order to understand not only its social role in fin-de-siècle Paris, but also the broader cultural, intellectual, and historical issues that this format represented to its contemporary audiences. For the potential it offered artists in terms of both subject matter and visual creativity, the series contributed legitimacy to the graphic arts in nineteenth-century France. As a genre that was embraced by prominent artists of the past and advantageously used the technical properties of printmaking, the portfolio connected a long and respected history of printmaking to its revitalization.

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