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S. Hollis Clayson Honored by French Ministry of Education

Northwestern professor recognized for her service to French culture

  • Weinberg College faculty member receives France’s oldest non-military award
  • Clayson speaks on the visual culture of Paris at the School of the Art Institute Oct. 9
  • Her upcoming book examines the lighting of Paris in Thomas Edison’s era 

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Modern art historian S. Hollis Clayson, a specialist in 19th-century French and European art and transatlantic exchanges between France and the United States, has received one of France’s most prestigious honors.

Clayson, Northwestern University’s Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Art History, has been named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques (known in English-speaking countries as a Knight in the Order of the Academic Palms). The honor, which recognizes the merits, talents and exemplary activities of academics and cultural and educational figures, was bestowed recently by the French Ministry of Education in recognition of Clayson’s service and contributions to French culture.

The order of academic palms is France’s oldest non-military decoration. Winners receive a medallion on a ribbon that is meant to be worn on the left breast.

Originally created as an honorary title in 1808 by Emperor Napoleon I to honor eminent professors and teachers of the University of Paris, the academic palms became a decoration in 1866, under Napoleon III. For more on the award, visit the American Society of the French Academic Palms.

Clayson will discuss the visual culture of Paris and the often-overlooked fact that lighting (eclairage) was a key attribute of the 19th-century City of Light, on Thursday, Oct. 9, when she delivers the 26th annual Norma U. Lifton Lecture in Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Her talk, “Episodes from the Visual Culture of Electric Paris,” will take place at 6 p.m. in the SAIC Ballroom at 112 S. Michigan Ave., in downtown Chicago. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit SAIC

Clayson’s first book, “Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era,” 1991, was reprinted by Getty Publications in 2003 (Getty Virtual Library, 2014). A co-edited thematic study of painting in the Western tradition, “Understanding Paintings: Themes in Art Explored and Explained” was released in 2000 and has been translated into six other languages. “Paris in Despair: Art and Everyday Life Under Siege (1870-71)” was published in 2002. A paperback version was released in 2005.

In 2013, Clayson curated the exhibition “ELECTRIC PARIS” at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. Her related book studies the visual cultures of the City of Light in the era of Thomas Edison. It will be published by the University of Chicago Press.

Clayson chaired the editorial board of The Art Bulletin (2003-2005), and has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Getty Research Institute, the Clark Art Institute (twice), The Huntington Library and Columbia University Reid Hall in Paris, among others. At Northwestern, she received a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award (1987), was the first and only recipient of the College Art Association's Distinguished Teaching of Art History Award to a Junior Professor (1990), held a Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence (1993-96), and was the Martin J. and Patricia Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Professor (2004-06).

In fall 2005, she was Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. At Northwestern, she was named Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities in 2006, and served as the Director of the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities from 2006 to 2013. In 2013-14, she was the Samuel H. Kress Professor in the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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