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Electric Worlds / Mondes électriques

Creations, Circulations, Tensions, Transitions (19th–21st C.)


Edited By Alain Beltran, Léonard Laborie, Pierre Lanthier and Stéphanie Le Gallic

What interpretation(s) do today’s historians make of electrification? Electrification is a process which began almost a hundred and fifty years ago but which more than one billion men and women still do not have access to. This book displays the social diversity of the electric worlds and of the approaches to their history. It updates the historical knowledge and shows the renewal of the historiography in both its themes and its approaches. Four questions about the passage to the electrical age are raised: which innovations or combination of innovations made this passage a reality? According to which networks and appropriation? Evolving thanks to which tensions and alliances? And resulting in which transition and accumulation?

Quel(s) regard(s) les historiens d’aujourd’hui portent-ils sur l’électrification, processus engagé il y a près de cent cinquante ans mais auquel plus d’un milliard d’hommes et de femmes restent encore étrangers ? Le présent volume rend compte de la diversité des mondes sociaux électriques et des manières d’enquêter sur leur histoire. Il actualise les connaissances et témoigne du renouvellement de l’historiographie, dans ses objets et ses approches. Quatre points d’interrogation sur le basculement des sociétés dans l’âge électrique jalonnent le volume : moyennant quelles créations ou combinaisons créatrices ? En vertu de quelles circulations et appropriations ? Selon quelles tensions et alliances ? Et produisant quelles transitions et accumulations ?

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From Gas to Electric. Georges Seurat, Brassaï and the City of Light

← 38 | 39 →

From Gas to Electric

Georges Seurat, Brassaï and the City of Light



In May 1938, ten of Georges Seurat’s drawings of the early 1880s were reproduced as the lead article in the penultimate number of Minotaure, the quality art review that the Surrealists had virtually but not entirely requisitioned earlier that decade. Published alongside a text by Pierre Mabille under the title “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” the drawings were showcased under the high production values allowed by the review, making it an appropriate place for their display almost as objets d’art and giving a large audience unusual access to their fine detail for the first time. Their position at the head of the review speaks clearly enough for the importance the Surrealists perceived in Seurat’s drawings, yet this was not fully articulated by them and has received no comment by art historians since then.

In this paper, I relate the style of Seurat’s drawings and their appeal to Surrealism to the transformation Paris was undergoing in the 1880s from gas lighting to electric and show it was no coincidence that the genre of nocturnal photography began at the very moment Seurat started his own practice of night walking and sketching. This begins the work of rationalizing the inclusion of the drawings in a mainly Surrealist review, which is furthered by consideration of the contemporary photographs of Brassaï, which largely set the style of Minotaure. Brassaï was a relative latecomer to nocturnal urban photography, preceded by the Alpine painter and urban photographer Gabriel Loppé who photographed Paris and London at night from about 1889 until early in the next century. As with Loppé’s night photography, there is a strong chance that the nocturnal wandering and drawing of Seurat began because of important technological advancement in the street lighting of the city, from the full emergence of electricity in Paris in February 1878 when the Avenue de l’Opéra was lit. That is to say that this process of the electric illumination of the capital was beginning exactly as Seurat was instituting and refining his drawing style in and around Paris and it had become well established though not yet complete not long before Brassaï began to ← 39 | 40 → document the nightlife of the city. However, I argue that far from exploiting the possibilities given by electric lighting, Brassaï’s technique harked back to the mood of nineteenth-century Paris created by the literary precursors he admired – dimming the city in the service of a non-optical, haptic photography that was met by Seurat’s overwhelmingly tactile drawings, making the latter seem perfectly at home in the nocturnal pages of Minotaure.

Keywords: Georges Seurat, Brassaï, Paris, street lighting



As well as being celebrated as the leading artist-theorist of Neo-Impressionism, Georges Seurat has long been acknowledged as the creator of some of the greatest drawings in the modern canon. There are known to be five hundred in his oeuvre of which 270 date from the period that Seurat was establishing himself as an important artist,1 the mature style in which linearity gives way to tonality and delicate sfumato arriving at some point in the first half of 1882 or perhaps late in 1881, and they significantly decrease in number after 1885.2 Certain of them such as The Echo (1883) (figure 1) are recognizable as preparatory studies for his major paintings; others are entirely independent drawings, mainly figures, buildings, sketches of street scenes and country life and there are a few portraits (figure 2), sometimes of a scale and finish demonstrating that Seurat recognized them as major works. To an audience in the middle third or so of the twentieth century as much as to us today, their ‘surrealist’ attributes were evident and far more so than any to be found in Seurat’s paintings, yet there has been as little attempt to define those traits in the one medium as in the other in terms of the poetics of their content and style. ← 40 | 41 →

Figure 1: Georges Seurat, The Echo (1883). Conté crayon on paper, 31.2 x 24 cm. Yale University Art Gallery. Bequest of Edith Malvina K. Wetmore. 1966.80.11


Photo: Yale University Art Gallery. ← 41 | 42 →

Figure 2: Georges Seurat, The Artist’s Mother (1882-3). Conté crayon on paper, 30.5 x 23.3 cm. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Deeply ambiguous and powerfully obscure, the subject matter of Seurat’s drawings is not at all consistent nor are their settings or even the time of day they are supposed to illustrate, all of which will be discussed in this essay. But their vaporous content is married to and might be said to begin in their most striking characteristics coming in a combination of ← 42 | 43 → materials and process consisting in nearly all cases of thick, black, lustrous conté crayon (as opposed to chalky charcoal) pressed with varying degrees of pressure onto dense, lined Michallet paper, a sub-variety of Ingres paper that loses its milky whiteness following contact with the air.3 These give the appearance of a heavily veiled or lightly gridded frontal plane as textured as any painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir or any pastel by Edgar Degas, whilst that slightly uneven comparison of the optically “downy” layer of Renoir and the haptically coarse surface of Degas already sets out a visual terrain I will have to negotiate in considering Seurat’s drawings and their surrealisation in the 1930s.

There have been many attempts to put into words the stunning results regularly achieved with his materials by Seurat in which the terms “mystery” and “mysterious” appear with particular regularity as they had when they came in for consideration in Surrealism.4 This is perhaps because all other terminology stops short of accounting satisfactorily for the very strange effects, mood and atmosphere created by the multifarious passages of dark, greasy stick across light, grainy paper where Seurat’s astonishing versatility with the conté crayon fluctuates through many degrees of tone and technique from pitch black coating to thin masking to mazy, wiry scribble. The sensation of process they give off is even more flagrant than that conveyed by the dotted matrix ← 43 | 44 → of Seurat’s paintings, not just in the memory of the rub of the crayon enclosed and visible within the black, speckled trace it left behind (where the tuft of the paper is flattened under the darker areas and retained in the lighter ones) but also in the denotation of handmade manufacture inscribed inside the heavy surface of the paper and on its ragged edge, even though the latter has not always been shown in reproduction or exhibition and is more a feature of their publication and display today than in their own time.5

Surrealism’s main figure André Breton had probably read Guillaume Apollinaire’s adoring review of Lucie Cousturier’s 1914 article on Seurat’s drawings, which consisted almost entirely of a lengthy quotation from Cousturier as to how Seurat “proceeds as poets do” by negating realism through the imposition of his method on the external world, an argument close to the one made by Jean Hélion over twenty years later about the paintings.6 Breton might even have sought out Cousturier’s original piece in L’Art décoratif where it was accompanied by reproductions of seven drawings; in any case, he owned her 1921 monograph made up of that article and an earlier one on the paintings that had appeared in the same journal in 1912.7 When he and his friends in the Surrealist group turned to Seurat’s drawings, their aim was to adapt them to the technical and thematic concerns of Surrealism.

It is with the elicitation and elaboration of those concerns in the context of the lighting of Minotaure in the 1930s and that of the city of Paris as it was depicted there by Brassaï, that this essay will be taken up. This task – of rationalizing the Surrealist Seurat in Minotaure alongside the photographs of Brassaï but also of contextualizing Seurat’s drawings in the transitional period of street lighting in Paris in the late nineteenth century – has been made easier since 2000 due to a new bibliography on the subject of Parisian street lighting in French and English in the wake of the writings of Wolfgang Schivelbusch.8 Within art history and visual studies, the recent writings of S. Hollis Clayson, Sandy Isenstadt and ← 44 | 45 → others have been of particular value, while contextual material on the social history of Paris from French sources has also proved immensely instructive.9

From the Mysterious to the Marvellous

In May 1938, then, ten of Seurat’s drawings were reproduced as the lead article for the second to last number of Minotaure. Published alongside a text by Pierre Mabille under the (slightly inaccurate) title “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” (figure 3) the high production values maintained by the review made it an appropriate place to showcase Seurat’s woolly, apparently tenebrous drawings, meaning that a large audience was given unusual access to their fine detail for the first time, especially the five that were shown one to a page.10 Borrowed from the collections of César M. de Hauke and Félix Fénéon who were hard at work by then on Seurat’s catalogue raisonné, the position of these drawings at the head of the review speaks clearly enough for their perceived importance to the Surrealists and can even be interpreted as a public act of appropriation given that Minotaure had been the main site of Surrealist theory since 1933.11 It could well have been Breton who approached Fénéon and requested the drawings since he had known the older man for several years, or it might have been one of the others on the Surrealist-slanted editorial board of the review consisting by then of Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Éluard, Maurice Heine and Mabille. ← 45 | 46 →

The brief poetic statement by Mabille that accompanied the appearance of Seurat’s drawings in Minotaure is tilted towards Surrealism by means of the analogies it finds between the world and mind thanks to the poetic power of evocation held by those works. According to Mabille, they do not partake of the “fantastic nightmares” of the blackest night that the Surrealists admired in the Gothic tradition because Mabille viewed them as liminally set between day and night, white and black, in a “strange city of greys,” inducing, rather, “the mysteries of dawn and dusk.”12 In this sense, Mabille sought in the drawings the same in-between state that Breton demarcated as the psychic origin of Surrealist activity in the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) where the unanticipated yet descriptively telling phrase appears: “[t]here is a man cut in two by the window,” “heard” by Breton at a lower level of consciousness “[o]ne evening … before I fell asleep.”13

Positioned psychologically, conceptually and anecdotally in a half-world between conscious and unconscious, wakefulness and sleep, visual and aural, day and night, Breton’s phrase was a fitting locution to launch Surrealism on the back of its first experiments with automatic writing and it was never far from the minds of the Surrealists. Without citing it, Mabille argued for a similar transitional state in Seurat’s drawings, which existed also between the subject and object and between consciousness and light:

At the moment of waking, how do we know what the eye still contains of the dew of the dream and what it already perceives of the city? … A world plucked of its details bears the astonishment of the poet. Beings and things, forgetting their laborious manufacture, appear suddenly without a past from their nocturnal communion. Ghosts crystallize their spectral fluidity. Are their spun bodies going to dissipate as quickly in the light?14 ← 46 | 47 →

The psychological and pictorial state described by Mabille with reference to Seurat’s drawings, in which the “identity of light and consciousness suppresses the frontiers between man and things,” also comes towards the end of a long period in which Surrealism had reflected on the relational nature of the fabricated and found object.15 It dovetails, too, with Breton’s longstanding admiration for the stiff and artificial looking figures in Seurat’s drawings, underlined by the inclusion on the same page as Mabille’s brief text of Seurat’s almost ritualistic, static-filled drawing of a scene from the circus or theatre, probably, now titled Two Clowns (1886-8) even though it could almost be a rendering of faceless dummies in a shop window display.

Mabille’s text suggests comparison of Seurat’s drawings with Surrealist imagery that is specific to Minotaure and even more particularly to do with the photographic culture of Surrealism, as played out in that periodical and elsewhere. It entails their resemblance with certain forms of scientific photography, “mediumistic” activity and Surrealist experiment with light sensitive paper: the blurred lines of X-ray images; the ghostly fuzziness of “thoughtography” or “projected thermography”and some of the alleged psychic projective photography of the dead that was as current in the 1930s as it had been in the 1880s (and of which Seurat himself must have been aware); as well as the transparency, tonal variation and hard black ground of photograms such as the “rayographs” made by Man Ray since the early 1920s, some of which were shown in the tenth issue of Minotaure in winter 1937 a few months before Seurat’s drawings appeared there. All of these were so many means of seeing, envisioning or imagining beyond narrow opticality. As well as rescuing Seurat from the clutches of what Marcel Duchamp would refer to as “retinal art,” such comparators were also the means by which the drawings fitted into Minotaure, rhyming both formally and conceptually with its typical content as we can now explore further with reference to the photography of Brassaï.16 ← 47 | 48 →

Night and Light: The Textures of the City

Brassaï began walking Paris by night on his arrival in the city in 1924, the year of the publication of Breton’s Manifesto, but only began taking photographs of it late in 1929, in the years immediately after the Surrealists had advertised the nighttime walk as part of the lifestyle of modernity in Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant (1926), Philippe Soupault’s Last Nights of Paris (1928) and Breton’s Nadja (1928).17 He never joined the Surrealist group even though he was asked to in the early 1930s and he did not really understand the Surrealists’ attitude towards the world, yet his photography of the time shows a remarkable intuitive feel for the pictorial language of the surreal. Similar to them, Brassaï was drawn to a Parisian culture of the past and he pointed to Restif de la Bretonne’s Paris Nights (1788-94), Gérard de Nerval’s October Nights (1852) and Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen (1869), as well as the novels of Honoré de Balzac and Marcel Proust as antecedents and guides to his early specialism, nocturnal photography.18 Brassaï saw himself as an updated Constantin Guys as Charles Baudelaire had presented that artist in “The Painter of Modern Life” in the mid-nineteenth century,19 even though the set-up and exposure time of his medium often made for a far more protracted process than the sketch-and-go routine of Guys.20 Paradoxically, however, the slur in the image of the city caused by the long shutter speed of Brassaï and the haste of Guys’ first-and-last-draft modus operandi sometimes led to a common vision of movement and change. Sharing with Guys an attraction to the humdrum and fringe urban subject matter befitting modernity, Brassaï transformed it into something beguiling through his compelling compositional acuity and gift for seeking out the strange in the commonplace cloaked in alluring shades of chiaroscuro. ← 48 | 49 →

Published in 1932 and containing sixty-four photographs (including endpapers), Brassaï’s first superb collection Paris de nuit made his name and brought him to the attention of the Surrealists. That volume introduced a wide audience to a world that was at once familiar and unfamiliar in the sense that Brassaï granted access to a typical spectacle at the very same moment of finding and fixing the fissures in its spectacularity. In this little book, then, we are allowed to witness showgirls observed from above the stage or relaxing, not from the stalls or in performance; jaded not thrilled (female) spectators of the can-can (figure 4), so unlike the attentive, lecherous spectator of Seurat’s Chahut (1889-90); rarely visited corners of the city seen by night; individuals out for the evening caught waiting rather than behaving; empty sentry posts; public statues after the tourists have left; preparation of the Les Halles vegetable market before the shoppers arrive; a pause in the entertainment at the Cirque Medrano, the old haunt of Impressionists such as Degas (when it was called the Cirque Fernando) then Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Seurat, and later Picasso (who took Brassaï along with him);21 workmen invisibly mending Paris’s infrastructure; prostitutes, heavily posed in side streets; the homeless huddled under bridges by firelight; wet, empty streets. Capturing overlooked scenes of the city and the unspoken, unmemorable gaps that lie between the moments in the lives of its inhabitants, Brassaï’s liminal photography in Paris de nuit captures similar ‘interim states’ to those perceived by T. J. Clark in Degas’s art, showing Paris and its people as unready-to-be-seen, as though waiting for the time when they will be ready to be seen.22 ← 49 | 50 →

Figure 3: Title page of Pierre Mabille, “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” Minotaure, No. 11, May 1938, 2-9


Image courtesy the Book Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Although some of its subject matter touches quite specifically on Seurat’s – a few of the locations and some of the nighttime thrills, for instance, people at work, “ragpickers” and lone figures often turned away from the viewer – the main imagery of Paris de nuit, specifically its delineation of everyday pleasure and commerce in an unmistakably contemporary, mainly electrically and increasingly neon-lit Paris, is quite dissimilar to the anywhere and anywhen of Seurat’s drawings. Indeed, where the Hungarian Brassaï frequently pointed his camera at the major ← 50 | 51 → tourist sights, the Parisian Seurat never depicted those monuments of his city and even the wrecking ball of Haussmannisation seems to lie, for him, still in the future. This could well have been the outcome of dissimilar ideological positions taken on the nature of modernism that determined (because they were buried in) the respective media of the two: Brassaï’s photography captures the ephemeral detail of urban Paris whereas Seurat’s crayon blurs it in the service of the eternal in humanity (appropriately mummified to that end in some instances) to the extent that we are often uncertain as to whether we are still looking at the urban parts of the city at all in many drawings. Brassaï’s modernity is the amnesiac one of post-Haussmann Paris portrayed a generation after the fuss about the rebuilding had died down; Seurat’s is the one of the banlieue, typically “poetic” terrain for modern painters in the 1880s: that under-populated, working landscape that began just ahead of where Haussmann’s city ended – “the curious ground between town and country” as Clark put it – its literary melancholy rediscovered by means of Seurat’s aesthetic of grayscale indistinctness.23

Yet I want to draw another and more striking similarity between the two and it lies in a tendency towards the haptic as opposed to the optic, evident in Seurat’s twinning of this indistinctness with the textured terrain of his paper stock and in Brassaï’s suppression of the modern technology of electricity in favour of an epic nighttime rendered across the equally heavy surfaces of his photographs. Although there is detail of shop signage, cars, cobbles, clothing, architecture and so on in Paris de nuit, two factors serve to lightly smudge or smear the crisp edges, corners and facades of the garishly lit, electrified city quite apart from atmospheric conditions such as the fog and rain that Brassaï reveled in reproducing. One of these is his camera technology, which meant that exposure time at night without a flash could be as long as ten minutes leading to blur.24 This form of realism was perfect for the representation of time passing, speed, dancers in motion, weary or imperfect night vision, early hours tiredness, after hours wooziness or drug induced bleariness (figure 5). ← 51 | 52 →

Figure 4: Brassaï, Bal Tabarin, Montmartre, c. 1930-1932 (from Paris de nuit, 1932). Gelatin silver print, 23.2 x 18 cm. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle


Photo (C) Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI. (C) Estate Brassaï – RMN-Grand Palais.

The other, more important factor was Brassaï’s printing process, which was meant to be visible to contemporaries like the Surrealists in the reproductions in the final book but has largely been lost in later reprints. The original images were made using “sheet-fed” photogravure prints, the outcome of a matte process leading to a mild imprecision, haziness or even fuzziness, depending on the size of object in the camera field. Photogravure has its origin in the research and experiments of Henry Fox Talbot but was devised by the Czech printer Karel Klíč in 1879, about two years before ← 52 | 53 → Seurat shifted from his linear drawing style to the mature tonal one, though no connection has been made between his style and the one manufactured by Klíč and evident in his images to my knowledge.25 Although it is a machine process used by high volume presses as opposed to “hand-pulled” photogravure in which the ink is thicker and rubbed into the plate manually then printed onto higher quality paper, the technique used by Brassaï for Paris de nuit nevertheless allowed a warm and softening, delicate tonal scale that helped reduce the shrill electric light glare of modern Paris. There is no testimony that Brassaï had Seurat in mind but plenty of evidence among the matte not gloss pages of Paris de nuit that photogravure nudges the formal values of Brassaï’s photographs closer to Seurat’s drawings, often conferring a period quality reminiscent of gas lighting.

Although Brassaï has become renowned as the greatest recorder of the Paris night by camera, he was nowhere near the first, and as I am going to show, it was not a coincidence that nocturnal urban photography began in the same decade that Seurat started his own practice of night walking and sketching. While Brassaï was familiar and sometimes acquainted with his immediate precursors in the genre who published in the illustrated press such as Léon Gimpel, André Kertész and Germaine Krull, it is thought unlikely that he was aware of the Alpine painter and photographer Gabriel Loppé who walked the darkening streets of Paris and London with his camera from about 1889 till early in the next century, beginning around the time Seurat was winding down his own project of ← 53 | 54 → drawing what most have interpreted as the darkening city. Quentin Bajac notes the similarities between Loppé’s work and Brassaï’s, pointing to Loppé’s “interest in the effects of light and atmosphere (rain, mist, fog, gas lights, lightning),” (figure 6) effects that Seurat relied upon his subtle manipulation of the conté stick across the Michallet paper to capture.26

Figure 5: Brassaï, a carriage in front of Le Dôme, 1932 (from Paris de nuit, 1932). Gelatin silver prin. Collections extérieures, Brassaï


Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot (C) Estate Brassaï – RMN-Grand Palais ← 54 | 55 →

Like Loppé’s night photography, there is a strong chance that the nocturnal wandering and drawing of Seurat began because of important technological advancement in the street lighting of Paris though this has never been considered in the scholarship on the artist to my knowledge. Given the vast alteration it entailed in the illumination of the city, we must obviously view the style of Brassaï’s night photography also as an outcome of the transformation it wrought on the capital but only in the sense of a nostalgic resistance to electric lighting that was in line with the photographer’s reverence for a host of nineteenth century writers. Paris had been slow to adopt gas street lighting compared to other major European and American cities, introducing the new technology on a large scale only from 1829;27 however, by the mid-1840s that technology was well established in the private and public places of Paris inaugurating what Hollis Clayson called appropriately the “the glory days of gaslight” in the city.28 The brightness of the gas flame varied considerably, however, “from the dim tallow candle to the relatively bright wax candle.”29 Experimentation with electric arc lighting began as early as 1844 when the Place de la Concorde was lit by gigantic arc lights, yet electric would remain a minor technology for decades.30 Relocated by Haussmannisation, the Théâtre de la Gaîté was installed with 1,338 individual gas jets as late as 1862 (Baron Haussmann himself had no confidence in electric lighting) but it was due precisely to the oxygen usage of gas lighting causing poor air and headaches in the theatre as well as discoloration of the interiors of buildings that the slow transition to electric lighting began soon after that time.31 ← 55 | 56 →

One report of 1911 and another exactly coincident with the high point of Brassaï’s practice fixed the date of the full emergence of electricity at February 1878 when the Avenue de l’Opéra was lit for the Exposition universelle.32 The difference between the soft flame of gas and the brilliant, powerful one of electricity was widely remarked upon from the moment Thomas Edison’s incandescent electric light triumphed at the Exposition Internationale de l’Électricité in Paris in 1881.33 It was following that invention, as Wolfgang Schivelbusch put it, that “b]etween 1880 and 1920 electricity began to permeate modern, urban life,” and it had immediately impacted the display and appearance of art in the so-called “electric Salon” of 1879 and in critical debate as to whether or not Édouard Manet had captured the full intensity of the electrically lit café-concert in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882).34 That is to say that this process of the illumination of the capital was beginning exactly as Seurat was instituting and refining his drawing style in and around Paris and it had become well established not long before Brassaï began to document the nightlife of the city.

As well as making the city safer for night walkers like them, the arc lighting that began to appear selectively in a few of the main thoroughfares of Paris following on from Haussmannisation (which had rationalised and augmented the city’s gas lighting) would have made it more possible for Loppé to take reasonable photographs with a long enough exposure time and for Seurat to see what he was doing with his conté crayon, but this was only a partial transformation of the city.35 Just as pre-Haussmann Paris ← 56 | 57 → was and still is left behind in fragments here and there, so those and other streets continued to be lit by gas for many years to come, initially because the new technology was so expensive. Although Germain Seligman did not grasp the full nature of the social and technological transformation, she recognised that Seurat reveled in this transitional lighting:

Problems of local lighting were particularly dear to the artist, since the colour or tint of a given item is not only its original colour but the resultant [sic] of it in combination with the colours of neighbouring items as well as with the lighting, the irradiation of a gas lamp being so different from that of an oil lamp or bright sunshine.

The intensities of light from these different sources are astoundingly expressed in Seurat’s graphic work; it is almost as if the degree of their vibrations could be put into figures.36

Those drawings by Seurat that were realised at night in the city reflect an incongruously lit Paris, then, at the beginning of an adjustment between technologies, where the stroller could pass from broad streets brightly lit as though by daylight to the many narrower gas illuminated lanes full of shadows that were now so murky by contrast that the eye struggled at first to see anything there at all and where nighttime was not obliterated as it was by electric lighting.37 Illustrating this inconsistency, Schivelbusch reports that in the 1870s and 1880s, “several European capitals installed arc-lights on some of the main shopping streets, with the result that the surrounding streets, still lit by gas, seemed to be in twilight.”38 The ambiance that photography might capture could be one of crime and lurking danger or of potential pleasure or merely one of stylish modern urbanity, depending largely on who is doing the inferring.39 Such variety in lighting slowly disappeared along with the shadows when gas lighting increased in brightness in competition with electricity, ← 57 | 58 → which might help explain why Seurat’s drawings fizzle out after 1885 as both improved (though short-lived) gas alongside electric technology advanced from street lighting to full city lighting, accelerating towards a full electric supply for the city from 1888 following the destruction by fire the previous year of the gas lit Opéra Comique.40

By the end of the nineteenth century, electric street lighting had become so widespread in the major European cities that a Society of Night Photographers could be founded in London. Some critics already dismissed night photography as old hat as early as 1913, twenty years before Brassaï’s first contributions to Minotaure, the majority of which took place in the first half of the 1930s when the transition to electric lighting was well under way though still far from complete; in fact, Brassaï included in Paris de nuit a photograph of the oldest police station in Paris badly lit by a single gas lamp on the corner of rue de la Huchette (figure 7).41 ← 58 | 59 →

Figure 6: Gabriel Loppé, Quai de la Seine, the Eiffel Tower in the background under construction. c. 1889. Aristotype gelatin print, 17.9 x 12.9 cm. Paris, musée d’Orsay


Photo (C) Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt. ← 59 | 60 →

Black and White: The Monochromatic Hapticity of Minotaure

Richly illustrated with photographs performing many roles, Minotaure explored the Surrealist potential of the medium to a far greater extent than previous Surrealist journals partly because its status as a luxury art publication allowed or even demanded that it deepen its familiarity with photography.42 The house photographer of Minotaure was the relatively inexperienced Brassaï rather than the older and better-known Man Ray who already had a lengthy association with Surrealism; or at least it was Brassaï’s photographs that most closely complemented the intimately linked, metaphorical themes of light and shadow that are present throughout the run of that journal from 1933-39.43 One writer calls this thematic pattern of the nocturnal and diurnal extended throughout Minotaure “a supreme rhythm watched over by Albert Skira,” continuing as follows:

one of the proposed itineraries for readers consisted in following, first on the page, then in the development of the texts and illustrations, the vicissitudes of blacks and whites, the touches of colour, the relations between night and day… Now the image itself conspicuously carries in its inky zones a cargo of night. But over that night the gloss of the paper immediately draws a glaze of light, in connivance with the bright zones of the photograph. Seduction lays its snare on the borderline between light and darkness.44

Such editorial intervention can be seen in the placement of essays or poems by Breton, Mabille, Benjamin Péret, Paul Recht, the poet and novelist Louise de Vilmorin, the eighteenth-century English Surrealist precursor Edward Young and others. The seventh issue in June 1935 was even subtitled “Le côté nocturne de la nature” with no less than seventeen of Brassaï’s photographs heavily in evidence. Also illustrating the texts of several of these writers, his camera work enriched Minotaure in its early days to the point that it now characterises most powerfully for us the mood of the review.45 ← 60 | 61 →

‘Plunging the reader visually into the world of darkness,’ Paris de nuit appeared in December 1932, only two months before the first issue of Minotaure hit the shops, where Brassaï’s photographs of Picasso’s studios at Rue La Boétie in Paris and Boisgeloup, ‘photographed by day and night,’ could be found accompanying spectacularly Breton’s major statement on the artist.46 Brassaï completely rejuvenated the genre of nocturnal photography in Paris de nuit after its early century malaise, of course, and Minotaure was one of the periodicals that benefitted, though like the far more popular magazine Détective to which he also contributed, Brassaï’s work fit seamlessly its Surrealist themes. Actually, given this chronology, it might be more accurate to say that Brassaï informed the subject matter of Minotaure as much as he drew upon it since his photographic signature style predates the review as does most of his oeuvre of night photography.47

Although Brassaï’s contributions to Minotaure peter out after the June 1935 issue, his land of shadows had helped set a monochromatic tonal theme that would be continued through the whole run of the review. Because it was printed on glossy paper, Minotaure could not do justice to the thick cloaking blackness of night time captured by Brassaï in the very surfaces of the pages of Paris de nuit by means of the process of photogravure, yet something of this is retained visually in the review, if not through actual touch, in the appropriately fuzzy, furry textures of his photographs and specifically in the softly lit, full page photographs of moths in the same June 1935 issue, as though the medium were meant to focus the properties of their velvety bodies and thinly-veined wings (figure 8). Close to Paris de nuit though admittedly not so physical, the high quality of reproduction in Minotaure constantly has this effect of turning the visual tactile, and alongside its thematics of the monochrome shifting into those of the nocturne, it must have made the possibility of reproducing Seurat’s crepuscular drawings so rewardingly – richer and in finer detail than had been possible previously – irresistible to the editors. ← 61 | 62 →

Figure 7: Brassaï, police station c. 1930 (from Paris de nuit, 1932). Gelatin silver print 23 x 17 cm. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle


Photo (C) Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adam Rzepka (C) Estate Brassaï – RMN-Grand Palais.

Breton, Éluard and Mabille knew, no doubt, that Paul Morand had brought up precisely this subject of the effects created when street lighting brought out the textures of the city in his introduction to Paris de nuit ← 62 | 63 → by extensive quotation from Julian Green’s just-published novel Strange River (1932), which portrays a malevolent vision of night that is close to that available in Seurat’s drawings and Brassaï’s photography (though by no means interpreted as such by all):

In all great cities there are quarters which only begin to reveal their true character at nightfall [la pénombre]. In the daytime they conceal themselves by adopting a mask of triviality and innocence which deceives everyone… But at dusk [à la brune], the same place wakes to a life which is like a parody of death. Its smiling features become drawn and livid, and even black objects grow pale and shine with a sort of funereal brilliance, content, as it were, to return to life again. The gas jets [becs de gaz] bring about this transformation; with the first shaft of their artificial sunlight this nocturnal country robes itself in shadows and things begin to undergo marvellous and sinister changes. The sleek sensual trunks of the plane trees suddenly appear to be made of some leprous stone, while the pavements ape the shades and rich marbling of drowned bodies; even the water becomes coated with all the sparkle of metal; everything abandons its familiar daylight aspect to assume an appearance of lifelessness.48

Evidence that this “monochromatic hapticity” was deeply attuned to, and might even have impacted both the visuality and practice of Surrealism can be found in the instances of the movement’s new, heavily textural technique of decalcomania, examples of which were reproduced in black and white in the eighth number of Minotaure in 1936, evoking not only night time views of clouds, valleys and mountain ranges, but also mildewed or mouldy walls, downy fabrics, stippled volcanic rock formations, pock marked cave interiors and ribbed grottoes.

The manifestly nocturnal impression induced by the visually and haptically rich process of decalcomania – a method of creating three dimensional smeared and blotched landscapes, objects or perhaps bodily interiors by pressing oil or gouache between two surfaces, introduced to the group by Oscar Domínguez who initially used black gouache – is confirmed in the text that accompanied the examples shown in Minotaure, written by Péret and titled (on the contents page) “Entre Chien et Loup.”49 Denoting dusk, the moment when street lighting is turned on and the shadowy world minus the electric glare made known by Brassaï came into being, that French term also situated the temporal atmospherics of Seurat’s drawings according to Mabille eighteen months later – drawings that evoke, in his words, “the mysteries of the dawn and dusk” – and for that reason they are fully at home in the twilight world that Minotaure had made its own, to the extent that it is barely noticeable that the issue in which they appeared (as ← 63 | 64 → well as the previous one) were entirely and appropriately printed in black and white. Their appeal to the Surrealists and appearance in Minotaure are perfectly logical in the context of the vogue for night photography sparked by Paris de nuit in France, Britain and America that continued throughout the 1930s and had many imitators.50


Although I would argue that it was not so much the distinctive qualities of Brassaï’s photography itself that led to the full acknowledgement of a Surrealist Seurat in Minotaure but rather the light and shade style of the review that Brassaï had a significant role in fostering, together with the larger trend for the nocturne in Surrealism and beyond extending through the thirties, there is strong evidence that the Surrealists saw a direct connection between the artist and the photographer. This comes at the back of the same eleventh issue of Minotaure that starred Seurat where a single page prose poem by Paul Recht titled “L’homme qui perd son ombre” faces a full page photograph by Brassaï – his first in the journal since the seventh, June 1935 number – obviously meant to mirror the presence of the drawings by Seurat at the front of that issue of the review.51 Recht’s text is typical Minotaure fare as that has been discussed in this essay; borne by a poetics of polarities – black and white, night and day, man and his shadow, earth and sky, yes and no, the Equator and the Poles of the Earth – it might even have been inspired by Seurat’s drawings given that the replacement of person by shadow is an available reading of them and that the text lies in relation to them at the opposite extremity of the journal. It is met by Brassaï’s photograph of a profile in shadow cast by a self-portrait by then sculptor (but future Western movie actor) Jacques Berthier with a further three-quarter, conventionally lit photograph of the same sculpture reduced in size and superimposed over the top of it.

Although it is rather arty and no match for the night photographs he had become famous for and by then largely left behind, Brassaï’s photograph like Recht’s poem sounds a neat-enough echo of the “phantoms” of Seurat’s drawings lauded by Mabille at the other end of that number of Minotaure as occupying a world “[r]id of … too precise shadows,” demonstrating that the direct connection I make between them in this essay had already been made by the Surrealists.52

1 Jodi Hauptman, “Introduction,” Jodi Hauptman (ed.), Georges Seurat: The Drawings (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2000), 9-15, 10.

2 Robert L. Herbert, Seurat’s Drawings [1962] (London: Studio Vista, 1965), 44; Richard Thomson, Seurat (Oxford and New York: Phaidon, 1985), 23.

3 For an excellent account of the materials used in Seurat’s drawings, see Karl Buchberg, “Seurat: Materials and Techniques,” in Georges Seurat: The Drawings, ed. Hauptman, 31-41; and for more information about the sources, quality and sizes of Seurat’s paper, see Anthea Callen, “Hors-d’oeuvre: Edges, Boundaries, and Marginality, with Particular Reference to Seurat’s Drawings,” in Seurat Re-Viewed Paul Smith (ed.) (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009), 18-42, 27-8, 34-7.

4 The terms and their variants are to be found in Claude Roger-Marx, Seurat (Paris: Les Éditions G. Crès & Co., 1931), 12; Pierre Mabille, “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” Minotaure, 11 (May 1938): 2-9, 3; Meyer Schapiro, “Seurat” [1958], Modern Art, 19th and 20th Centuries: Selected Papers, Vol. 2 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1978), 101-09, 104; Herbert, Seurat’s Drawings, 74; Thomson, Seurat, 73, 134; Shiff, “Seurat Distracted,” in Georges Seurat: The Drawings, ed. Hauptman, 16-29, 19; Richard Thomson, “The Imperatives of Style: Seurat’s Drawings, 1886-1891,” in Georges Seurat: The Drawings, ed. Hauptman, 169-83, 183; Bridget Riley, ‘Seurat as Mentor,’ in Georges Seurat: The Drawings, ed. Hauptman, 185-95, 191, 195. The closest painting in mood to the drawings is Parade du Cirque (1887-8), which is virtually their culmination and has received the same descriptive epithet from Alfred H. Barr, Jr., The Museum of Modern Art First Loan Exhibition, New York, November 1929: Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1929), 26; William Innes Homer, Seurat and the Science of Painting (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1964), 175; Françoise Cachin, Seurat: Le rêve de l’art-science (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), 96; and Joan U. Halperin, “The Ironic Eye/I in Jules Laforgue and Georges Seurat” and Richard Hobbs, “Seurat and Mallarmean Thought” in Smith (ed.), Seurat Re-Viewed, 113-46, 128; 223-40, 234.

5 As late as the 1980s, the drawings had their “‘saw-toothed’ deckle edges” routinely cropped: see Callen, “Hors-d’oeuvre,” in Seurat Re-Viewed, ed. Smith, 34-5.

6 Guillaume Apollinaire, “Seurat’s Drawings” [1914], Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Reviews 1902-1918 [1960], ed. Leroy C. Breunig, trans. Susan Suleiman (Boston, Mass: MFA, 2001), 379-80, 379. See Jean Hélion, “Seurat as a Predecessor,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 69/44 (July 1936): 4 and 8-11 and 13-14.

7 Lucie Cousturier, “Les Dessins de Seurat,” L’Art decoratif 31 (January-June 1914): 99-106 (Apollinaire quotes extensively from 103); Lucie Cousturier, Seurat (Paris: Éditions Georges Crès et Cie, 1921).

8 Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century [1983], trans. Angela Davies (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1995).

9 Hollis Clayson, “Outsiders: American Painters and Cosmopolitans in the City of Lights, 1871-1914,” in La France dans le regard des États-Unis/France as Seen by the United States, ed. Frédéric Monneyron and Martine Xiberras (Perpignan and Montpellier: Presses Universitaires de Perpignan and Publications de l’Université Paul Valéry, 2006), 57-71; Sandy Isenstadt, Margaret Maile Petty and Dietrich Neumann (eds.), Cities of Light: Two Centuries of Urban Illumination (New York and London: Routledge, 2015). For the social history, see François Caron and Fabienne Cardot (eds.), Histoire générale de l’électricité en France, Vol. 1, Espoirs et conquêtes 1881-1918 (Paris: Fayard, 1991); Simone Delattre, Les Douze heures noires: La nuit à Paris au XIXe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2000); Robert Friedel and Paul Israel with Bernard S. Finn, Edison’s Electric Light: The Art of Invention (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2010).

10 The 1882 drawing sometimes titled Night Walk and the one of 1882-3 now known as The Black Bow, each given a full page in Minotaure, had been reproduced before: see César M. de Hauke, Seurat et son oeuvre, Vol. 1 (Paris: Gründ, 1961), 98, 106.

11 Although the de Hauke catalogue raisonné would only arrive in 1961, its research is mentioned as already underway in April 1935 by Daniel Catton Rich, Seurat and the Evolution of La Grande Jatte (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1935), vii. Even though it appeared well after his death in 1944, Fénéon was the true author of that publication according to John Rewald, “Félix Fénéon (2),” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 33 (1948): 107-26, 124.

12 “cauchemars fantastique,” “l’étrange cité des gris,” “les mystères de l’aube et du crépuscule,” Mabille, “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” 3.

13 André Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism” [1924], Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972), 1-47, 21.

14 “A l’heure de l’éveil, comment savoir ce que l’oeil contient encore de la rosée du rêve et ce qu’il perçoit déjà de la ville? … Un monde dépouillé de détails supporte l’étonnement du poète. Êtres et choses, oublieux de leur laborieuse fabrication, surgissent sans passé de la communion nocturne. Les fantômes cristallisent leur fluidité. Vont-ils dissiper aussi vite leurs corps tissés dans la lumière?” Mabille, “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” 3.

15 “L’identité de la lumière et de la conscience supprime les frontières entre l’homme et les choses,” Mabille, “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” 2. See especially André Breton, “Surrealist Situation of the Object: Situation of the Surrealist Object” [1935], Manifestoes of Surrealism, 255-278.

16 See Alain Jouffroy, “Interview exclusive, Marcel Duchamp: l’idée de jugement devrait disparaître,” Arts 491 (24-30 November 1954): 13. The term soon caught on in Surrealism: see André Breton, “Présent des Gaules” [1955], Le Surréalisme et la peinture [1965] (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 333-6, 336.

17 Marja Warehime, Brassaï: Images of Culture and the Surrealist Observer (Baton Rouge, LA and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996), 14.

18 Brassaï, “Rencontre avec Brassaï,” Culture et communication 27 (May 1980): 8-15, 10; Sylvie Aubenas, “Brassaï and Paris by Night,” in Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, ed. Sylvie Aubenas and Quentin Bajac [2012], trans. Ruth Sharman (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013), 95-123, 103. Particularly close to Brassaï’s envisionment of unseen Paris are the passages on Les Halles in the early hours by Gérard de Nerval, “October Nights” [1852], Selected Writings, trans. Richard Sieburth (Penguin: London, 1999), 204-44, 220-27.

19 Aubenas and Bajac, Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, 196.

20 Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” [1859-63], The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays [1964], ed. and trans. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon, 1995), 1-41.

21 See the account of their visit to the Medrano and its outcome in Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso [1964], trans. Jane Marie Todd (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), 18-20; and Brassaï, “Rencontre avec Brassaï,” 10.

22 “The painter has chosen a moment in between illusions, so to speak, in which the audience lets off steam and the corps de ballet stands at ease,” T. J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), 224.

23 Clark, Painting of Modern Life, 25.

24 Quentin Bajac, “The Latent Images of the Night,” in Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, ed. Aubenas and Bajac, 185-216, 198.

25 William Crawford, The Keepers of Light: A History & Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes (Dobbs Ferry, New York: Morgan & Morgan, 1979), 246. For a classic study of the process that is contemporary with Brassaï’s use of it, see H. Mills Cartwright, Photogravure: A Text Book on the Machine and Hand Printed Processes (Boston: American Photographic Publishing Co., 1930).

One writer on late nineteenth-century art who was resistant to formalism unintentionally linked Seurat’s drawings for Sunday on the Grande Jatte (1884) (1884-6) to Surrealist themes through photography (though, admittedly, the central sentence is a non sequitur): “Seurat’s drawings are strongly reminiscent of photographic negatives. It is uncertain whether the artist was influenced by photography, but it seems not unlikely. There is no doubt that by his style of drawing Seurat endeavoured to attain a carefully calculated effect. The drawings give a strong feeling of dream and illusion, a feeling that is augmented by the tranquility and firm stability that characterize the figures. Here Seurat gives a view of the world in which the objective realities are changed to a strongly subjective, contemplative picture with marked aesthetic aims,” Sven Lövgren, The Genesis of Modernism: Seurat, Gauguin, van Gogh and French Symbolism in the 1880s, trans. Albert Read (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1959), 52. Lövgren repeated these terms for the Grande Jatte itself, referring to its “fluctuation between dream and reality,” as though his departure from modernist formalism and affirmation of Seurat’s cultural context demanded a language close to Surrealism; indeed, writing in the period after the historicisation of Surrealism, Lövgren was at ease if imprecise in using the words “surrealist” and “surrealistic” to characterise some of the poetry and art of the 1880s: Lövgren, Genesis of Modernism, 73 No. 2, 66, 67.

26 Aubenas and Bajac, Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, 190. The suggestion made in this book that Loppé photographed Paris in London by night “between 1880 and 1900” is probably inaccurate; no nocturnal photograph by him has been securely dated earlier than 1889: Aubenas and Bajac, Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, 190. I am very grateful to S. Hollis Clayson for guidance on this matter.

27 Andreas Blüm and Louise Lippincott, Light! The Industrial Age 1750-1900: Art & Science, Technology & Society (Amsterdam and Pittsburgh, PA: The Van Gogh Museum and The Carnegie Museum of Art, 2000), 182.

28 Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 32; Clayson in Monneyron and Xiberras (eds.), La France dans le regard des États-Unis, 67.

29 Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 41.

30 Clayson in Monneyron and Xiberras (eds.), La France dans le regard des États-Unis/France as Seen by the United States, 68.

31 Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 47, 50; Blüm and Louise Lippincott, Light! 166. It is worth noting as a measure of local government priorities that even though its supposed medicinal effects were promoted as a selling point at first, the danger posed by gas lighting to health through its contamination of the natural environment was well known from at least the early 1850s: Martin Bressani, “Paris: Light into Darkness, Gaslight in Nineteenth-Century Paris,” in Cities of Light, ed. Isenstadt, Petty and Neumann, 29; Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 40. For a scrupulous narration of the transformation of Parisian lighting from the Middle Ages to the 1880s, see Delattre, Les Douze heures noires, 79-118.

32 A. N. Holcombe, “The Electric Lighting System of Paris,” Political Science Quarterly, 26/1 (March 1911): 122-32, 122; M. R. Boutteville, “L’Éclairage public à Paris des origines à la fin du XIXe siècle,” Revue scientifique 20 (28 October 1933): 609-15, 615. The second of these dating from the period of Paris de nuit and Minotaure was summarised in English: Anonymous, “History of the Public Lighting of Paris,” Nature 132/3345 (9 December 1933): 888-9. Also see the rapturous, contemporary account a few months after its illumination of “the Avenue de l’Opéra inundated with electric light; Rue Quatre Septembre shining with its thousand gas jets,” Edmondo de Amicis, Studies of Paris, trans. W. W. Cady (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1879), 32. The lighting of the Avenue de l’Opéra is a key event in the chronology given in the massive history of electricity in France by Caron and Cardot (eds.), Histoire générale de l’électricité en France, Vol. 1, 162.

33 Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 58-61; Friedel and Israel with Finn, Edison’s Electric Light, 161, 179-81; Clayson in Monneyron and Xiberras (eds.), La France dans le regard des États-Unis/France as Seen by the United States, 68. For the reaction of the French press to Edison at the 1881 exposition, see Robert Fox, Science, Industry, and the Social Order in Post-Revolutionary France (Aldershot and Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1995), 223-35.

34 Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 73; Clark, Painting of Modern Life, 211.

35 Social historians debate the effect of city lighting on crime. Although the two views are not necessarily contradictory, see the association of gaslight with crime and prostitution in Blüm and Louise Lippincott, Light! 212; and the opinion that in the mid-nineteenth century, even before electric lighting, “[m]ore lights meant more tourists and less crime,” Christopher Prendergast, Paris and the Nineteenth Century (Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992), 32.

36 Germain Seligman, The Drawings of Georges Seurat (New York: Curt Valentin, 1947), 32.

37 See the report of the effects on the eye of varying strengths of street lighting quoted from the journal Progrès médical in 1880 by Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 118. I take the idea of the obliteration of night by electric and its preservation by gas from Bressani in Isenstadt, Petty and Neumann (eds.), Cities of Light, 28.

38 Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 115.

39 Paul Morand’s foreword for Paris de nuit chooses the themes of criminality and mystery in its prologue, referring briefly to Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris (1842-3), Alexandre Dumas’ Mohicans of Paris (1854) and Surrealist favourite Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764): Paul Morand in Brassaï, Paris by Night (Boston, New York, London: Bulfinch, 2001), n.p.

40 Holcombe, “Electric Lighting System of Paris,” 122-3.

41 Aubenas and Bajac, Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, 190, 192. Also see the remarks made in 1928 about the “faulty gas jet,” the “group of gasometers … ten large black tanks that one might have thought to be the prey of giant serpents,” and the “simple gas jets” – where the term “bec de gaz” appears with identical frequency to the much older though repurposed “réverbère” (“street lamp”) – in Philippe Soupault, Last Nights of Paris [1928], trans. William Carlos Williams (Cambridge: Exact Change, 1992), 94, 117, 143 (for the previous, mid eighteenth- to mid nineteenth-century usage of “réverbère” to denote oil reflector lanterns, see Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night, 87, 93, 184). As late as the 1950s, a detective novel by a former Surrealist that partakes of the nocturnal atmosphere of the drawings and photographs I am looking at here records the following on the rundown Rue Blottière in the fourteenth arrondissement: “[k]eeping a bleary watch over the door stood an ancient street lamp, still lit by gas. There aren’t many of them left, and when you do see one you’re always surprised not to see a body swinging from it,” Léo Malet, The Rats of Montsouris [1955], trans. Peter Hudson (London: Pan, 1991), 29.

42 One source avows of Minotaure: “photographs are visually dominant as they had never been [in Surrealist journals] before,” Dawn Ades, “Photography and the Surrealist Text,” Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingstone (eds.), L’Amour fou: Photography and Surrealism (New York and London: Abbeville Press, 1985), 153-89, 179.

43 For Brassaï as the dominant photographer at the review, see Hendel Teischer, “Nocturnal Flesh/Photographic Delights,” trans. John Care (Geneva: Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Focus on Minotaure: The Animal-Headed Review, 1987), 201-19.

44 Jean Starobinski, “Day Side and Night Side,” trans. A. St. J. Shawcross, Focus on Minotaure, 31-40, 35.

45 The art critic Maurice Raynal probably introduced Brassaï to Tériade, the artistic director of Minotaure, shortly before editor Albert Skira launched the new review: see Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, 2-3; Annick Lionel-Marie, “Letting the Eye Be Light,” Brassaï: “No Ordinary Eyes” (London: Hayward Gallery, 2001), 151-64, 160. For an early attempt to “think about Brassaï in the context of Surrealism” by associating the photograph as index and mis en abyme with the occurrence of the same devices in Surrealist writing, which winds up as too theoretically insular (historically ungrounded), see Rosalind Krauss, “Nightwalkers,” Art Journal 41/1 (spring 1981): 33-8, 34.

46 Sylvie Aubenas and Quentin Bajac, “From Paris After Dark to The Secret Paris of the 30s,” Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, 11-33, 15; “photographié de jour et de nuit,” André Breton, “Picasso dans son élément,” Minotaure 1 (February 1933): 4-22, 15.

47 Along with the editors of the review, Brassaï is credited with giving Minotaure the unique tone that has given it such long-lasting appeal by Édouard Jaguer, Les Mystères de la chambre noire: le surréalisme et la photographie (Paris: Flammarion, 1982), 66.

48 Julien Green, The Strange River [1932], trans. Vyvyan Holland (London: William Heinemann, 1933), 22-3 (translation modified).

49 Benjamin Péret, “Entre Chien et Loup,” Minotaure 8 (June 1936): 19-24.

50 See the repercussions of the book in the popular press, galleries and foreign newspapers in Aubenas and Bajac, Brassaï: Paris Nocturne, 194; and Ian Walker, City Gorged with Dreams: Surrealism and Documentary Photography in Interwar Paris (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2002), 146.

51 Paul Recht, “L’homme qui perd son ombre,” Minotaure 11 (May 1938): 63.

52 “Débarrassé … ombres trop précises,” Mabille, “Dessins inédits de Seurat,” 3.