2016 ESNA Conference: City of Sin

Toulouse-Lautrec / The Divan / 1893

City of Sin: Representing the Urban Underbelly in the Nineteenth Century
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: 19-20 May 2016

“The pageant of fashionable life and the thousands of floating existences – criminals and kept women – which drift about in the underworld of a great city […] all prove to us that we have only to open our eyes to recognize our heroism […]. The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects.”

– Charles Baudelaire, Salon of 1846


In conjunction with the exhibitions Easy Virtue: Prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910 (Van Gogh Museum) and Breitner: Girl in Kimono (Rijksmuseum), ESNA (European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art) organizes its annual two-day international conference around the topic of the ‘urban underbelly’ and its depiction in nineteenth-century art. Both exhibitions explore the depiction of women in the margins of urban life – the prostitute, the model, working (class) women, and the women of the entertainment industry. The conference seeks to broaden this perspective by exploring topics concerned with all kinds of practitioners and practices considered morally deviant. Ranging from prostitution and pornography to criminals and their pursuers, from gambling and substance abuse to dandies and bohemians, from the homeless and the urban poor to the insane and the ill: City of Sin will cover urban marginality in the widest sense.

The conference takes as its motto Baudelaire’s 1846 call to artists to open their eyes to the darker side of nineteenth-century metropolitan life, not usually a topic of serious art historical study. In this sense, the conference aims to form a counter-canon that will provide a fuller picture of the ‘painting of modern life’. Rather than the daylight scenes featuring the typical flâneur so well known to the broader public, the conference will focus on the depiction of things that occur in the shadows.




Normal registration: €80 | Student registration: €30
Online registration for the conference is now open.
You will find the registration form on the Rijksmuseum website


Organizing committee: Rachel Esner (University of Amsterdam); Jenny Reynaerts (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam); Lisa Smit (Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam)

Scientific committee: Nienke Bakker (Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam); Richard Thomson (University of Edinburgh); Marjan Sterckx (Ghent University); Rachel Esner (University of Amsterdam); Jenny Reynaerts (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam); Jan Dirk Baetens (Rijksuniversiteit Nijnmegen); Mayken Jonkman (RKD); Maite van Dijk (Van Gogh Museum)




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  1. Pingback: UPCOMING CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS: City of Sin: Representing the Urban Underbelly in the Nineteenth Century - Sharon Hecker

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