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"A La Place Clichy"


Eugène-Samuel Grasset
15 3/4'' x 11 3/8''

Original chromo-lithograph from Les Maîtres de l'Affiche, Plate 18

The Belle Époque was the height of the colonial age, the military and political manifestation of a fascination with the exotic and unknown that had existed in Europe since the seventeenth century. Europe was awash with new cultural influences from China, the Middle East, and Japan, taking the form of everything from Chinoiserie decoration to faux-Moorish architecture. These fantastical visions of new peoples and cultures made the world seem like an endless sea of possibilities to Europeans. At the same time, their reduction of whole foreign cultures into decorative motifs echoes Edward Said’s position on Orientalism as a reflection of imperialist hostilities toward the East. This anxiety about “the other” pervades the visual language of modern advertising. This disjunction between reality and fantasy in the colonial era comes to a head in Grasset’s 1896 department store advertisement, “A La Place Clichy.” A white man in a pith hat and suit examines the goods of an Arab carpet seller. As the customer appraises the blind merchant’s wares, he avoids looking up. These men do not interact like human beings but relate to each other only through their respective cultural tropes. The nature of the piece can be summed up in one question—what is a camel doing in a department store?

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