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Cover for Nocturne


Night in American Art, 1890–1917

Hélène Valance, Jane Marie Todd (Translated by)


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A beautifully illustrated look at the vogue for night landscapes amid the social, political, and technological changes of modern America

The turn of the 20th century witnessed a surge in the creation and popularity of nocturnes and night landscapes in American art. In this original and thought-provoking book, Hélène Valance investigates why artists and viewers of the era were so captivated by the night. Nocturne examines works by artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington, Edward Steichen, and Henry Ossawa Tanner through the lens of the scientific developments and social issues that dominated the period. Valance argues that the success of the genre is connected to the resonance between the night and the many forces that affected the era, including technological advances that expanded the realm of the visible, such as electric lighting and photography; Jim Crow–era race relations; America’s closing frontier and imperialism abroad; and growing anxiety about identity and social values amid rapid urbanization. This absorbing study features 150 illustrations encompassing paintings, photographs, prints, scientific illustration, advertising, and popular media to explore the predilection for night imagery as a sign of the times.

Praise For Nocturne: Night in American Art, 1890–1917

“Hélène Valance has written a much-needed history of how image makers reacted to the ways in which the American night was lit, exploited, and commercialized from the turn of the twentieth century until the U.S. entry into World War I.”—William Sharpe,

“With Nocturne, Valance adds a new chapter to the scholarship on artists fascinated by American nightscapes and places them within the context of history.”—Alfonso Huerta, ARLIS/NA Reviews

"Art historian Hélenè Valance has written an innovative overview of American paintings of the night . . . The writing is eloquent, sophisticated, and accessible, and the production values are high, with beautiful color reproductions of art on nearly every page."—T. Nygard, Choice

Jane Marie Todd’s translation of Nocturne: Night in American Art, 1890-1917 by Hélène Valance is a finalist in the French American Foundation's 2019 Translation Prize, non-fiction category

Yale University Press, 9780300223996, 256pp.

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

About the Author

 Hélène Valance is assistant professor at the Université de Franche-Comté.