Ellery Foutch

Position title: A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (2011-2013)

Art History, UW-Madison

Portrait image of Ellery Foutch outdoors

Arresting Beauty: The Perfectionist Impulse of 19th-century Art and Culture

The pursuit of perfection pervades 19th-century American art and culture. While historical interpretations of this era posit a binary opposition of competing desires—an embrace of progress and new technologies, versus anti-modernist nostalgia—Foutch’s work identifies and analyzes a previously unstudied phenomenon: the desire to stop time at a “perfect moment,” pausing the cycle of growth, degeneration, and rebirth by isolating and arresting a perfect state, forestalling decay or death. Yet ironically, this very perfection and its suspension are incompatible with vitality, suffocating or eliminating organic life. Four case studies in diverse visual media illuminate this concept of arrested perfection and its ultimate impossibility: Titian Peale’s butterfly portfolios and specimen cases; Martin Johnson Heade’s “Gems of Brazil” hummingbird paintings; films, photographs, and sculptures of bodybuilder Eugen Sandow; and Harvard’s collection of Glass Flowers by the Blaschka family. At the IRH and Center for the Humanities, Ellery will continue developing this book manuscript for publication.

Ellery Foutch comes to Madison from the University of Pennsylvania, where she recently completed her Ph.D. in the History of Art, specializing in American art. At Penn, her research was supported by fellowships from the ACLS/Mellon Foundation, the Wyeth Foundation and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (PACHS). Ellery earned her M.A. from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and her B.A. from Wellesley College.