In this timely and provocative study, Hubert Robert's paintings of urban ruins are interpreted as manifestations of a new consciousness of time, one shaped by the uncertainties of an economy characterized by the dread-inducing expansion of credit, frenzied speculation on the stock exchange, and bold ventures in real estate. As the favored artist of an enterprising Parisian elite, Robert is a prophetic case study of the intersections between aesthetics and modernity's dawning business culture.
At the center of this lively narrative lie Robert's depictions of the ruins of Parismacabre and spectacular paintings of fires and demolitions created on the eve of the French Revolution. Drawing on a vast range of materials, Futures & Ruins understands these artworks as harbingers of a modern appetite for destruction. The paintings are examined as expressions of the pleasures and perils of a risk economy. This captivating accountlavishly illustrated with rarely reproduced objectsrecovers the critical significance of the eighteenth-century cult of ruins and of Robert's art for our times.
Nina L. Dubin is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Advance praise for Futures & Ruins
Nina Dubin's incisive readings of Hubert Robert's ruin pictures, seen through the lens of period financial fears and speculations, will completely alter the prevailing wisdom about these paintings. These artworks were hitherto interpreted exclusively via the rhetorics of "the picturesque," but Dubin brings their salient modernities to life. The context of economic risk and the concomitant imagination of calamity that she evokes in this beautifully written book could not be more topical if she had invented the whole thing. And she did not!
Hollis Clayson, Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern University
An astute reader of images and their cultural implications, Nina Dubin proposes in this beautifully produced study of Hubert Robert's enigmatic apocalypses a new understanding of how late-eighteenth-century aesthetics responded to the precarious temporality of dislocations that redefined economic value, politics, urbanism, and the very sense of what history might be.
Thomas Kavanagh, Augutus R. Street Professor of French, Yale University
Available October 2010