Sarony’s Living Pictures: Performance, Photography and Gilded Age American Art


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art


This dissertation explores the photographer Napoleon Sarony’s largely overlooked role in shaping American visual culture from the late 1860s to 1900, and proposes the concept of ‘living pictures’ as a framework for understanding the complex fusion of art and performance that constituted a central strand of artistic production in the late nineteenth-century United States. During this time, living pictures connoted a number of vivid modes of representation, including dramatic portraiture, tableaux vivants, and the display of motion pictures. This study further employs the term to describe the mannered mode of self-performance characteristic of Gilded Age American artists, and the eager acceptance of theater’s comingling of fact and fiction that informed contemporary viewing practices.