Judith Weschler (1892-1940)

The Passages of Walter Benjamin (2014)

Judith Wechsler is an art historian primarily of 19th century French art, who has engaged in interdisciplinary studies: the intersection of art and theater, art and film, caricature and physiognomy, art and science. Her book, A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th Century Paris, focuses on Daumier in a political and historical context. She has published articles and catalogue essays on Daumier including “Gender and Gesture in Daumier,” “Movement in the Drawings of Daumier: Still and Still Moving,” and two films on Daumier, “Daumier Paris and the Spectator,” directed with Charles Eames and “Daumier. One Must be of One’s Time,” made for the Daumier exhibition in Paris and broadcast in France and the US. Her books, The Interpretation of Cézanne and Cézanne in Perspective (ed and intro) have been widely used. More recently she has written on “Sensation and Perception in Cézanne.” Her 1999 book Le Cabinet des dessins, was published by Flammarion. Her film on drawing was commissioned by the Louvre, “Dessiner, la main qui pense,” “Drawing the Thinking Hand“ (in its English version.)

From her years at MIT, Wechsler edited a book On Aesthetics in Science, which has gone through several editions and translations. She has written a catalogue essay “Caricature of medicine,“ and “Lavater, Stereotype and Prejudice,” on anti-semitic attitudes in physiognomic theory. Wechsler has explored relationships between art and theater in the 19th century, in her essay, ”Ophelia and the Representation of Madness,” and curated an exhibition in Paris on the actress Rachel, co-edited the catalogue and contributed an essay on the representations of Rachel. In collaboration with La Comédie Francaise, she directed a film on Rachel. In France, she has lectured and/or presented her films lectures at the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, the Comédie Francaise, Musee de l’Orangerie, Musee d’art et d’histoire du judaisme, and L’Institut national de l’histoire de l’art.

Wechsler has made some 28 films on art, informed by her scholarship. The French government awarded her a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des letters. In 2010 she was a Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010. She has been the recipient of 7 NEH grants, 2 NEA grants, and a Mellon faculty fellowship. In addition to teaching 7 years at MIT, she has been professor of art history at the Rhode Island School of Design, and was the NEH Professor at Tufts from 1989-2010. She has been visiting professor at Harvard,The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, The Ecole Normale Superieure, in Paris and The University of Paris. In 2012, she was Senior Visiting Fellow at the Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem and a Fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy.

Artist Statement

Over the last 42 years I have made 29 films, mostly on art. I was introduced to filmmaking by Charles Eames who invited me to co-direct two films with him, “Daumier, Paris and the Spectator,” 1976 and “Cézanne, the Late Work,” 1977. From Charles I learned a way of looking and filming that has greatly influenced me. Over the years I have had other fruitful collaborations, most notably with Richard Leacock and Ned Burgess as cinematographers, Alexandra Anthony, and James Rutenbeck, Nicole Serres, and Erika O’Conor as editors. For the last twenty five years I have worked with composer John McDonald for the music in most of my films. It has been a most fruitful collaboration.

My early experience as a dancer effected my approach to filming art— the sense of movement, of rhythm, of what can be conveyed without words. ln making films on art, you have to confront the stillness and silence and consider what the film might give back that makes such transgressions supportable.

In recent years I have turned my attention to films on the history of ideas in early 20th century Europe. In 2011 I made a film on my father, “Nahum Glatzer and the German Jewish Tradition.” “The Passages of Walter Benjamin”, on the literary and cultural critic’s study of the 19th Century Paris Arcades was completed at the end of 2014. In 2016, I made “Aby Warburg: Metamorphosis and Memory” the cultural and art historian. “Svetlana Boym: Exile and Imagination” (1959-2015) on the Russian born cultural and literary critic, was completed in 2017 and “Isaiah Berlin: Philosopher of Freedom” in 2018. My films are archived at the Harvard Film Archive and some at the Louvre in Paris.

Walter Benjamin in UbuWeb Film
Walter Benjamin in UbuWeb Sound