RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg went to the Getty Center here in LA to an exhibition with some unsettling subjects - a Demon, a dead soldier, an eyeball floating in a balloon. She surveyed French prints and drawings from the 1800s created with materials made available by the Industrial Revolution.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The show is about the art of darkness. The title is "Noir," French for the color black. Artists started using black in new ways in the 19th century - with black chalk, black pastels, black crayons, black charcoal.
TIMOTHY POTTS: Black can be intense and dramatic.
STAMBERG: Timothy Potts, director of the Getty.
POTTS: I mean, it's dark. It's the color of the night, of the unknown, of the scary.
STAMBERG: Manet, Redon, Degas, Corot, Courbet, lots of lesser-known painters, too, began putting black on paper in lithographs, etchings, drawings - not for the first time but different because of 19th-century technology and the times.
POTTS: Life was changing at a pace which it never had before. And it wasn't all good. There was the poverty and the desperation of city life in a way that hadn't existed before.
LEE HENDRIX: The air was terrible.
STAMBERG: This is Lee Hendrix, curator of the "Noir" show.
HENDRIX: Urban violence was becoming a kind of regular thing. The city and especially the night city and the city of Paris itself began to take on life as a kind of demonic domain.
STAMBERG: Artists reflected these shadowy changes. In 1827 Eugene Delacroix drew a demon, Goethe's devil Mephistopheles. The lithograph shows him flying over a dark city. The incarnation of evil with his claw-like finger and toenails is grinning leer - scary.
HENDRIX: I think they are plumbing the depths of the frightening, unimagined evil in ways that had not happened before in art.
STAMBERG: It's raining black in Odilon Redon's 1880 charcoal "Apparition" - long dark lines slanting downward. A dreamlike ghostly presence emerges from the dark. There's a bit of light around him. Artists rubbed squished-up bread onto the paper to lift away the powdery charcoal.
ALISON SAAR: I was up to my elbows in charcoal yesterday.
STAMBERG: Artist Alison Saar tidied up before joining us at the Getty. She was intrigued by an unusual Degas in the show - a monotype. The "Toilette" from 1885 brought out the artist's dark side. Usually Degas used vivid colors in his paintings and pastels of women bathing. But here he's putting black ink on a metal plate and wiping it off to create her arms.
SAAR: He's basically wiping her arms as she's wiping her arms. And so the subject and the matter are married in that respect.
STAMBERG: This Degas is a monotype.
SAAR: He did one. You printed it. And it was over.
STAMBERG: But the Industrial Revolution brought ways to produce several copies of an artwork - mass-produced prints that were snapped up at art shows. Again, curator Lee Hendrix.
HENDRIX: And these shows were so well-attended. When you look at old engravings of them, they almost look like a department store.
STAMBERG: Full of busy buyers. Art got democratized. Ordinary people could afford it. That's something of a ray of sunshine piercing through the "Noir." In Los Angeles, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
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