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Séjour long


Histoire de l'art - Canada

Contact details

Research topics


History of Arts



“A painting is not made to be smelled; stand back: the smell of paint is not healthy.” Attributed to Rembrandt, this warning, intending to keep spectators away from the manufacturing secrets of the painter’s craft, has been regularly quoted and commented upon since the end of the 18th century, contributing to the theme of “the smell of paint” as a topos of studio narratives. At first, the smell of paint was used to assess the quality of raw materials; but, as it increasingly became a medical concern, it also broke careers, intoxicated or sickened models, and regulated the viewing distance of the spectator as well as the size and configuration of the painter’s studio. The smell of paint also provided art critics with accurate metaphors to express their disgust of realist subjects and style. At the beginning of the 20th century, it still attested to the materiality of the process of creation in painting, in particular for Duchamp, who castigated painters for being “intoxicated by turpentine.” In a word, from creation to reception in this art, the smell of paint plays an invisible part in the history of painting. Based on a vast body of documents, implicating art history with cultural and medical history, this research project aims to unearth olfactory issues in art history, neglected because they have always escaped the realm of the visual and photographable. More broadly, this research will contribute to understand the historical evolution of the role played by sensorial perceptions in our relationship to the arts and to the world.

Activities / Resume


An associate researcher at the LARHRA, Érika Wicky holds a PhD in Art History (Université de Montréal, 2011). After a multidisciplinary dissertation examining the notion of detail in 19th-century France, she continued her research on the history of visual culture through three postdoctoral fellowships in Canada, France, and Belgium. Her current research is dedicated to the history of the senses and in particular to the relationship between art and olfaction from the 18th century until today. She recently co-organized an international conference on the Mediality of Smells (Maison française / University of Oxford, 2018).


  • Érika Wicky, Les paradoxes du détail : voir, savoir, représenter à l’ère de la photographie, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, « Æsthetica », mai 2015.
  • Le corps dans l’Histoire et les histoires du corps (XVIIe – XVIIIe siècles) précédé d’entretiens avec Georges Vigarello, Mickaël Bouffard, Jean-Alexandre Perras et Érika Wicky (dir.), Paris, Hermann, 2013.
  • « Les parfums de l’Ancien Régime : Persistance et représentations au XIXe siècle », Le siècle de la légèreté : émergences d’un paradigme du XVIIIe siècle, Marine Ganofsky and Jean-Alexandre Perras (dir.), Oxford University Studies on Enlightment, forthcoming in 2019.
  • « Perfumed Performances: The Reception of Olfactory Theatrical Devices from the Fin-de-siècle to the Present Day », Deep Time of the Theatre: Media Archaeological Approaches to Intermediality in Performance, Nele Wymans (dir.), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming in 2018.
  • « L’œil, le goût, le flair : les compétences sensorielles du collectionneur fin-de-siècle », Sociétés & Représentations, n°44, automne 2017.
  • « Le portrait photographique : des trivialités du visage à la ressemblance intime », Romantisme, n°176, 2017.
  • « Grammaire olfactive : les parfums au pluriel », Littérature, Sociabilités du parfum (XVIIIe – XIXe siècles), Jean-Alexandre Perras et Érika Wicky (dir.), n°185, 2017.
  • « Les femmes du XVIIIe siècle selon les Goncourt : Détails, anecdotes et parfums », Les Goncourt historiens, Éléonore Reverzy et Nicolas Bourguinat (dir.), Strasbourg, Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2017.
  • « La cuisine du photographe : un imaginaire pictural de la matière photographique », RACAR (Revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review), vol. 40, n°1, printemps 2015.
  • « Ce que sentent les jeunes filles », Romantisme, n°164, septembre 2014.
  • « La peinture à vue de nez : la juste distance du critique d’art de Diderot à Zola », RACAR (Revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review), vol. 39, n°1, printemps 2014.