Kelly Presutti is Assistant Professor of History of Art and Visual Studies, where she teaches courses in modern Western art and the environmental humanities. Research interests include nineteenth-century art and visual culture, landscape, and ecocriticism. Her current book project, Land into Landscape: Art, Environment, and the Making of Modern France (forthcoming with Yale University Press in 2024), looks to four landscape typologies—forests, mountains, wetlands and coasts—as sites of negotiation and contestation between state power, local inhabitants, and the environment. Recent publications include “‘A Better Idea than the Best Constructed Charts’: Watercolor Views in Early British Hydrography,” (Grey Room, 2021), an analysis of a set of watercolor views of the French coastline commissioned by the British Admiralty, and “The Sèvres’ Service des Départements and the Anxiety of the Fragment,” (Word & Image, 2021), a study of a French porcelain service that attempted, and failed, to represent a reconfigured nation for a Restoration monarch. Prior to completing her PhD, Presutti held positions at the Getty, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, among other arts organizations.
Terroir after the Terror: Landscape and Representation in Nineteenth-Century France
As a Faculty Fellow at the Society for the Humanities, Kelly Presutti will continue work on her book manuscript, Terroir after the Terror. Her research establishes the physical and symbolic repair of France’s landscapes as a foundational—and contested—step in the emergence of the modern nation. Repair meant reforesting ravaged plains and rebuilding eroded mountains, but it also meant conceiving of a whole and unified countryside out of a fragmented array of disconnected entities. Successfully repairing France’s ground led to the celebration of its fecundity in concepts like terroir, an encapsulation of the qualities of place, qualities that were rendered commodifiable and transferable within the newly interconnected nation. This process of repair, however, required overwriting actual divergences in the nation’s physical and social makeup. It often meant forcing territory to adopt unnatural forms, leading to ongoing environmental impacts including flooding and wildfires. It also enforced a singular French identity that struggles to accommodate the actual heterogenous makeup of the population. Repair too hastily or thoroughly effected has consequences, consequences France is still wrestling with today. Presutti’s book navigates the work images were doing in both supporting and problematizing the repair of France’s landscapes, and it thinks through the role of representation more broadly in processes of restoration and reparation. Representation makes the work of repair visible, but it can also falsely anticipate its outcome and skip over the patient, painstaking work of reckoning with the world’s faults.