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An Archive Dedicated to the History of a Controversy

The September Morn Archive is dedicated to collecting, examining, and sharing the outpouring of ephemera and cultural materials produced in the wake of the 1913 controversy surrounding Paul Chabas's painting September Morn.

This apparently innocuous painting became the object of a broad cultural fixation. Chabas's image was reproduced in a variety of often surprising formats. It became the object of numerous parodies, the subject of songs, and a point of cultural reference more broadly. This archive will collect such parodies and reproductions, in the hope of charting the complex cultural energies engaged by Chabas's painting.

Why September Morn?

As a painting, Paul Chabas's 1912 September Morn is a relatively uninteresting French academic nude, characteristic of a genre that was well established (if not moribund) by the early-twentieth century. Ironically, at nearly the same moment that Chabas's painting was earning the ire of Anthony Comstock and the New York Society for the Suppression, another nude canvas in New York was also causing controversy—Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. Yet, while Duchamp's painting remains crucial to art historical accounts of this period, Chabas's painting, and the controversy immediately surrounding it, have been almost forgotten.

This neglect is particularly unfortunate, as Chabas's painting left a lasting impression on American culture. Chabas's image of a nude bather inspired a diversity of reactions. In the subsequent parodies and reproductions (which continued for more than another fifty years) the painting acquired a complex diversity of meanings. Not simply an occasion for thinking about the relationship between art and obscenity, the painting's notoriety came to acquire specifically political and racial meanings.

It is to recapture the story of how a single painting became a crucial (though now forgotten) point of articulation a broad diversity of cultural meanings, that this archive focuses on September Morn.

Why a digital archive?

A digital archive has two clear advantages.

  • Since no authoritative account of the history of this painting exists, the story of September Morn's impact on American culture is manifest primarily through the proliferation of reproductions, parodies, and variations on Chabas's original painting. The painting inspired songs, films, theatrical performances, reproductions, postcards, and even bottle openers (to name just a few of the media in which the image was reproduced). A digital archive offers the best way to make available, organize, and connect, this broad diversity of multimedia materials.
  • In addition to making a broad variety of materials available, a digital archive also offers the advantage of allowing a user to contribute images and items. Since no authoritative account or archive of September Morn exists, materials relevant to the reception of September Morn are in the hands of private collectors. A digital archive gives us the potential to accept user contributions and to take advantage of the extensive collections of items relevant to September Morn—items that have the potential to greatly increase our understanding of the paintings impact on American culture.

Please feel free to e-mail any comments or questions regarding the archive, admin@septembermorn.org.