1st Edition

Contagion, Hygiene, and the European Avant-Garde

Edited By David Hopkins, Disa Persson Copyright 2023
    216 Pages 6 Color & 41 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    216 Pages 6 Color & 41 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This interdisciplinary collection of essays brings together scholars in the fields of art history, theatre, visual culture, and literature to explore intersections between the European avant-garde (c. 1880–1945) and themes of health and hygiene, such as illness, contagion, cleanliness, and contamination.

    Examining the artistic oeuvres of some of the canonical names of modern art – including Edgar Degas, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, George Orwell, Marcel Duchamp, and Antonin Artaud – this book investigates instances where the heightened political, social, and cultural currencies embedded within issues of hygiene and contagion have been mobilised, and subversively exploited, to fuel the critical strategy at play. This edited volume promotes an interdisciplinary and socio-historically contextualised understanding of the criticality of the avant-garde gesture and cultivates scholarship that moves beyond the limits of traditional academic subjects to produce innovative and thought-provoking connections and interrelations across various fields. 

    The book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, literature, theatre, cultural studies, modern history, medical humanities, and visual culture.


    1. Contexts: Modernity, Hygiene, and Contagion.

    David Hopkins and Disa Persson.

    Part One:
    Hygiene and Materialities of the Modern Metropolis

    2. Degas and the Matter of Contagion: Dirt, Skin, Touch and the Cosmetic arts.

    Anthea Callen.

    3. ‘I sometimes think that the price of liberty is not so much eternal vigilance as eternal dirt’: George Orwell, Grubbiness, and Hygiene.

    Peter Fifield. 

    Part Two:
    The Avant-Garde and Illness

    4. Exposing ‘The Venereal Peril’: Fournier’s Syphilography, Munch’s Heredo-syphilitic, La Syphilis Arabe and Picasso’s Prostitutes.

    Fae Brauer.

    5. Marcel Duchamp’s Paris Air: The ‘Spanish Flu’, Black Humour and Dada Contagion.

    David Hopkins.

    6. Spittle, Dust and Flies: Documents and Tuberculosis in the Visual Culture of Interwar France.

    Disa Persson.

    Part Three:
    Contagion as Metaphor

    7. Wage Labour as Contagion: Surrealist Sewing Machines and Liberatory Eroticism.

    Abigail Susik.

    8. Avant-Garde Hygiene and Contagion: Artaud’s Ecology in the Chemical Century.

    Carl Lavery.


    David Hopkins is an Emeritus Professor and Professional Research Fellow in Art History at the University of Glasgow.

    Disa Persson is a doctoral researcher in Art History at the University of Glasgow.

    "A sparkling collection of essays which adds reflections on the motifs and rhetorics of contagion to the concept and history of the European artistic avant-gardes. As such it’s a valuable contribution to the deepening of our understanding of these formations."

    David Cottington, Kingston University, London


    "This is a welcome and all too timely volume, taking up the significance of the avant-garde’s ‘rhetorics of contagion,’ the idea of ‘art-as-infection,’ and relays between visuality and virality in the long histories of hygienic discourses and practices."

    Allison Morehead, Queen’s University, Canada