Michelle Foa is Associate Professor of European Art of the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on nineteenth-century French art, visual and material culture, and criticism. She is currently at work on a book on Edgar Degas titled The Matter of Degas: Art and Materiality in Later Nineteenth-Century Paris, in which she analyzes the conceptual significance of the artist’s sustained experimentation with diverse media and techniques and his complex strategies for evoking the materiality and heft of the world around him in pictorial form. Part of this research published in The Art Bulletin was awarded the 2021 Nineteenth-Century Studies Association’s Article Prize. Another major research project explores the network of global developments that reshaped the making and consumption of paper over the course of the nineteenth century and the impact of these developments on artistic and cultural production. Her first book, Georges Seurat: The Art of Vision, was published in 2015 by Yale University Press. In it, she positions Seurat’s body of work as a meditation on the relationship between vision and knowledge, situating his pictures in close relation to discourses in nineteenth-century philosophy, optics, psychology, and popular culture on the operation of the senses and their role in how we come to understand the world. Other research and teaching interests include the materials of art, the history of conservation, the relationships between art, science, and technology, and the intersections of art history and environmental studies.
Professor Foa’s research and teaching have been supported by numerous grants and fellowships, including from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, among others. She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Committee for the History of Art since 2020 and is on the organizing committee of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) Quadrennial Congress, scheduled to be held in Washington D.C. in 2028.
Professor Foa is the guest curator of an exhibition of Degas's work that will open in 2024 at the Clark Art Institute.
At Tulane, Professor Foa is Carnegie Corporation of New York, Solon R. Cole, and Siegel Professor at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center. She has been a member of the faculty advisory committee of the Environmental Studies program for several years and is co-creator of the university’s new Environmental Humanities program. In 2022, she was awarded the Suzanne and Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching.
Before coming to Tulane in 2008, the year that she completed her doctorate at Princeton University, she taught at Mount Holyoke College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton.
Georges Seurat: The Art of Vision, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015.
“Degas on French Textiles, the Transatlantic Cotton Trade, and the Work of Ironing,” in Degas and the Laundress: Women, Work, and Impressionism in Late 19th-Century Paris exhibition catalogue, Cleveland Museum of Art (Yale University Press, 2023)
“In Transit: Edgar Degas and the Matter of Cotton, between New World and Old,” The Art Bulletin 102, no. 3 (September 2020). Awarded the 2021 Article Prize by the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association.
“The Making of Degas: Duranty, Technology, and the Meaning of Materials,” special issue of nonsite on nineteenth-century art, edited by Bridget Alsdorf and Marnin Young (February 2019).
“‘One Art Eating the Other’ in Emile Zola’s L’Oeuvre,” in Art and Music as Rival Sisters at the Birth of Modernism, 1800-1900. Aldershot, U.K. and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Press, 2014.
“(Anti) Biography and Neo-Impressionism,” RIHA: Journal of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art, special issue on Neo-Impressionism, July 2012.
“Textual Inhibitions: Photographic Criticism in Late Victorian Britain,” History of Photography, February 2012.
“On the Spaces of Painting and Perception: Seurat and Helmholtz” in Georges Seurat: Figure in Space, exhibition catalogue for the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, ed. Christoph Becker, Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2009. Catalogue published in English, French, and German editions.
- Close Looking
- Environmental Perspectives: An Interdisciplinary Approach
- From Rococo to Romanticism
- Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
- The Intersections of Art and Science
- The Meaning of Materials
- On Paper
- Paris: Capital of the 19th Century
- Scandals of Modern Art
- The Work and Mythology of Vincent Van Gogh