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W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Art History; Art Department Chair

207 Hanes Art Center
Campus Box 3405
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3405
919-962-2015 (phone)
919-962-2015 (fax)

Research And Teaching Interests

Mary Sheriff’s research focuses on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French art and culture, and she is especially interested in issues of creativity, sexuality, gender, and, most recently, travel and cultural exchange. Her aim is to give the art works she interprets a place in both the past and present; she tries to elucidate and respect the historical specificity of the past, while interrogating its visual culture through current interpretative practices. She has developed this approach in three books, all published by the University of Chicago Press: J.-H. Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (1990); The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (1996) andMoved by Love: Inspired Artists and Deviant Women in Eighteenth-Century France (2004). Her latest projects are a specific study, “From Cythera to Tahiti: French Art and the Enchanted Island,” and a more general analysis of the period, “Travels in Eighteenth-Century Art,” which rewrites the history of art through the movements of people and commodities across Europe and between Europe and American, Africa, and Asia. She is currently editingCultural Contact and the Making of European Art 15001930 for the University of North Carolina Press.

Courses Offered (As Schedule Allows)

For current course listings, consult the Directory of Classes.

Although some of her graduate seminars explore only the eighteenth century, many are organized thematically, with students working on topics between 1700 and the present. Recent seminars have been “Death Becomes Her,” “Islands,” “The Epic Hero in Love.” For undergraduates, she teaches an intermediate level course on eighteenth-century art; a language-across-the curriculum course, “Representing Paris 1800–present” and a first-year seminaron representing nature that examines the “cabinet of wonders” from medieval treasuries to David Wilson’s postmodern Museum of Jurassic Technology. Several of her topics courses have organized exhibitions at the Ackland Art Museum: a first-year seminar created Seasons of Paris and a graduate seminar, Reason and Fantasy in an Age of Enlightenment.