Kirstin Ringelberg named recipient of full-year Elon sabbatical

The professor of art history will spend 2016-17 working on a book that explores the life and impact of Madeleine Lemaire, a popular French artist whose studio became a site of queer identification in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Professor Kirstin Ringelberg in the Department of Art & Art History has been named the recipient of a full-year, full-pay sabbatical, an Elon University award for faculty members who propose a significant research project in their fields and who demonstrate a record of scholarly excellence.

Ringelberg’s monograph book project, “The Artist’s Studio as Salon in Belle Époque France: Madeleine Lemaire’s Queer Space,” will focus on how Lemaire’s studio and salon, where Lemaire painted and hosted popular soirées, became a site of queer identification that forces historians to revise and expand their understanding of gender and sexual norms of the time.

“I will engage Lemaire with queer and feminist theories that will redefine the ways her labors, both social and artistic, are understood and valued,” Ringelberg said of the award. “A more accurate, thorough and critically informed analysis of Lemaire and her salon/studio will have an impact well beyond art history.”

Born in 1845, Lemaire has been likened to Andy Warhol for surrounding herself with the period’s celebrities at social events to which invitation was jealously guarded. Despite her fame in Belle Époque France (1871-1914), Lemaire remains unstudied in English-language art history and misrepresented in historical and literary studies, Ringelberg said.

French literary scholars already appreciate Lemaire’s studio/salon as a gathering place for gay and bisexual men, particularly her protégé Marcel Proust, Ringelberg said. Less commonly mentioned is that it was also home to lesbian and bisexual women and those presenting non-binary gender identities.

Lemaire herself was sometimes referred to in masculine or hybrid gender terms, as French literature scholar François Proulx has pointed out, and seen as an enabler of queer relationships. Her unusual status as a divorcée who chose never to remarry amplified her exceptional position, Ringelberg added.

Ringelberg is the author of the 2010 book “Redefining Gender in American Impressionist Studio Painting: Work Place/Domestic Space” and numerous essays on topics ranging from the artistic representation of pain, to the influence of contemporary art in popular culture, to the tension between beauty and criticality.

Ringelberg joined the Elon faculty in 2003 as the university’s first full-time art historian and developed an art history minor that year, the basis of which would later form Elon’s current art history major. Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, honored Ringelberg in 2008 with an Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2013 with its Excellence in Service/Leadership Award.

In 2008, Elon University President Leo M. Lambert announced institutional support for Elon’s first full-year, full-pay sabbatical, a highly competitive award.

The first recipient of that award was David Crowe in 2009-10. Subsequent recipients have been Charles Irons (2010-11), Cindy Fair (2011-12), Victoria Fischer Faw (2012-13), Barbara Miller (2013-14), Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler (2014-15) and Benjamin Evans (2015-16).