January 17, 2018

Gallery: Looking at the Wind: Paintings of the Mistral in Fin-de-Siècle France

DunlopFig1crop-550By Catherine Tatiana Dunlop

Catherine Tatiana Dunlop is assistant professor of modern European history at Montana State University, Bozeman. Her work explores the connections between visual culture, geography, and environmental history. She is the author, most recently, of Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). This article draws from her new book research on the cultural and environmental history of the Mistral in nineteenth-century France.

On the days when a cold northwesterly wind called the Mistral sweeps across Provence, the typically warm and tranquil region in the south of France undergoes a dramatic transformation. Wheat fields begin to swirl like ocean waves, cypress trees tilt violently from side to side, and the peaceful Mediterranean waters become frothy and tempestuous. So powerful is this regional French wind that locals

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have called it a curse “equal to the seven plagues of Egypt.”1 Originally named after the Latin word for “master,” the Mistral can blow for forty-five days at a time and reach speeds of 100 kilometers per hour.2 Yet for all of its power to shape, and even dominate, the lives of people in Provence, the Mistral has remained an elusive topic of historical inquiry. By most accounts, the Mistral has existed apart from historical change, a peculiar aspect of the timeless physical setting in which the history of southern France unfolded.3 But what if we decided to take the Mistral’s role in history more seriously? What connections might we find between the “master” of Provence and the transformation of French society over time?

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