The E-News site has been inactive since February 2011 and may contain outdated information and/or broken links. For current and up-to-date Tufts news and information, please visit Tufts Now at
Tufts University e-news

Search  GO >

this site people
Tufts University Logo Bottom Search Bottom  
left side photo

A Lifelong Love Affair with France

A Lifelong Love Affair with FranceTufts Professor Judith Wechsler's extensive work on French art has earned her the prestigious Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French government.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.05.07] As a teenager growing up in Watertown, Mass., Judith Wechsler became fascinated by 19th century French culture and life. It's an interest that has lasted a lifetime. Over the past five decades, the Tufts art history professor has authored books, curated exhibitions and produced and directed films on French art. And her work has not gone unrecognized.

On Nov. 19, the French government will award her the prestigious Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres-an honor reserved for eminent authors and artists, as well as individuals who have helped to promote French culture in the world.

Created in 1957, the award is given twice a year to only a few hundred people globally.
Past recipients from the United States include actor Robert Redford, actress Meryl Streep, architect Richard Meier and opera singer Marilyn Horne. Wechsler, the National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Art History at Tufts, told The Boston Globe that the honor is thrilling.

"It means an enormous amount to me," she told the newspaper. "They're acknowledging what I do, and the French are the most critical people in the world."

Looking back on her teenage days, Wechsler told the Globe that the French film "Children of Paradise," which depicts street life and popular theater 19th century life in Paris, first ignited her passion for French culture.

"I thought, ‘Will I ever know Paris like that?'" Wechsler recalled to the newspaper. "Bit by bit, it became so much a part of my life."

In particular, the mimes in the movie caught the young Wechsler's attention. According to the Globe, she was inspired to later travel to Paris to study the form of movement she described as "corporeal theater, based on the body."

"But it's not as continuous as dance," Wechsler told the Globe. "It's a more analytical and abstract look at the ways in which the body could move."

When she returned to the United States, Wechsler joined a mime company in New York City. She eventually gave it up, though, to go to graduate school and then pursue her doctorate in art history. That left a gap she needed to fill.

"I could never just be an academic. The dancer in me was too restless for that," she told the Globe. "When I started to make films [about French art], they took the place of dance. I missed the creative energy that goes into dance, and producing films gives me a similar sense."

According to the newspaper, Wechsler has directed 22 films, many of which are on French art. Her latest, "Le dessein des Nymphéas," a film on Monet's Water Lilies, will have its American premiere at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Dec. 5 and 9.

The Cambridge, Mass., resident told the Globe that she spends most summers in France working on her films, with the country's government, media or museums footing the bill for some of her projects.

"The [French] government, the television stations put money into films about art," she told the Globe. "It's ambitious. I'm an anomaly over there being an American."

Back at home, Wechsler has also received many accolades and support for her work. She is the recipient of a Mellon Foundation Faculty Research grant, six grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, five CINE Golden Eagle awards and red ribbons from the American Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.

On Nov. 19, however, the professor will be focused on her latest honor, the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, which is represented by a medallion and a lapel pin.

Related Stories
Related Links
Featured Profile


For More Information

Web Communications
T: 617.627.4282
F: 617.627.3549

Media Inquiries

Kim Thurler
T: 617.627.3175
F: 617.627.4907

Alexander Reid
T: 617.627.4173
F: 617.627.4907

Suzanne McInroy
T: 617.627.4703
F: 617.627.4907