France: Nineteenth Century Art And Society Essay

2722 words - 11 pages

During the nineteenth century, France experienced many changes that affected its society in many profound ways. Industrialization transformed the economy of France from a primarily agricultural economy to a primarily industrial economy. Politically, the revolution of 1848 deposed the monarchy permanently, replacing it with a new republic, which itself would be replaced by a new empire headed by a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte. Culturally, the rise of Louis Napoleon led to the reconstruction of Paris as a fully modern city, and artists transitioned from classical forms and subjects to increasingly more experimental subjects and forms, including depicting the bourgeoisie and the working class, and depicting images in an unclear manner with varied brushstrokes and less detail than what had been expected previously. The development of these new forms and subjects arose primarily due to the situation of France during the nineteenth century, as artists worked to display their understanding and their hopes for the future of the French state, as well as the world as a whole. Many painters, then, used these new forms and subjects to depict 19th century life, ranging from political beliefs and ideas to economic concerns and troubles, to everyday life, in order to explain that the French society of the nineteenth century was hypocritical in its belief that France was ‘progressing’ during the century. In reality, French painters suggested that France still had major issues to overcome related to the new developments of the nineteenth century.
Gustave Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio is one work of art that signaled the rise of a new form and subjects for art in France. Linda Nochlin, in “The Politics of Vision,” describes Courbet as a militantly radical realist. Courbet himself stated, “‘realism is democracy in art,’” thus meaning that to paint in the realist sense, a painter would have to paint all types of people, and all viewpoints, especially those of the majority. According to Nochlin, Courbet fought against academicism in art as well as conservatism in society. Courbet’s belief of ‘democracy in art’ was inspired by his political views. Courbet was a socialist, namely a Fourierist socialist, who believed that society would be best set up if each group of people, from the rich to the poor, intermingled and lived with each other. This in turn, would create a near-utopia, which, with suitable political reforms, would lead to a balanced, stable and happy society and country. Courbet, thus, attempted to paint the Fourierist ideal when painting The Painter’s Studio. The work of art is a scene of a variety of people, gathered in Courbet’s art studio, as he attempts to paint a landscape in the center. Nochlin states that the work as been difficult for art historians to explain, and that she uses a Fourierist interpretation to attempt to explain the work. The Fourierists, according to Nochlin, saw scholars as a critical component of society, and she...

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