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ART LIFE IN FRANCE : 1815 - 1869

ART LIFE IN FRANCE : 1815 - 1869

Marked by a sequence of diverse political regimes (monarchy, republic and Empire), two revolutions and a coup d'état, Paris between 1815 and 1870 underwent a rapid succession of different artistic styles and movements: from Romanticism through Realism, to the beginnings of Impressionism. Nonetheless, a common feature united the unprecedented range of artistic production in this period: the aesthetic and institutional tension between tradition and innovation. Throughout the period, the Académie des Beaux-Arts remained in charge of official visual culture. In addition to advising the government on artistic policy, state patronage and purchases, the Académie dominated art education by supervising the curriculum at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The Académie also controlled the artists' access to the highly popular Salon exhibitions by providing the members of the selection jury.

However, the hegemony of the official institutions was increasingly undermined by alternative art practices. Many important careers were built on little or no academic training. As prominent a painter as Eugène Delacroix never competed for the prestigious Prix de Rome. Gustave Courbet always insisted on the fact that he was self-taught. Moreover, both he and Edouard Manet, following Jacques-Louis David's example, circumvented the official circuit by exhibiting independently. In 1855, in response to the rejection of his two paintings from the Salon, Courbet organized his own retrospective exhibition in a private pavilion placed outside the entry to the Exposition Universelle, thus competing with the official retrospectives of Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres inside. He repeated this gesture during the Exposition Universelle of 1867 and was followed by Manet, who had also been angered by his exclusion from the official exhibition. In 1863 the growing frustration of artists with the exclusion of works from the Salon led the government of Napoleon III to organize a parallel display of all the rejected works in a room adjacent to the regular Salon: the Salon des Refusés constituted the official acknowledgement of the crisis in the existing art system, as well as displaying work by some of the artists later called the Impressionists.

Parallel to the institutional crisis was the crisis of the traditional aesthetic endorsed by the Académie and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Beginning with Stendhal, who in his review of the Salon of 1824 urged contemporary artists to represent 'the men of today and not those who probably never existed in those heroic times so distant from us' (Stendhal, p. 51), the notion of the present as incompatible with past artistic formulae entered the language of art criticism. While the attack on tradition by such Romantic artists as Théodore Gericault and Delacroix was fuelled by the discovery of a new subjectivity, the Realists rejected the old pictorial idioms in the name of commitment to concrete, visible reality. 'Show me an angel, and I will paint one', Courbet (p. 296) taunted his critics.

Around the mid-century, modernity, advocated notably in Charles Adelaide's Salon criticism, emerged as a new aesthetic ideal. To be a modern artist signified not merely to embrace the new iconography of Parisian daily life but also to search for the visual codes capable of conveying a new kind of urban experience. The rapid devaluation of the academic practice, based as it was on respectful imitation of antiquity and the Old Masters, was succinctly summed up by the critic Théophile Thoré who declared in 1861: 'To be a master is to resemble no one.'

The innovators were known as the avant-garde, a term originating in the Saint-Simonian discourse of social utopia, which designated opposition both to the artistic and the social and political establishment: Courbet styled himself as a missionary of social progress, and Manet combined his provocative artistic stance with radical political opinions. In the heterogeneous cultural landscape of 19th-century Paris, the avant-garde's work struck a self-consciously dissonant note in relation to the output of those artists (e.g. Alexandre Cabanel and William Bouguereau) who continued to perpetuate the academic tradition. However, the avant-garde was less of a fixed artistic identity than a mode of challenging the status quo, which certain ambitious artists employed at times. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, the Second Empire's court sculptor, was also the author of a resolutely unconventional group for the façade of the new Opéra, the Dance (1867-8), which scandalized Parisian opinion. Autonomous avant-garde practice opened new possibilities for women artists who could not receive training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts until the 1880s. Some women achieved considerable artistic and financial success in this period. Rosa Bonheur, a painter of animals and rural subjects, was the first female artist to receive the prestigious cross of the French Légion d'honneur, conferred on her in 1865 by Empress Eugénie, who declared that 'genius had no sex.'

As they fashioned their careers independently of official institutions, the artists became increasingly involved with commercial galleries, which under the Second Empire became important alternative public arenas of display. Such Parisian dealers as Martinet, Adolphe Goupil and Paul Durand-Ruel began in the 1860s to organize solo and group exhibitions of their artist-clients. Concomitantly, the artists' self-awareness as skilful entrepreneurs increased: for example the correspondence of Théodore Rousseau, a member of the Barbizon school, documents the artist's self-image as both an isolated genius and a shrewd businessman. A part of the continuing process of the commercialization of art was the opening of the first auction house in Paris in 1853, in the Hôtel Druot, not far from the Bourse-a proximity that helped symbolically to link the two institutions in the public mind. In addition to being an article of consumption, art was also increasingly becoming an object of investment and speculation.

Stendhal: 'Le Salon de 1824', J. Paris (29 Aug-24 Dec 1824); Eng. trans. in From the Classicists to the Impressionists: Art and Architecture in the 19th Century, ed. E. Gilmore Holt (New York, 1966), pp. 40-51
G. Courbet: 'Realism and Impressionism: France: Gustave Corbet, 1819-1877', Artists on Art, ed. R. Goldwater and M. Treves (New York, 1958), pp. 294-8
T. Thoré: 'Courbet and Millet', Realism and Tradition in Art, 1848-1900: Sources and Documents (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1966), pp. 54-6
A. Boime: The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century (New York and Oxford, 1971)
L. Nochlin: Realism (Harmondsworth, 1971)
T. J. Clark: The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-51 (London, 1973)
French Painting, 1774-1830: The Age of Revolution (exh. cat., ed. F. J. Cummings, D. Rosenberg and R. Rosenblum; Paris, Grand Pal.; Detroit, Inst. A.; 1975)
The Second Empire, 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoleon III (exh. cat., Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A., 1978)
N. Bryson: Tradition and Desire: From David to Delacroix (Cambridge, 1984)
C. Rosen and H. Zerner: Romanticism and Realism: The Mythology of Nineteenth-century Art (New York, 1984)
T. J. Clark: The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (New York, 1985)
L. Eitner: An Outline of 19th-century European Painting: From David to Cézanne, 2 vols (New York, 1987)
M. Marrinan: Painting Politics for Louis-Philippe: Art and Ideology in Orleanist France, 1830-1848 (New Haven, 1987)
N. McWilliam: 'Art, Labour and Mass Democracy: Debates on the Status of the Artist in France around 1848', A. Hist., xi/1 (March 1988), pp. 64-87
G. Pollock: 'Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity', Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art (London and New York, 1988), pp. 50-90
N. Green: 'Circuits of Production, Circuits of Consumption: The Case of Mid-nineteenth-century Art Dealing', A. J. [New York], xlviii/1 (Spring 1989), pp. 29-34