France: Nineteenth-Century Art and Society

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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 milit... ... middle of paper ... ...picts peasant life through France and Europe through the nineteenth century, showing it as unchanging from birth to death, while also showing attrition in the numbers of peasants over time. This attrition could be explained by any number of circumstances, including becoming industrial workers, fighting and dying in wars of the nineteenth century, or simply moving away from the area and group of people they had previously been with in their youth due to the new ease of transportation, namely the railroad. By analyzing the work of artists of the nineteenth century, one can understand that artists attempted to depict life in France as progressive, yet held back by classical thought and opinions, not only in art, but in society as well. Works Cited Nochlin, Linda. The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society. Boulder, CO, Westview Press. 1989.
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