Realism in the Age of Impressionism: Painting and the Politics of Time

Realism in the Age of Impressionism: Painting and the Politics of Time

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0300208324

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The late 1870s and early 1880s were watershed years in the history of French painting. As outgoing economic and social structures were being replaced by a capitalist, measured time, Impressionist artists sought to create works that could be perceived in an instant, capturing the sensations of rapidly transforming modern life. Yet a generation of artists pushed back against these changes, spearheading a short-lived revival of the Realist practices that had dominated at mid-century and advocating slowness in practice, subject matter, and beholding. In this illuminating book, Marnin Young looks closely at five works by Jules Bastien-Lepage, Gustave Caillebotte, Alfred-Philippe Roll, Jean-François Raffaëlli, and James Ensor, artists who shared a concern with painting and temporality that is all but forgotten today, having been eclipsed by the ideals of Impressionism. Young’s highly original study situates later Realism for the first time within the larger social, political, and economic framework and argues for its centrality in understanding the development of modern art. 

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Charpentier, 1892), 304. 65. Castagnary, “Salon de 1879,” in Salons, 381: “dessine d’après un modèle qu’on ne voit pas.” 66. Fried, Manet’s Modernism, 235. 67. See, for instance, the comments on Millet’s Angelus in Charles Tardieu, “Le Cabinet de M. Jules van Praet,” L’Art: Revue hebdomadaire illustrée 23 (1880): 301. 68. Lemonnier, “L’Art à l’Exposition universelle,” 206. The use of the word “fragments” rather than “morceaux” may reflect the critic’s awareness that, while still applicable to

complex. Millet has clearly coordinated the time of the Angelus bell tolling from the church tower on the distant horizon with the setting sun, indicating the “natural” or religious time of the bells. This is likely what the critic in L’Art meant in his review of the Durand-Ruel retrospective when he described the “religious slowness with which twilight beats down on the furrows.”103 But Millet has also rendered other kinds of time. As Raymond Boisvert has shown, the picture contains a “series

on, comparisons between Millet and Bastien-Lepage become a critical commonplace. Huysmans, for instance, thought the latter was “haunted” by the older Realist.109 The painter Marie Bashkirtseff, one of Bastien-Lepage’s closest confidants, certainly thought the two belonged on the same page. In her journal in 1884 she wrote admiringly of paintings that took up the challenge of depicting scenes of “motionless” figures. “It is always better,” she asserted, “to paint scenes in which the characters do

year after the Commune—a ragpicker recollects his role in the Commune’s government: “March 18! One year ago, I was a civil servant!” (fig. 86). The possibility that certain Communards had fallen to the bottom of the social ladder and remained in the midst of the city’s bourgeoisie throughout the 1870s must have posed an inescapable fear for well-heeled Parisians. Or, as Cham probably intended, the middle-class public might well have perceived the Commune as nothing more than the seizure of power

a geographic location but suffused the very action, however limited in drama, that the painting represented. If reverie was the effect most appropriate to a Realist painting of the banlieue, inebriation might very well have seemed among the most appropriate ways to attain it. Although relatively expensive until the 1870s, absinthe was by no means a new or even especially exotic drink in 1881. It had been popular among bohemians, dandies, and artists since the 1830s and became a legitimate

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