Victor Buchereau-Reverchon: The Hall of Mirrors Transformed into an Ambulance
The collapse of the Second Empire in 1870 following the victories of the German army was accompanied by a rapid advance of the enemy to Paris, turned into a fortified camp. The Prussians camped in the hills nearby at Buzenval, where desperate fighting unfolded. After the Battle of Vélizy on September 19, 1870 and while the Germans were entering Versailles, the first wounded began to arrive there, led by Dr. Kirchner. The Crown Prince of Prussia, later Frederick III, gave orders to set up an unsupervised ambulance in the castle. The South Wing was first occupied, and the Hall of Mirrors, and the medical service was extended also in the north wing. The guardians and caretakers of the castle were assigned to care for wounded Germans.
In this scene by Buchereau, we note that the stoves have been installed in the center of the Hall of Mirrors, while the beds were placed along the walls and between the windows. We remedied the lack of beds by benches taken from the museum, the center being occupied by surgery tables. A great calm seems to reign over the place. Something seems anachronistic yet move in this table. If the vault celebrates the victories of a great king, the bottom of the scene recalls the reality of war, with its injuries and its dead, and its human drama. Yet Buchereau did not want to suggest in this picture; he only relates an anecdote, however terrible it may be. [L’Histoire par L’Image]
Louise Michel (1830-1905) was a French anarchist, school teacher and medical worker. She often used the pseudonym Clémence and was also known as the red virgin of Montmartre. Journalist Brian Doherty has called her the "French grande dame of anarchy." [Wikipedia]
Ernest Meissonier: The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848
Ernest Meissonier has painted a Paris scene observed after a barricade was taken by the National Guard during the workers' riots in June 1848. Meissonier's painting is based on realistic observation. Known for his minutely detailed Ancien Régime genre scenes, the painter has here created his masterpiece.
The corpses of rioters, together with the cobblestones that form the remains of a barricade, lie like dummies who have lost their limbs in the center of a Paris street lined with old houses. Ernest Meissonier painted this picture after a watercolor done at the scene on June 25, 1848, during the workers' riots. These events made for a troubled beginning to the Second Republic, a few months after the February 1848 revolution. The painter, a captain in the National Guard who was sympathetic to the government, painted the scene that lay before him after a barricade had been taken near to the town hall. The painting is highly original in comparison with another depiction of a barricade, Liberty Leading the People (July 28, 1830) by Delacroix (1831, Musée du Louvre), celebrating the revolution of 1830. There is no pretension to allegory here, no pompous rhetoric. It is the most powerful image to emerge from the events of 1848.
The picture is extremely realistic, Meissonier having painted every part of the canvas, the cobblestones as well as the rioters, with the same attention to detail. Unlike historical paintings generally, the work seems to portray a scene observed without comment or message. Although it depicts a historical event, it is a work that is more akin to genre paintings, particularly on account of its small size. It has recently been interpreted by an art historian as a warning to future rebels. Indeed, the artist's impassive reaction to the horror in front of him may well express the hostility of his own social class, the bourgeoisie, toward the underprivileged. [The Louvre]
Canal at Picardy is from the later years of Corot’s career. It features the light touch and lyric quality, plus the silver tonality that distinguishes his mature works.
The poet Baudelaire astutely observed, “Monsieur Corot is more a harmonist than a colorist and his compositions, which are always entirely free of pedantry, are seductive just because of their simplicity of color.” In this work, the finely balanced tree trunks and sky demonstrate this harmony and, though formal, are never rigid. [City Scene]
Bouguereau championed academic training throughout his successful artistic career, even as it fell out of favor during the last decades of the century. Beginning in the 1850s and 1860s, young artists working in France showed an increased awareness of the social and economic changes taking place as regions of Europe moved toward industrialization and peasants abandoned the countryside in search of urban jobs. The Impressionists, who first exhibited together three years after this painting was finished, prided themselves on depicting modern life: their landscapes often include smokestacks, and their views of city life feature laundresses and prostitutes. But academic artists such as Bouguereau had no desire to "debase" their art in this way. Bouguereau's peasants are invariably idealized: they are presented as glorified, clean, and noble, and they are often arranged in poses that recall ancient Greek sculpture. This particular painting is based partly on sketches Bouguereau made in Brittany, but it was finished in his studio. And like many of his works, it was purchased by an American collector as soon as it was completed. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]
Hugues Merle … transforms a sentimental image into one of utter, even hysterical, despair. The woman’s face is a mask of suffering while she cradles, not a sleeping baby, but a wooden log! Is Merle’s “lunatic” mourning the loss of a child, or mad with longing for one? With no clear answer visible, we are left to ponder her fate. The figure’s anguish is a hallmark of Romanticism, a style that emphasized images of suffering, madness, and death. These images were often thinly veiled allusions to broader social suffering or political upheavals. For example, Merle painted The Lunatic in 1871, the same year that France lost the Franco-Prussian War. Could his dark image mirror the broader national mood of political loss and desolation? [Chrysler Museum of Art]
Gérôme painted this scene, which depicts the interior of the seventh-century mosque of ‘Amr in Cairo, after his visit to Egypt in 1868. The rows of worshipers, ranging from the dignitary and his attendants to the loincloth-clad Muslim holy man, face Mecca during one of the five daily prayers. It is unlikely, however, that Gérôme witnessed a service at this particular mosque, which had fallen into disuse by 1868. Rather, the image is probably a composite of sketches and photographs of various sites. Gérôme traveled widely in the Middle East; more than two-thirds of his paintings are devoted to Orientalist subjects. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ The Carrier Pigeon, the second of what he called his two “real allegories,” also commemorated the siege of Paris through a skillful fusion of journalism and symbolism. It too features a confrontation between Paris and Prussia, Paris in the form of a woman standing on a snow-covered rooftop with the city spread out behind her, clutching a carrier pigeon to her breast, and Prussia in the familiar guise of the threatening black eagle she deflects. The woman lacks the conventional aspects of the city of Paris, and she wears a garment that, if not truly contemporary, is at least reminiscent of the somber mourning clothes worn by real women widowed by the war and siege. Yet the caption Puvis inscribed on the picture’s frame confirms the figure as a personification of the city during that difficult time: “Having escaped from the enemy claw the awaited message exalts the heart of the proud city.” The woman’s defensive interaction with the avian predator is both metaphorical and historically specific, representing a clash between civic and national symbols, and simultaneously documenting the Prussian tactic of using hawks to intercept and kill the messenger pigeons Parisians relied on for communication during the siege. Even the picture’s limited and muted palette serves both a literal and symbolic purpose; the lack of mimetic color distances the image from reality and makes it more emblematic, but it also recalls the tonality of photography and thus evokes the assumed veracity of that medium. [Lisa Small, “L’Année Terrible and Political Imagery,” in Eric Zafran, Robert Rosenblum, Lisa Small, Fantasy and Faith: The Art of Gustave Doré, The Dahesh Museum of Art, pp. 52-53]
It was while he was on the ramparts of Paris, when the town was besieged by Prussian troops in 1870, that Puvis had the idea for The Balloon. It was completed by the end of November, and immediately distributed through a lithograph by Emile Vernier, reviewed in the press and admired by the intellectual and artistic elite. They encouraged the artist to produce another to match it. The Carrier Pigeon was painted at the beginning of 1871, and again distributed through a lithograph by Vernier.
There are several preparatory drawings and painted sketches (Paris, Musée Carnavalet). But the large paintings are in tones of brown, a fitting colour for the sombre events from which the iconography was drawn. Puvis knew how to avoid the picturesque and dramatic anecdote, so common at the time, and achieve a moving symbol. The paintings echo each other point by point. In The Balloon, a woman with a musket, dressed simply in a severe black dress, turns towards Mount Valérien and waves towards the balloon bearing the news. In The Carrier Pigeon, the same figure in mourning, this time portrayed frontally, collects the carrier pigeon which has escaped the talons of the hawks sent by the enemy. In the distance, the Île de la Cité is buried under the heavy snowfalls of that hard winter.
In 1873-1874, Puvis donated the two paintings to the French government for a lottery in New York organised in aid of victims of a great fire which destroyed Chicago in 1871. But he was very attached to these paintings and subsequently regretted handing them over. During his private exhibition at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1887, he even displayed photographs of them to compensate for their absence. [Musée d’Orsay]
Although often associated with the Barbizon school, Breton favored a more idealized treatment of his subjects and a more polished style of painting. In this rural scene, probably set in the artist's native Pas-de-Calais, north of Paris, three young women return from the fields at dusk. Their idealized forms contrast markedly with the harshness of Millet's depictions of peasant life. [The Walters Art Museum]
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: A Wagon in the Plains of Artois
This is one of five small paintings by Corot in the National Gallery thought to have been painted during the artist's trip to the Artois region of north-east France between April and July 1871. He painted this picture in May 1871 during his stay with his friend and biographer, Alfred Robaut, in Douai. [The National Gallery UK]
Georges Jules Victor Clairin: The Burning of the Tuileries
The painting by Georges Jules Victor Clairin in 1871, The Burning of the Tuileries, depicts the symbolic and political act of burning down buildings that symbolized monarchist power as well as buildings that were being captured and used by the enemy, from the perspective of a communarde holding the red flag of the Commune. [Blaze Burgess]
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Diana Bathing (The Fountain)
According to Alfred Robaut, Corot painted this work between 1869 and 1870 in the company of Achille Oudinot (1820-1891).
Naturally, Corot is better known as a landscape painter, often associated - a little too quickly - with the Barbizon School, than as a painter of nudes. This aspect of his art was probably one of the revelations of the retrospective exhibition of 1996 held in Paris, Ottawa and New York, even though he only painted around thirty nudes, only of women, most of which are kept in public collections.
Thanks to Robaut we know that Emma Dobigny, one of Corot's favourite models, posed for this Diana Bathing. She was also known for doing some modelling for Puvis de Chavanne and Degas. Corot depicted her in many of his works, the most famous being Lady in Blue (Paris, Musée du Louvre) and appreciated in particular her vitality, while other artists criticized the fact that she could not keep still.
The rather un-anatomical style of Corot's nudes puzzled many of his colleagues, including Ingres. On the other hand, Hippolyte Flandrin found that Corot expressed something he did not find in his contemporaries. Fortunately, Corot explained his views on this subject, something he did rarely, referring to The Toilette, Landscape with Figure, undoubtedly one of his most beautiful compositions of this type: "You can see the effort I put into hiding the joints between the collarbones and the sternum, or into blending the contours of the ribs, just visible at the base of the breasts; I try to proceed differently from what is usual, that is, by showing first and foremost that I know what I am doing. Since this is not a lesson in anatomy, I have to blend, like nature does, the cover of the frame which makes up and supports the body, in order to render only what I feel in front of this flesh, through which one can see the blood running underneath, while at the same time it reflects the light of the sky. In one word, I have to put into painting those breasts the naivety I would put into painting a milk tin." These words explain beautifully, without the need for further commentary, how Corot manages to introduce emotion and poetry into such an apparently banal painting. [Museo Thyssen]
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: Young Women of Sparta
To quote Richardson: “Thanks to Corot, Picasso and Braque saw how the presence of a stringed instrument could endow a figure painting with the status of a nature morte. Corot provided the cubists with their quintessential human subject.”
He also provided them with a model for their own tonally subdued palette, a reaction in part, no doubt, against the immpressionists. As Rosenblum has pointed out, Picasso was also aware of this subject of the gypsy mandolinist through a series of picture postcards inspired by the popular nineteenth-century opera Mignon (1866), by the composer Ambroise Thomas. A number of these show the title character playing the mandolin. The romantic nature of the setting and the relaxed pose create a kitsch counterpart to Corot’s original painting. Both sources act as a thematic bridge across the high-low culture border, the crossing of which, as we have seen, was frequently an outcome of Picasso’s work.
The relationship, however, goes much deeper than just a formal connection with such artistic precedents. In Corot’s less well known painting Young Women of Sparta (1868-70), the subject of music is combined with a pose of more explicit sexual allusion. The Italian (Neapolitan) mandolin, with its distinctive round back, like its older cousin the lute and unlike the pear-shaped, flat-backed Portuguese version, is placed in the lap of the reclining figure, making clear the sexual symbolism – the womblike swelling of the back, which in the lute had been associated in the seventeenth century with the physiognomy of pregnancy, and the provocatively placed sound hole. [Simon Shaw-Miller, Visible Deeds of Music: Art and Music from Wagner to Cage, Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 111-112]
In 1868-69, Bonnat accompanied Jean-Léon Gérôme on a tour of Egypt and the Holy Land. During the trip, he made a number of sketches, which he used as the basis for paintings after he returned to Paris. Bonnat was an influential teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and included among his pupils Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Thomas Eakins. A bearded Arab in a crimson caftan and a striped beige burnoose is seated on a carpet holding a sword in one hand and resting his elbow on a divan. Behind him is a saddle. [The Walters Art Museum]
This is a totally personal transposition of the Mona Lisa. In the past the leaf on the girl's forehead was taken to be a pearl. Berthe Goldschmidt, the model, is wearing one of the Italian dresses Corot brought back from his travels abroad.
The title, which remains unexplained, seems to echo another portrait of a young woman by Jan Vermeer. There is the same enigma concerning the model, the same gaze, the same uncertainty about the costume. The blue and yellow turban in Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is described as 'Turkish', while Corot has taken his inspiration from Italian or Greek peasant dress. Then there is the pearl: readily recognizable in the Vermeer, it takes the form here of a dark-colored ornament, part of a transparent veil covering the upper part of the young woman's forehead.
Her forehead partly veiled, the young woman is seated with her forearms crossed and her hands idle. The image that at once springs to mind - except for the landscape in the background - is Leonardo's Mona Lisa. However the hairstyle, the oval face, the costume and the colors are reminiscent of Raphael. What exactly Corot's intention was here is far from easy to say. We cannot ignore the fact that until the early 19th century the Mona Lisa attracted very little attention, and that the interest underlying today's myth only appeared with the Romantic movement of around 1830. Multiple reproduction was on the rise and in response there came in 1859 the famous engraving by Calamatta. [The Louvre]