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Marie-Camille’s Idealist Avant-Garde

April 4, 2012

The first piece I will examining is Jean-Francois Millet’s The Gleaners. Though Marie-Camille believed artwork should reveal the sufferings of the poor, in her critiques and selections she seemed to have placed more importance on a work’s statement for the future. It is this distinction that leads me to believe she would not have received Millet’s Gleaners too positively.

The Gleaner’s depicts three women gleaning a freshly harvested wheat field. In contrast to the large piles of cut wheat in the background, the three women pick meager scraps from the field in a heavy, fatigued pace. Though this piece clearly outlines a life of poverty and destitution, which could certainly be taken as a criticism of capitalist society, there is no positive resolve in this work. The viewer is left with the assumption that these womens’ lives and class will remain the same. Nothing suggests momentum in society’s upheaval of the ideologies that put these women in the fields gleaning. The same can be said of Gustave Courbet’s The Stone Breakers. The poverty that consumes the older man and the child is depicted as an eternal truth, something that has been with civilization from the beginning, and will be there in the end. This is further suggested with the reference to the cycle of life with the young adult and the old man representing the reality that working class laborers were stuck there for life.

I’m not exactly sure if either of these paintings could be modified to fit Marie-Camille’s views more closely. The large size of Courbet’s Stone Breakers elevates the status of subjects to that of heroes perhaps, but it still lacks any vision of the future. I struggled to find images in either book that I thought would satisfy Marie-Camille’s tastes, and as Gen Doy states in her case study, “Material differences: the early avant-garde in France”, Marie-Camille’s choice of the Martyrdom of St. Symphorian “probably represents her least worst option rather than a statement of her ideal avant-garde painting.” Perhaps she would have been more sympathetic to Stone Breakers than she was to Courbet’s Burial for its depiction of the proleteriat rather than Burial’‘s depiction of the petite bourgeoisie and the subservient, almost pathetic, depiction of mourning women seperate from the males running the show.

However, Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People: July 28, 1830 is one image that could have passed the Marie-Camille test. The mob of people following Liberty’s lead are clearly meant to be of the lower-class, yet none of their faces are weary with their struggles (rather, they are full of excitement and passion for social justice). Also, the focal point of the piece is a strong, female figure leading a proleteriat revolution, not a woman stuck in the gender and economic roles assumed of her. Here she is equal, if not greater, than her male counterparts; a definite contrast to Courbet’s gender divided burial. I think that if I investigated Marie-Camille more, I would find that the works she positively critiqued would be more Romantic than Realist. Her idealist thoughts and expectations of art don’t lend themselves very well for receiving Realist depictions of struggle.


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  1. You’ve brought up some nice points! I don’t think that Marie-Camille would have wholeheartedly liked many of the paintings in our textbooks – although she would have liked different paintings for different reasons. I do think that she would have liked that “The Gleaners” depicts women who are active (instead of half-naked women who lounge about on a sofa, acting as “eye candy” for a male viewer). Your suggestion of “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix is a good one (although it is a little ironic, considering that Marie-Camille condemned Delacroix’s sensual painting, “Women of Algiers” in her Salon review!). Nonetheless, I can completely see what you are saying.

    Perhaps “The Gleaners” would have fit Marie-Camille’s vision better if the landowner was also depicted in the scene, working alongside the other female figures?

    -Prof. Bowen

  2. Haemi Jung permalink

    I really enjoyed your blog in this week! Actually I like Millet’s works but I haven’t look as deeply. Personally, I really like warm colors with harvest scene. This painting is realism just like Courbet’s paintings. Millet also depicted ordinary people’s real life in the painting. Even though it is hard work, they just trying to live well. In the realism art works, I always could feel the humanity, so I love realism art works!

  3. I like how you interpreted The Gleaners and The Stone Breakers as showing that there is “no end in sight” to the lives that the lower-class is living. Both are painted with such weight and distress that it really does show the emotions of the people depicted in each painting.

  4. Photodork2165 permalink

    You had mentioned the lack of future presence in the Stone Breakers piece. The modernism in the boy’s shoes and his young age create a look into the future of the depression to come. I really enjoyed Liberty Leading the People, because of the strong female leader that didn’t fall into societies stereotype. I agree that the pieces Marie-Camille would be more in realism and romanticism.

  5. I agree with Prof. Bowen, a lot of the pictures in our text really dont fit the bill for Marie-Camille. You have a great idea when talking about the stone breakers, and how it showed how everything was going to lay out. I almost chose the Liberty Leading the People but I couldn’t think of how to word my thoughts around the imagery, I feel that you captured what I wish I could write.

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