Marie-Camille’s Idealist Avant-Garde
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.