Thursday, March 3, 2011

Modernity - Haussmannization of Paris and "the Painters of Modern Life"

Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, 1863

Napoleon  III, believed in the industrialization of France and commissioned Baron Haussmann between 1850 -1870 , to rebuild Paris.  Haussman instigated a very ambitious program of city planning that destroyed the medieval fabric of the city and replaced it with large boulevards, new bridges, an opera house, and avenues giving new perspectives to monuments. Industrialization in the form of railroads and gas lamps were conveniences that aided  the newly forming bourgeoisie to enjoy their leisurely pursuits. Although he had many  passionate critics, the new spaces created by Hausmannization were where the spectacle of Paris was put on display.  These spaces were also where the different classes of society could be seen to 'coexist but not  connect' together.  People complained of  different spheres of society and different quarters that defined Paris overlapping and blurring the lines of traditional conventions. As T. J. Clark points out all these different territories seem to be places laid on for display but also ambiguity, where people are hard to make out, their gestures and expressions unconvincing, their purpose obscure The essential myth of modern life is the marginal, it is ambiguity, it is mixture of classes and classifications, it is anomie and improvisation, it is the reign of generalized illusion .1  All of these characteristics seem to be the elements that can be found in the paintings of Manet and Impressionist artists whom he mentored and influenced.

Charles Baudelair, in his essay of 1863 'The Painter of Modern Life' published in Le Figaro described modernity as 'the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent'.  The main protagonist in modernity was the Flaneur, whom Baudelair described as  "a gentleman stroller of city streets and a detached, well-informed observer with exquisite manners and impeccable dress who wandered around town and observed the goings on.' In this sense all the impressionists were flaneurs and Manet's work is described as the 'realism of the flaneur.'

1.  T.J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life - Paris in the Art of Manet and his followers, (Princeton University Press 1999) 48

Edouard Manet, Un Bar aux Folies-Bergere, 1882

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863


  1. Thank you! :D
    It really helped me for my Powerpoint presentation :)

    1. Hi and Welcome to Sedef's Corner,

      I am glad it helped.


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