Eisenman, Rhetoric of Realism - THE RHETORIC OF REALISM...

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Unformatted text preview: THE RHETORIC OF REALISM: RHETORICS OF REALIST ART AND POLITICS USTAVE COURBET (1819—77) BELONGED TO THE. Post—Romantic generation of French artists and writers that included Honoré Daumier, J.—F. Millet, Gustave Flaur bert, and Charles Baudelaire. They were born at the close of an heroic age. In their youth, they witnessed the breakdown of a common language of Classicism, the dissipation of revol— utionary idealism, and the growing division between artists and public. In their maturity, they saw the abandonment of Enlightenment principle and widespread accommodation of authoritarianism. At the end of their lives, they beheld the promise and threat of Communist insurrection and the complete collapse of a bourgeois public sphere. Together, these crises and caesuras combined to convince the-artists and writers of the mid—century that they were living through a cultural rupture of unprecedented dimension: the name given for that broad epoch of change was “modernity,” and the name for that specific post—Romantic generation was Realist. “I am not only a socialist,” Courbet wrote provocatively to a newspaper in 1851, “but a democrat and a Republican as well—in a word, a partisan of all the revolution and above all a Realist . . . for ‘Realist’ means a sincere lover of the honest trut .” The rhetoric of Realism, however, is not confined to artists’ manifestos or to France; it is written across the age and across Europe, in its politics, literature, and painting. The artists and writers mentioned above may not have read Marx’s Manifesto ofthe Communist Party (1847), but their works shared with it a depiction of epochal anxiety, transformation, and desacralization: 222 The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every ‘ " hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent converted the physician, the lawyer, the prie the man of science into its paid wage-laborers. revolutionising of production, uninterrupted d1 of all social conditions, everlasting uncertai tation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all e. . . . All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy i" and man is at last compelled to face with sober; real conditions of life, and his relations with his - Marx’s words are redolent with images from Rea ,. literature. Physician, lawyer, priest, poet, and mail are veritably the cast of characters in Flaubert’s bittw country life, Madame Bauer): (1857); the depressiji for humankind of the “uninterrupted disturbance a . conditions” are exposed in Daumier’s The ' Carriage (ca. 1862), Millet’s The Cleaners ( _ Courbet’s The Stonebreakers (1850); the poet stri ' halo is the subject of Baudelaire’s ironic prose—pa Loss of a Halo” in Paris Spleen (1869). In the art and literature of Courbet and Flaubert- for the ideal and honor of the Classic have no place depicted gross wrestlers, drunken priests, peas tutes, and hunters; the latter described comma pharmacists, journalists, students, and adulter caricatures of Daumier and the poems of Baud _ appear no Romans in togas (except for purposes'of __ medieval knights in armor: they preferred to hone in their shreds and patches, country bumpkins _ fitting city clothes, and bourgeois men in their blae is true that the great tradition has been lost,” wrote is new age, in “On the Heroism of Modern ew one is not yet established. . . . But all the at this much abused garb its own beauty and its In? Is it not the necessary garb of our suffering wears the symbol of a perpetual mourning even ' black shoulders? Note, too, that the dress— _' the frock—coat not only possess their political 10.1 HONORE DAUMIER The Third- Clm‘i' Carriage ca. [862, Oil on canvas, 253/4 x 35% (65.4 x 90.2) 10.2 JEAN-FRANCOIS MILLET The Cleaners 1357. Oil on canvas, 33 X 44 (33.8 X HI.8) beauty, which is an expression of universal equality, but also their poetic beauty, which is an expression of the public soulgan immense cortége of undertakers’ mutes (mutes in love, political mutes, bourgeois mutes . . .). We are each of us celebrating some funeral. Compared to modern men in “frock—coats,” like those from Balzac’s novels, the poet then explains, “the heroes of the Iliad are but pygmies.” RHETORICS OF REALIST ART AND POLITICS . 223 10.3 A anew casual. 1 E15 J'mtais lu J’Art d‘aimer d'Ovide-: plein de respeetpour le beau sexe, et plus poli que Sextus, je me retirai. La poussi'ere du Forum m'avait desséché le gosier: j'entrai dans un cafe. “—— P'uer! m'écriuiuje, apportez—moi une ghee a la pomme des fleepéiides at an rhum. Absorbé par un flamine qui payaitlu demivtasse l1 deux vestales, 1e garqon ne prenait point garde it moi. ‘ 11 10.3 GRANDVILLE “Apple of the Hesperides and rum ice,” from Ur: Arm-e Manda 1844. In contrast to Baudelaire’s irony, Daumier and his fellow earicaturist Grandville U.—I.—I. Gerard, 1803—47) chose anachronism to satirize the “real conditions” of their “suffering age.” In the 1840’s, they highlighted the dubious heroism of the present by depicting the stylishness of figures from the Classical past, as in Daumier’s lithograph “The Abduction of Helen,” from Le Charimri (1842), and Grand— ville’s engraving of Romans ordering an “apple of the Hesperides and rum ice.” In the latter sheet, from the Fourierist U11 Autre Mamie (1844, see pp. 219 and 350), a modish ménage wearing Roman sandals are seated in a bistro, being served drinks by a surly waiter standing in Classical contra—post's. Once again the rhetorics of Realist art and politics may be seen to overlap. Anachronism and caricature were the linguistic weapons of choice for Karl Marx a few years later when he sought to describe the hypocrisy and servility of the bourgeoisie who permitted Louis Napoleon (nephew to the first Napoleon) to destroy the Second Republic in a map 07 ’émt on December 2, 1851: 224- RHETORICS OF REALIST ART AND POLITICS Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. H . add: the first time as tragedy, the second Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blane for Robespl Mountain of 184861 for the Mountain of 1793 Nephew for the Uncle. And the same caricature. the circumstances in which the second editio Eighteenth Brumaire is taking place. [18 Brum date in 1799, according to the Revolutionary when Napoleon I assumed Supreme power.] nature of their unheroic deeds and attitudes. N, bourgeoisie nor their proletarian interlocutors c served to liberate only the bourgeoisie and not we from oppression, Marx writes, the revolutionists “required world—historical recollections in order. themselves concerning their own content.” Sin = other hand, the present revolution was being we proletariat on behalf of all humanity, it required ' clarity as to means and ends. “In order to at content," Marx says, “the revolution of the _ century must let the dead bury their dead. There t went beyond the content; here the content goes ' phrase.” In England no less than France, the style and Classical antiquity—there only recently embraced gave way to an art and literature that emphasized f1 materiality of things, directness of emofional honesty to natural appearances. The artists who fo Pre—Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) in 1848—W . man Hunt (1827—1910), John Everett Millais (13829 Dante. Gabriel Rossetti (1828412)—wer‘e inspi revolutionary events on the Continent and by th ' working—class movement for a People’s Charter, t' reform of British art. Rejecting the mannerism of Raphael as much as the formulas of the Royal A _ PRB turned for inspiration to fifteenth—century I. Flemish painting and to early nineteenth—century _ by Runge, Friedrich, and the Nazarenes. (The Nan called for their beards and long hair, were a bro Catholic—converted German artists active in Rom They included Peter Cornelius, Friedrich 0v Franz Pforr; see p. 146.) From these near and. distan the PRB sought the bases for a regeneration (the journal was named The Germ) of British culture and Millais dispensed with Classical costume and as well as with High Renaissance grace and tim ' Christ in the Home of Hit Parents (1850). The gt: #‘His Parents 1850. wE’IT MILLAIS Carin in the Home I ‘_ 'st and his working—class family instead enshrines acmeSS, physical labor, and the unidealized body. In his observation of a carpenter’s shop on Oxford ndon, Millais’s interior is filled with accurate tier—4001s and wood shavings—connoting the 'd spiritual worth of sweat and handcraft. ast with Millais’s Christ, the interior of Hunt’s eenmg Conscience (1853) is filled with all manner gewgaws and bric—a—brac. The picture records merit when a young woman, “with a startled holy '” in the painter’s words, determines to escape her len life. Like the woman and man themselves, the room has a physiognorny that tells a story which is, as wrote, “common, modern, vulgar . . tragical.” " e, rugs, curtains, tapestry, book, Clock, and picture all a “terrible lustre” and “fatal newness” which ., in Ruskin’s words, “th oral evil of the age in which __amte'd.” As with Coutu ’s Romans of the Decadence, Awakening Conscience argues that the issue of moral material degeneracy is inseparable from “the woman on,” but whereas the one depicts a female as the essagent of modern soeiety’s corruption, the other sees 15 its guileless victim. [0.5 WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT The Awakening Conscience 1853. Oil on canvas, 29‘/_- X 22 (74.9 X 55.8) RHETORICS OF REALIST ART AND POLITICS - 225 10.12 Like Millais’s Christ in the Home of His Parents, Ford Madox Brown’s (1821—93) monumental and complex paint— ing Work (1852—65) preaches the Christian Socialist gospel of work as the cure for'the social unrest and moral iniquity that plagued mid—Victorian England. (Both paintings, in fact, were commissioned by the same evangelizing patron, the Leeds stockbroker and philanthropist Edward Plint.) Unlike the former painting, however, Brown’s is based on contemporary London life, not on biblical narrative. The scene is set in mid— afternoon at Heath Street in Hampstead; a group of men known as navvies—“representing the outward and visible type of Work,” as Brown wrote in his extended explication of the picture—is shown digging a trench into which a new waterworks main will be laid. To the left, carrying a basket of wildflowers for sale, stands a “ragged wretch,” a represeni tative of the [ampere (ignorant and disenfranchised) pro— letariat. In contrast to the “fully—developed navvy who does his work and loves his beer,” he “has never been taught to work . . . [and] doubts and despairs of every one.” Above him, on horseback and on foot, are the idle rich who “have no need to work.” One of themfwith umbrella, bonnet, and downward— cast eyes;has just handed a temperance tract to a navvy who returns a skeptical glance. To the far right of the painting stand “two men who appear to have nothing to do,” but who are in fact “brainworkers.” Their job is to think and criticize, like the “sages in ancient Greece,” thereby helping to assure “well ordained work and happiness in others." These “sages,” in fact, are the Christian Socialist Frederick Denison Maurice at right and the great polemicist and “reactionary socialist" (as Marx wrote in 1848) Thomas Carlyle at left. Indeed, amid the extraordinary welter of persons, anec— dotes, and details, “not the smallest [of which] has been considered unworthy of thought and deep study” (as the artist’s granddaughter noted), the presence of Carlyle is especially significant. In his Past and Present (1843), Carlyle condemned the loss of affective human bonds. in contempor— ary British society, and their replacement by a cold and impersonal “cash—payment nexus.” The solution to the present crisis, he believed, lay in leadership by an aristocracy of talent, and in the cleansing pfiver of hard work. Physical labor, he wrote: “[is like] . . . a fr e—flowing channel, dug and torn by noble force . . . draining off .the sour, festering water . . . making instead of a pestilent swamp, a green fruitful meadow." In War/e, Brown made the Carlyle metaphor concrete and real. His navvies are laying pipes, as the art historian Gerard Curtis has discussed, to provide fresh water to replace the fetid streams that turned working—class neighborhoods into filthy and pestilential slums. Hard work, Brown and Carlyle believed, is essential to human health and human nature itself; it ennobles people and cleanses their very 226 ‘ RHIETORICS OF REALIST ART AND POLITICS souls in the face of a system that would othe" them, and enslave them to filthy lucre. Millais, Hunt, and Brown’s pictures, like man“ ' the PRB and their associates in their first dec-a were disdained by critics precisely for their insi ' ' . larity, contemporaneity, and topicality, regardless ' subject depicted. Indeed, at almost the same mom Courbet‘s paintings of proletarian labor and rt condemned at the Paris Salon for their ugliness an Millais’s Christ at the Royal Academy Exhibitio attacked by Charles Dickens for its rejection of “ thoughts . . . or beautiful associations” in the name mean, odious, repulsive and revolting.” Brown’s p subjected to no such obloquy when it was finally fin1._ In the exact middle of the nineteenth century, “th went beyond the phrase,” to repeat Marx’s form both politics and art. A cataclysmic, European—widen: decline during the years 1846—8, coinciding with: ’ national political crises, led to an outbreak of revol'_ France in February 1848. Uprisings quickly fo '_ Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Italy, amo states and kingdoms. The February revolutibn in however, was succeeded in June by a second and significant insurrection. The closure of the Nation shops—whose recent establishment had been a h attempt by the Provisional Government to placate't led to a massive proletarian rising on June 23. I 7 following day, barricades rapidly ribboned through L:- . twisting streets of Paris and a pitched battle was;- between working—class insurgents and the National supported by a bourgeois and peasant “party of ord 26th, the workers (and such intellectual fellow—nave; Baudelaire) were isolated in their foubnurgs, their were in tatters, and their cause was doomed; 1500 died three days of battle, 3000 more were slaughtered immediate aftermath, and many thousands in additi __ arrested, imprisoned, and transported to distan colonies. The June days, the conservative political '_ Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, were “a struggle of class .‘ class”; Marx was in agreement, calling the insurrec ' first great battle . . . between the two classes that split in" society.” The revolution was defeated in France and e? where else in 1848, but the image of the quarante—h' armed and brimming with revolutionary ardor, inform ' rhetoric of the age. During and after 1848, artists and revolutionaries‘inF' (the names of the latter include Pr]. Proudhon, Louis B VEAN~FRANCOIS MILLE'I‘ The Smart 1850. Oil on canvas, 32% (101 X 82.5) 'ud Auguste Blanqui) felt compelled as never before “to face i sober senses [the] real conditions of life and [man’s] ons with his kind.” Many now believed that, regardless _ “Tell me, what is a communist?’ ‘They are people who :tolceep money in common, work in common and land in 11’ ‘That’s fine, but how can it happen if they have no . on sense?” i the existence of a dominant rhetorical timbre to the jeh art and literature of mid—century, there can be little doubt. Such diverse writers as Flaubert, Baudelaire, and de Tocqueville, and such varied painters as Courbet, Millet, Octave Tassaert, and Isidore Pils shared a perception of social dislocation, alienation from the Classical past, and concern or joy about a pending revolution. The Realist Daumier, who lived at this time in the midst of the workingmlass 9th Arrondissement of Paris, described and depicted in his paintings and caricatures, contemporary urban street life and leisure, and the domestic hardships and joys of working people. The Realist Millet, who left Paris in 1849 for the peaceful rural village of Barbizon, represented in The Cleaner: and The Samar (1850) the virtue of agricultural labor and the biblical nobility of rural poverty. Both artists are Realists by virtue of their common focus upon contemporary working- class life and urban and rural conflict. Yet the very commonality of this rhetoric of Realism should serve as a warning that we are in the presence of an ideology whose function was to obscure as much as it was to reveal “the content beyond the phrase” of 1848. Indeed, by 1855 the dictator Louis Napoleon had succeeded in establishing a conservative school of oflicial realism‘including Pils, Tas— saert, Jules Breton, Rosa Bonheur, Théodule Ribot, and many othersr—in opposition to the insurgent Realism of Courbet. Thus, what was hidden beneath the Realist consensus was a fierce struggle among artists and art institutions over precisely the measures to be taken in either advancing or retarding the great historical changes then underway in France and the West. The key question about Courbet and the Realists, there— fore, does not primarily concern his and their particular attitudes toward modernity: all Realists more or less shared Daumier’s credo 1'! firm Eire de son temps; all more or less agreed with the novelist, critic, folklorist, and political chameleon Champfleury (Jules Husson) that art must represent the everyday life of common people. Rather, the issue concerns the actual position and fimrrz'on of Realist works within the mode and relations of production of their time. “This question,” Walter Benjamin writes, “is concerned, in other words, directly with the [artistic] technique of works.” Thus the argument made below will be that the innovative technique of Gustave Courbet—more than any other artist of the daprropelled political change by challenging the existing institutional relationship between art and the public. Like Jacques~Louis David before him, Courbet employed a technique alien to the established traditions and audiences for art. For the Enlightenment David, this alienation arose from his rejection of Rococo and aristocratic bun tan, and his embrace of Neoclassical and bourgeois noblest-e. For the Realist Courbet, this alienation entailed a rejection of academic and bourgeois juste milieu, and an espousal of the formal principles found in nonclassical and working—class RHETORICS OF REALIST ART AND POLITICS - 227 10.6 {0.7 GUSTAVE COURBET Men With Leather Belt ca. 1845. Oil on canvas, 39%: X 32%(100 X 82) popular art. By this means, Courbet attempted to turn formerly neglected peasant and proletarian Salon spectators into artistic collaborators, thereby potentially ennobling and empowering them at the expense of their putative betters. In the course of the decade following 1848, Courbet enacted an interventionist cultural role that has since been defined as avant—garde. Avant—garde art, I shall argue at the end of this chapter, is exceptional in the nineteenth century, and exceptionally fragile. By the end of Courbet‘s life, it had mutated into a nearly quietist modernism. COURBET’S TRILOGY OF 1849750 Courbet was born in the village of Ornans, near Besancon in the region of centraleeastern France called the Franchefl Comte. His father Régis was a wealthy farmer who resisted his son’s decision to become an artist, but nevertheless paid his way to Paris in 1839. There, Courbet studied in the private studios of a succession of mediocre academic masters, learning at first a somewhat labored Romanticism which recalls the “Troubador Style” practised by Couture and others in the 1840’s. Yet even as a young artist, Courbet demonstrated independence and self—assurance: his selfeportraits including 228- COURBET'S 'l'RII.OGY 0F l849—50 th Willi Leather- Belt (ca. 1845) and The Wound 1844—54) in fact mark a kind of liberation from jurte milieu. In place of the Neoclassical _ , contemporary portraits by, for example, Hipp Flandrin and Theodore Chassériau (Portrait Dru Tocqueville, 1844), Courbet’s self—portraits reveal ...
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