Art, War, and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage, and Reality

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During a brief and ferociously violent ten-month period between 1870 and 1871, the last Napoleonic empire was destroyed, France was plunged into a hopeless war with Prussia, Paris was besieged, and the Paris Commune revolted and was suppressed by a new Republic. This engrossing book surveys the responses made by artists to these cataclysmic events.

John Milner investigates not only what the war and the Commune meant to the artists concerned but also how artists defined the character and nature of events and presented them to the public, thereby influencing their reception, interpretation, and impact. Milner explains the evolving positions of artists during that year. Under Napoleon III, artists received major commissions from patrons and were centrally involved in the image of empire. In wartime, artists called up for duty recorded the horrors of war and became politicized, some loyal to the emperor, others violently against. When the war was over, the uprising of the Paris Commune set the French against themselves. Some artists--in particular Gustave Courbet—declared themselves Communards and rejected the government, producing powerful canvases that portrayed the final slaughter that suppressed the Commune. A new image—of the Republic, of military defeat, and of the significance of the Commune—was needed, and fresh opportunities arose for artists who were able to redraw or reinterpret history.

About the Author:
John Milner is professor of art history at the University of Newcastle and author of Kazimir Malevich and the Art of Geometry and Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century, both published by Yale University Press.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The actual text of this study makes for a solid, secondary source-based account of the time of the Paris CommuneDthe war with Prussia and end of the Third Empire that preceded it, the months the Communards ruled the city in 1871, the siege of Paris by Republican forces and the aftermath of general mayhemDbut that's not the point here. Every page of this coffee-table-sized volume contains one, two, three or even four or five illustrationsD337 in b&w and 59 in colorDthat not only embellish the story, but were part of the Commune's creation. Art historian Milner (Studios of Paris) of the University of Newcastle shows how, in an age before the widespread use of photographs in newspapers, artists like Courbet (who was accused of planning the toppling of the Place Vend me's giant column), Gustave Dor (a caricaturist and painter who remained neutral), veteran caricaturist Daumier and other artists rendered the figures and events of the revolution for public consumptionDthe fire-starting petroleuses and the heroic women at the barricades, the "Laughing Man" of the Republic and the "Week of Blood" that reigned when Republicans retook Paris. Milner's focus on the artists, the larger events they witnessed (or participated in) and explications of their works precludes a detailed look at how those works made their way to the press or how they were read by the populace itself, even though the title seems to promise it. It's an unfortunate gap, one that limits the book's usefulness and appeal to fans of cultural studies. But the assemblage of the revolutionaryDand counterrevolutionary-materials here will undoubtedly lead to further work, and a look at the personal decisions the artists faced gives some insight into the nature of artistic engagement at the time. It's a book that is sure to find its way onto the shelves of red-diaper babies of means. (Dec.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300084078
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Series: Art, War, and Revolution Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 10.42 (w) x 11.56 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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