The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society

By Linda Nochlin | Go to book overview

7
Léon Frédéric and The Stages of a Worker's Life

About 1895, the Belgian painter Léon Frédéric created a remarkable and ambitious triptych, The Stages of a Worker's Life.1 I say "ambitious" advisedly, for the work is grandiose in scale, the central panel measuring 162.5 cm × 187 cm and the sides each 162 cm × 94 cm, and is packed to bursting with monumental figures [1]. At the same time, the triptych must be considered ambitious in the sense of being exhaustive in descriptive accuracy, for it is obsessively minute in its detail. Frédéric conceives of pictorial truth as all-inclusive, right down to the defining proletarian detail of the tattoo on the bulging forearm of the bending navy in the foreground of the left-hand panel. Yet impressive as it is, The Stages of a Worker's Life is riddled with contradictions--contradictions, it must be added, that make it all the more interesting for the contemporary viewer. Here is a work, created late in the nineteenth century, that seems to look backward and forward with almost equal intensity: backward to Frédéric's national heritage--to Brueghel, Rubens, and Jordaens--and to the more recent past of proletarian depiction: Courbet, Millet, Bastien-Lepage, and Ford Madox Brown. Yet at the same time, the Worker's Life triptych seems to look ahead to both the subject matter and style of the murals of the New Deal, to the techniques of Magic Realism, and even to the obsessivecompulsive vision of Surrealism. Then, too, this is a work that seems at once to be prototypically secular in its fixation on material detail, the defining particularities of texture, light, and surface, as well as in its socially conscious theme, and yet at the same time suggests the religious

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The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vi
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Introduction xii
  • Notes xxiii
  • 1- The Invention of the Avant-Garde: France, 1830-1880 1
  • Notes 17
  • 2- Courbet, Oller, and a Sense Of Place: the Regional, The Provincial, and the Picturesque In 19th-Century Art 19
  • Notes 32
  • 3- The Imaginary Orient 33
  • Notes 57
  • 4- Camille Pissarro: The Unassuming Eye 60
  • Notes 74
  • 5- Manet's Masked Ball at the Opera 75
  • Notes 92
  • 6- Van Gogh, Renouard, And The Weavers' Crisis in Lyons 95
  • 7- Léon Frédéric And The Stages of a Worker's Life 120
  • Notes 139
  • 8- Degas and the Dreyfus Affair: A Portrait of the Artist As an Anti-Semite. 141
  • Notes 164
  • 9- Seurat's La Grande Jatte: An Anti-Utopian Allegory 170
  • Notes 190
  • Index 194
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