Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848-1871

Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848-1871

Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848-1871

Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848-1871

Synopsis

From the European revolutions of 1848 through the Italian independence movement, the American Civil War, and the French Commune, the era Albert Boime explores in this fourth volume of his epic series was, in a word, transformative. The period, which gave rise to such luminaries as Karl Marx and Charles Darwin, was also characterized by civic upheaval, quantum leaps in science and technology, and the increasing secularization of intellectual pursuits and ordinary life. In a sweeping narrative that adds critical depth to a key epoch in modern art's history, Art in an Age of Civil Struggle shows how this turbulent social environment served as an incubator for the mid-nineteenth century's most important artists and writers.

Tracing the various movements of realism through the major metropolitan centers of Europe and America, Boime strikingly evokes the milieus that shaped the lives and works of Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Émile Zola, Honoré Daumier, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the earliest photographers, among countless others. In doing so, he spearheads a powerful new way of reassessing how art emerges from the welter of cultural and political events and the artist's struggle to interpret his surroundings. Boime supports this multifaceted approach with a wealth of illustrations and written sources that demonstrate the intimate links between visual culture and social change. Culminating at the transition to impressionism, Art in an Age of Civil Struggle makes historical sense of a movement that paved the way for avant-garde aesthetics and, more broadly, of how a particular style emerges at a particular moment.

Excerpt

Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848–1871, the fourth volume in the series A Social History of Modern Art, essentially covers the period from the European revolutions of 1848 and the bourgeoning independence movement in Italy through the American Civil War and culminating with the French Commune. Although Biedermeier culture is also covered in this volume, I take this step back in time from 1848 to help clarify the wellsprings of the revolutions in Prussia and Austria and its predominantly realist sensibility. This volume embraces the various movements of realism and culminates just at the moment of transition to French impressionism, although the Italian Macchiaioli already anticipate many of the principles later associated with the French movement.

This is a period characterized by a quantum leap in science and technology, and by the continuing secularization of intellectual thought and ordinary existence. The major metropolitan centers may be seen as battlegrounds in a double sense: as sites for civic transformation and urban renewal programs and as spheres of actual domestic combat. Napoléon III's ambitious project to rebuild Paris from the ground up had as its major aim to transform the old medieval city into a modern metropolis, but it also succeeded in driving the working classes to the slum districts on the eastern margins of the city or to the shantytowns of the suburbs. The mastermind and supervisor of the emperor's vast scheme, Baron Georges Haussmann, widened the boulevards and eliminated many of the narrow, winding, crooked streets both to reduce the opportunities for street uprisings and the construction of barricades and to allow the military to move in expeditiously with rolling armor to crush them. Although some opponents of the scheme, still reeling from 1848, feared the increase of workers that public works would attract to the city, the program actually served to stabilize the social and political structure by offering abundant employment. These urban developments in Paris paralleled a similar evolution in Vienna, Brussels, New York, and a host of other municipalities as these cities were revamped to accommodate the privileged sectors of society and protect them . . .

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