History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 1

10 & 11 February 2021

The Politics of Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture & the Third French Republic, 1871-1895

 with Chris Boïcos

Albert Fernique, photograph of Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty assembled in Paris, 1884

Having emerged out of the ashes of war and revolution in 1871, the French Third Republic turned out to be, beyond all expectations, a resilient regime lasting much longer than most post-revolutionary French governments, until its final collapse at the opening of the Second World War in 1940.

 

Young and fragile in its first two decades it had to affirm itself and its legitimacy and one way of doing so was by creating a new historical mythology based on its vision of « la nation », the French Revolution of 1789 and its imagined roots in all periods of French history.

 

Art, sculpture and architecture contributed largely to this endeavor and provided the young regime with the imagery and symbolism that in many ways survives in modern France to this day.

 

In our lecture we will study the visual symbols of the Republic most particularly in Paris and also see how monuments and historical figures of the past were smoothly absorbed into the iconography of the new regime by its official painters, sculptors and architects: Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Alfred Roll, Léon Bonnat, Jules Dalou, Léon Lhermitte, Auguste Bartholdi (creator of the Statue of Liberty of New York), Gustave Eiffel and Gabriel Davioud among others.

 

We will also see how the modern schools of the period responded to and sometimes undermined the artistic and cultural politics of the Republic by creating alternative styles or iconography - Monet, Seurat, Signac, Maximilien Luce and Rodin being among the most prominent examples of this reaction.

Georges Seurat, Eiffel Tower, c. 1889

San Francisco, Legion of Honor Museum