Art the French Impressionists Rendered Modern Bourgeois Essay

Pages: 5 (1675 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)


The French Impressionists rendered modern bourgeois life, often by focusing on gardens and leisure activities. Both Berthe Morisot and Gustave Caillebotte use garden scenery as a background for conveying themes related to modern life in France in the late nineteenth century. Morisot's "The Basket Chair" was painted in 1885, and depicts a mother and her young child in a private, fenced-off garden. Caillebotte's 1878 "The Orange Trees" conveys a scene in a public park, most likely a public park in Paris. The impressionistic gardens are at once a vehicle and the central subject matter. As vehicle, the gardens allow the painters to explore new artistic techniques such as the means by which to render light; the use of a delicate and nuanced palette; and the clever use of brush strokes that make the distance at which the viewer studies the painting more important than it had been before. As subject matter, the gardens serve symbolic as well as literal functions in both paintings. Central to both Morisot's and Caillebotte's renditions of gardens are their depictions of gender relations at the end of the nineteenth century in France. Gendered worlds are distinct and separate; even if they are possibly egalitarian. Even though the two artists accomplish their thematic and formal goals differently, both Morisot and Caillebotte use gardens to represent the social, political, and economic realities of late nineteenth century Europe.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Essay on Art the French Impressionists Rendered Modern Bourgeois Assignment

In Berthe Morisot's "The Basket Chair," the titular object serves a formal function. Off to the side of the composition, the chair is far from being the central subject matter. Quite the contrary, had Morisot given her painting a different title the viewer might only pay casual tribute to the large, egg-shaped chair. The chair's color is meaningful in the composition of the painting in that it is the only object to share the same hue as the child's hair. The child and the chair therefore share a thematic bond in the painting. The relationship between the child and the chair is central to Morisot's composition and begs the viewer for further study. Because the chair is shaped like an egg, or more appropriately, like a womb, its symbolic function is as important and obvious as its formal function. The child and the chair both represent female fertility, and present a rosy picture of modern motherhood. Indeed, the mother in the painting is rendered in a rather nondescript manner. She could in fact be a nanny rather than a mother: the squatting figure has dark hair whereas the child's hair is auburn like the chair. The viewer is encouraged to only pay a passing glance at the woman in the background; the features of her face are duly blurred and it is impossible to know exactly what she is doing crouched down on the ground.

Morisot incorporates several formal and structural elements in "The Basket Chair" that draw the viewer's eye continually toward the child. In addition to the basket chair itself, several other elements cause the viewer's eye to return again and again to the cheerful child. Most notably, the child gazes back at the viewer. The painting has a photographic quality, as if it were rendered by studying a family photograph. Morisot may in fact have been influenced heavily by the advent of photography in the late nineteenth century. When she painted "The Basket Chair" in 1885, photography was well on its way towards becoming both a means of documentation and a means of journalism. Another formal element that draws the viewer's eye toward the child is the diagonal lines of the garden trellises in the background. Likely holding up rose bushes, the trellises point deliberately at the child, whose white outfit would otherwise get too lost amid the background. The ground is rendered in similar shades of bone, cream, and off-white, which make the child play a visual peek-a-boo with the viewer. Were it not for the warm russet-colored chair, the viewer could miss the child entirely. Finally, another formal element that draws attention to the child is the water bucket. The spout of the bucket points directly to the child, just as the lines of the trellises do.

The only silver object in the composition, the water bucket serves a symbolic as well as a formal function. The bucket seems far too large in relation to other objects in the composition, even though it is placed in the foreground. Oversized, the bucket plays an important role in "The Basket Chair." It points to the child, and it also symbolizes maternal nurturing: a symbolic watering of the child. The bucket therefore has a surreal quality to it, as it stands out among all the objects in the painting. Almost the size of the child, the watering bucket is of course placed in the garden as the means by which to water the plants in the heat of summer. Its practical function belies the fact that the bucket represents maternal nurturing, as its formal function in the composition is to point to the child.

"The Basket Chair" encapsulates the private, walled-off world of bourgeois women in modern France. Whether the crouched-down woman is a mother or a nanny is irrelevant. Either way, Morisot presents a picture of the upper class that is endowed with enough wealth to enable ample leisure time. No one is working in the picture; no one is even watering the garden. The giant chair also symbolizes endless swathes of leisure time. The clothing the two figures wear, including the young girl's white dress and hat, also suggest that the bourgeois do not get their hands dirty. The fence represents both the walled-off lives of the bourgeois as a class but also the distinction between male and female social circles. There is not even the hint of a man in the painting, except for the phallic imagery that the bucket handle represents. Because it focuses on a female world that is independent from that of the male, Morisot suggests a modern society in which women and men lead different lives from one another. The man is but a sperm donor in "The Basket Chair."

Likewise, men and women lead different lives in Gustave Caillebotte's "The Orange Trees." A man and a woman escape the summer heat by staying in the shade. The man sits on a chair reading, while the woman seems to be writing in the background as she stands by the orange tree. Both are well-dressed; like Morisot, Caillebotte depicts bourgeois life in modern France.

In "The Orange Trees," the viewer's eye is drawn to the standing woman, even though neither she nor the man in the painting is remotely interested in what is going on around them. Morisot uses a fence to accomplish what Caillebotte does with body language. Both the man and the woman in "The Orange Trees" are absorbed in their own worlds, and do not interact either with the viewer or with each other. Their gendered worlds are separate but equal, suggesting the empowerment of women. The woman here is without a child and she is engaged in what could possibly be a creative pursuit. However, by rendering the seated man as facing the woman, Caillebotte may be suggesting that the man is watching his wife the way he might watch a child. Ultimately, their relationship is ambiguous; the man and woman may or may not know each other. Painted several years before Morisot painted "The Basket Chair," Caillebotte's painting uses soft light, imparted by a gentle color palette. The small and delicate brushstrokes also convey a softer, gentler imagery than that of Morisot's painting.

Like Morisot, Caillebotte uses symbolism to convey ideas of social, economic, and political life in late nineteenth century France. The titular orange trees are not bearing fruit. Their bare state symbolizes the lack… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Art the French Impressionists Rendered Modern Bourgeois.  (2011, November 23).  Retrieved March 4, 2021, from

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"Art the French Impressionists Rendered Modern Bourgeois."  November 23, 2011.  Accessed March 4, 2021.