Town and Country: French Types in the 19th Century

July 23, 2011—January 22, 2012

July 23, 2011-January 22, 2012

Location: Nelson-Atkins Building, Gallery P27

Admission is free.

Art production in France during the 19th century was marked by a fascination with defining and classifying various social types. The initial impulse to document French citizens of all walks of life stemmed from the rise of Naturalism, which prioritized motifs drawn from everyday life.

Currently on view in P27 is a selection of works on paper that reflects this desire to represent le peuple, or the French people, from the 1830s to the 1890s.

The development of an increasingly prosperous middle class led to an interest in collecting art, particularly prints. Among the subjects favored by the bourgeoisie were prints portraying country types, such as peasants and farmers, engaged in rural activities like raking, digging, and spinning thread. This imagery held nostalgic appeal, as the spread of the Industrial Revolution threatened traditional modes of life.

While country types were primarily defined by their labor, city types were classified by their clothing, surroundings, and leisure activities. Artists reveled in capturing the variety of Parisians that mixed and mingled along the capital’s newly-constructed avenues. Towards the end of the 19th century, images of dancers, singers and nightclub performers joined the ranks of the dandy, courtesan, and street urchin as popular urban types that defined the modern city.

Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875). The Gleaners, 1855–1856. Etching, Sheet: 9 1/4 x 12 inches. Gift of David Keppel, 13-1374.


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