Examine how scientific and technological changes and new forms of energy brought about massive social, economic, and cultural change.
La Manifestation (The Demonstration), 1893
State Content Standards
10.3.2 Examine how scientific and technological changes and new forms of energy brought about massive social, economic, and cultural change (e.g. the inventions and discoveries of James Watt, Eli Whitney, Henry Bessemer, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison)
10.3.7 Describe the emergence of Romanticism in art and literature (e.g. the poetry of William Black and William Wordsworth), social criticism (e.g. the novels of Charles Dickens) and the move away from Classicism in Europe.
About Félix Vallotton
Félix Vallotton was born in Lausanne , Switzerland in 1865 to a well-to-do family. He left his home at age 17 to study painting at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris . He honed his skills by copying old master paintings in the Louvre, but gained initial critical success from painting portraits and later, interior scenes. In time, he developed friendships within a growing circle of avant-garde artists who identified with the Post-Impressionists. By the late 1880s and early 1890s he turned to producing woodcuts and black-and-white illustrations for the progressive cultural periodicals of the time. His dramatic compositions, based on contemporary events, caused a sensation in Paris art circles. Although his woodcuts and illustrations were among his most innovative works, Vallotton is most frequently associated with a group of artists known as the Nabis , a Hebrew word for Prophets. His paintings from the 1890s reflect the group's fascination with color, flattened patterns, and spiritualism, and their collective interest in the work of Paul Gauguin.
In 1899, Vallotton married Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, member of a wealthy family of art dealers. In 1900, he became a French citizen. By this time, he had achieved critical and financial success with his art. In 1913, he visited Russia at the invitation of a collector, thus widening his circle of supporters and his own world view. During World War I, Vallotton produced a series of anti-war drawings, and gained further attention for his riveting work entitled Verdun . By 1920, he was working in the south of France and exhibiting regularly.
Vallotton was a prolific artist, taking many innovations and challenges in his work. During the course of his career he produced more than 200 engravings, numerous drawings, 1,700 paintings and a few sculptures.
About La Manifestation
Vallotton shows a crowd of fearful people fleeing from an unseen predator. Legs are extended in exaggerated diagonal lines to convey the sense of fear and flight. A governess, identified by the stroller she pushes, symbolizes the vulnerability of this cross-section of citizens. Her cape and the ribbons from her hat billow behind her as she runs along the sidewalk, contrasting with the locked doors and shuttered windows to her left. The agitation of diagonal movement and intersecting shapes is offset by the almost comical depiction of individual characters who appear at the rear of the fleeing crowd and in the foreground of the composition. The crowd seems to be made up of well-dressed gentlemen for the most part. One elderly man in the lower left – his back curved and knees bent – extends his hands in a vain attempt to catch his hat. To his right, a heavier man in top hat, overcoat, checked muffler and closed umbrella seems unable to flee as he waddles in the direction of the moving crowd.
Vallotton conveys the impression of the crowd through contrasting white and black and open and closed space in this dramatic composition. A few figures in the foreground are distinctive, but as the viewer's eye progresses upward to the background, the black areas congeal into a heavy black mass, articulated only by small white specks that suggest space between individuals. The artist cleverly opens additional white space in the solid black blocks in the middle of the composition by incorporating patterns of checks, stripes, polka-dots, and plaids, as well as an open umbrella/parasol and three white jackets.
Vallotton also incorporates Japanese influences in this innovative composition. In the aftermath of Japan opening trade with western nations in the late 19th century, colorful Japanese prints flooded Paris and other international trading centers. French artists, in particular, were drawn to particular characteristics of Japanese aesthetics. The asymmetrical balance, higher horizon line, flattened space, rich patterning and distinctive use of shape represented a radical departure from conventional ways of depicting reality in the western traditions. La Manifestation embodies many of these non-western ideas in a simple and exceptionally provocative composition. The overhead diagonal viewpoint and tipped perspective are taken from Japanese prints. This technique also accentuates the sense of figures rushing to the upper edge of the image.
Vallotton concentrated on the medium of wood cut for portraits and scenes of everyday life. From 1891 - 1897, he was also producing illustrations for magazines such as Revue Blanche , which tapped into Paris' rich, bohemian culture and promoted his work to an even larger audience. At this same time, mass-produced, hand-colored lithographs by artists such as Vallotton's friend Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) appeared on billboards and magazine covers. Reaching even wider masses, avant-garde periodicals and political newspapers sometimes included artists' prints – lithographs, etchings and wood engravings – as bonuses for subscribers.
This deceptively small work – at 8 x 12-1/2”, it is about the size of a sheet of writing paper – continues to convey a sense of power and passion, even beyond the time period and events it captures. Vallotton's seemingly simplistic approach attracted many imitators, but few achieved his level of sophistication with this medium.
Art, Society and Politics in Late 19th Century France
In the late 19th century, Paris was a center of continual social and political unrest, manifested in frequent street demonstrations and conflicts between government authorities and agitated citizens. In the wake of its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, France set up a new government called the Third Republic . Although the country entered into a relatively stable period, the last three decades of the century were marked by the political scandals of the Paris Commune uprising in 1871, the Boulangist Movement of 1886-1889 and the Dreyfus Affair of 1894-1899. This period witnessed industrial disputes, a wave of anti-Semitism, religious conflict and assassinations. Vallotton sided with many Parisians in their protests against the political scandals of the Third Republic . This period also produced significant social progress. New laws enacted in the 1880s made primary education free to all, and established new freedoms of the press and the right to join a union.
Also known as La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Age) , this was a time when the arts flourished and France entered a new age of international prestige between the formation of the Third Republic and the First World War. Avant-garde artists rebelled against the seemingly restrictive dictates of the French Academy in a succession of revolutionary movements that continued throughout the 19th century. Inspired by developments in science and non-western aesthetics, artists expressed the spirit of change in innovative ways in all media.
(Félix Vallotton Foundation) www2.unil.ch/fvalloton/english/index-en.htm (May 2005)
www.abcgallery.com/v/vallotton/vallotonbio.html (May 2005)