Tuesday, April 05, 2011

revolution in painting

Prior to modern painting really beginning, with movements like ‘Impressionism’, there was an academic tradition within the art world, which would, by the end of the second half of the 19th century be rendered almost totally obsolete. The academic system had overtaken the ‘bottega’ style of production of the ‘trecento’ and changed the system of patronage and guilds, and turned the art world into a rigid system of state controlled competitions. There was no art-market as we imagine it today, and no room for amateurs. Out of this would come the ‘new painting’, and although the tradition of French painting would continue oblivious to the change going on around them, eventually the ‘new painting’ would overtake it as the dominant force in the art world, and in modernity.

Before we can look at this so called ‘new painting’ (which to our 21st century eyes sometimes appears to be anything but ‘new’) we need to appreciate the system that was previously in place. In the early 19th century, art was part of a ‘command economy’ – the state had total control over art and artists, a system that dates back to at least the 17th century. The state would issue orders for what was produced, and consequently what was ‘consumed’. An artist did not make work to be bought by an individual, but purely in the hope of wining a state prize. Once a painting had won a prize, it could then be hung in a gallery or stately home. Throughout the 1860 – 70’s there was a gradual process of breaking down this tradition – a move from a command economy to a free market. The growing influence of the Impressionists, and their role in this process is highlighted this quote, regarding Manet, and his friends;

“At the end of the 1860’s he is at the center of a group of young critics, writers and painters who met regularly at a coffee house, the famous Café Guerbois, not far from his studio. In the following years, the painters in this circle – Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Dégas, Cézanne and Berthe Morisot – will revamp the contemporary concept of art as well as the art trade in the French capital. [1]

The command economy was a form of political control of art, and in France two of the main institutions that upheld this tradition were the ‘Academy’, and ‘Le Salon’. For the Academy ‘life’ drawing was very important, and this was taught at the ‘Ecole des Beaux Arts’ where pupils also learnt studio techniques, the likes of which had previously been taught in the ‘bottega’. These ‘academies’ dated back to 13th century Florence, where the first one was founded. The French emphasis on drawing can be traced back to this school, which had a Platonic philosophy – the emphasis was always on the ‘ideal’, and line drawing was seen as a way of connecting the ideal, (or conception) with the temporal (the canvas). Whilst in the Academy students would often train for years just to be able to produce a painting which would then compete in the Salon – where Academians would judge and award various state prizes. Interestingly, in the academic tradition there was a hierarchy of styles or genres. Classical historical paintings were deemed the most important, followed by figure and then landscape, whilst the lowest form of art was the ‘still-life’ or flower painting. There was also a hierarchy of techniques, again influenced by Platonic Idealism, with drawing being considered the most important, as it represented the concept, this was followed by the ‘sketch’ (ébache) which was a colour sketch done to obtain the correct colour values. The work itself, and the final colouring were considered as mere manual labour, and were closely finished, given an almost impregnable skin of paint with only the most gradual of changes in colour tone.

Another interesting difference between the French academic tradition and the previous Italian painting traditions of 13th – 16th centuries was the French’s rigorous separation of the home and studio, of work and living. Whereas in the ‘trecento’ all work was undertaken in the bottega, which was essentially an extension of the home, for the French a painting done at home would not constitute ‘art’; this meant that all work had to be undertaken in the ‘Ecole’ or the studio, and because of the restraints of 19th century French culture, this excluded women from having an active role in the artistic process – women played little or no role in public life, and going to the studio was a public practice. Pupils taught in the traditional academic style were in fact learning a soon to be archaic, superseded skill. There was only usage of traditional materials, which they were taught to use in traditional ways; they used hand made brushes and obsolete colours.

It is from out of this background that the ‘new painting’ would have to emerge, at first slowly, but soon with gathering pace and acceptance. This so called ‘revolution’ in painting was borne out of desire to gain freedom from the restraints and obscurity of the academic tradition, which until the 1860’s had totally dominated the art world. By this stage in a constantly modernising world, there was a growing tiredness of the academic obsession with drawing, so rather than go through the traditional system of the ‘Ecole’ artists (students) would place themselves under the tuition of a ‘master painter’. During this early stage of change, the Salon still held its importance, and rather than try to abolish it, artists felt that they could bring about change through the Salon. However, by the 1870’s the Salon had been rendered more or less obsolete, as had the academic traditional painting which went with it, due to the growing popularity of Impressionism thanks to their exhibitions, combined with the fact that because people were no longer undertaking academic training, academic work was not being produced to the previous level.

Clearly the ‘new painting’ was now more of a force in the art world than the academic tradition, but what exactly was this new painting, and how did it differ from what had gone before it? The industrial advances in France, especially in the chemical industry were to have perhaps the single biggest effect on the emergence of the new painting, and the decline of the academic tradition. The materials that the new French painters used were completely different to those used by earlier Italian painters, and those of the academic painters. The constitution of the materials, particularly the paint, had undertaken drastic changes – they were now industrially produced, thanks to the burgeoning chemical industry. The colours available to and used by the new French painters were incredibly similar to the real colours of Paris and the rest of France for those around at the time, often because they were the same colours or pigments that were used to paint the real objects depicted in the paintings, - they were industrial colours.

This process of commodification was to affect not only the pigment of the new painting, but also every other aspect of the artistic practice. Paintbrushes were now mass-produced, and as a result standardised, which meant that an artist could buy several brushes, and know they were identical. Even the canvases were not ‘home made’ any more, they too were industrialised and standardised, and were purchased ready stretched. By 1840, the invention of the paint tube meant that the new painters could purchase and store paint en mass.

For the Italians of the ‘trecento’, the main difficulty encountered when trying to produce a painting was to try and make their materials look as uniform as possible – which was quite a task considering the artisanal techniques they had to use. Now, in the mid 19th century, suddenly everything was standardised, so the artists had to apply the materials as uniquely and differently as possible. The artist’s only freedom now lay in the actual painting itself. This was not the only inversion of the old Italian tradition of painting, in fact the new modern painting was almost a total inversion of what had preceded it, the materials, practice and techniques were all new, and even the themes were new – the Impressionist would paint almost anything, any aspect of life, except depictions of the Crucifixion, Madonna and the Saints which had dominated over 3 centuries of art.

Another new aspect of the Impressionist painting was that they were creating speculative products, which could be sold on an anonymous art market, again completely opposite to the ‘patronage’ of the trecento. To an extent the new artists became entrepreneurs, with paintings as their stock to sell – now, when you bought for example, a Monet, you were buying part of the originality of that particular artist, the materials themselves are more or less worthless. The new style of painting was not focused on continuity or uniformity, and this is most notable in the development of the ‘tache’, or dash technique. The technological advances of the day now allowed artists to work out of doors, thanks to their new, portable, ready-made materials. This is perhaps best exemplified by the painting ‘Beach at Trouville’[2], by Claude Monet, which has flecks of sand stuck onto the canvas, presumably blown on the wet paint by the wind, because Monet was actually on the beach he was painting. Whilst this may not sound particularly revolutionary now -painting on location, it certainly would have been a new concept to those around at the time.

Yet despite the notion that this ‘new painting’ had no ‘rhyme nor reason’ to it, that is, that it was not based on any consistent theme, like the theology of the Italians, or the classical history of the Academy, there was some consistency, the new painting had modernity, and the new found freedom and leisure time it brought as its main source of inspiration. The representation of leisure was evident throughout most works done by the impressionists; the vast number of ‘landscape’ paintings created by this group of artists are more than just landscapes, they invariably contain railways, roads and canals, all of which were new, and were seen as a sign of modernity spreading throughout France – new modes of communication, and modes of travel. Rather than representing the idyllic quality of the French countryside they were showing its industrialisation, and the suburban condition. Another key theme, the notion of ‘the heroism of modern life’, which had been encapsulated by the writings of Baudelaire, was one which they often represented. This can be seen in works such as Monet’s ‘Luncheon on the Grass’ (1866).

Also of great importance was the representation of the city of Paris. Perhaps our idea of traditional Paris is exactly the one we see in the Impressionist paintings of Pissarro, Manet, Renoir and others – boulevards and café’s, ‘courtesans’ and absinthe, but this was not Paris as they had known it, nor indeed as anyone else of the day saw it – this was the ‘new’ Paris of Hausseman, and of Bonaparte’s dictatorship. The Paris of the 1850’s onwards was brand new to them, it was cutting edge, and most of all it was Modern. Again, the poet, writer and critic, Baudelaire often wrote on this theme, on the loss of the Paris he had known, -

“Old Paris is no more (the form of a city/ Changes more quickly, alas, than the heart of man)”. [3]

It was within this context of change and ‘newness’ that the ‘new painters’ worked, and from it sprung a rigorous system that underlined their work – the modern idea of commodification. Just as their ‘new’ painting had been made possible by industrial revolution and commodification, so had a lot more, which they set out to paint. Almost anything was now available to buy or sell: leisure, pleasure, intoxication, sex - and paintings.

So the academic tradition was to be overtaken by the new themes techniques and distribution of the Impressionists. It is possible to conclude that so much technological advance had caused a de-skilling of the artist. Almost all the skills taught in the Academy were being forgotten, forsaken for a new style. But perhaps it was just a re-skilling that was being learnt. The painters were no longer tied to the tradition and hierarchy of the Academy or its classical themes and highly polished works. Yet these new artists would have to work hard to prove their artistic authority in the new, highly industrialised world of art. Often artists feared ‘artistic subjectivity’ and the threat that painting was now open to anyone – they themselves had been dismissed as amateurs by the tradition that they rejected. Fragility and anxiety have always been inextricable qualities from both the new paintings and their painters. Throughout all this there was a shift in the ‘value’ of painting, from quality, in the academic sense, to a monetary value, in the new modern sense.

[1] ‘The Reality of Perception’ – Sandro Bocola (from ‘The Art of Modernism, pg.167)

[2] National Gallery, London

[3] From ‘The Swan’, by Charles Baudelaire

british character

"I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street.

This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11.00 a.m. that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.

I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany…”[1]

This is the news that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the people of Britain at 11:15 on September 3rd 1939, broadcasting live, and heard through their wireless sets. The radio was vital in communicating advice and warnings to the millions of people who were now part of a nation at war, but to get a real insight into what ‘their boys’ were actually doing, they would flock, in their millions, to cinemas around the country, to watch a plethora of new ‘wartime films’ – thus ushering in a ‘golden age’ for British cinema.

Attendance at the cinema had been steadily rising throughout the 1930’s and by 1939 the cinema was easily the most important form of mass entertainment with 990 million tickets being sold annually.[2] There were also 3 new cinemas being opened each week, admission cost only a few pence, and provided probably the cheapest form of mass entertainment in most towns and cities."[3]

Initially however, this wouldn’t have seemed at all probable, as after Chamberlain’s declaration of war, there was an announcement that ‘during the initial stages of war all theatres, music halls, cinemas and other places of entertainment shall be closed throughout the country.’[4] Luckily for the British film industry, this only lasted two weeks, and the cinemas ‘were to stay open even when the Blitz did come.’[5]

Amongst the short propaganda films, there emerged several feature length films, equally propaganda-like, which have come to be regarded as classics of the period, portraying a particular vision of Britain, and the character of her people. In 1942 director David Lean embarked on the first of his collaborations with Noel Coward, (and his first attempt at directing a feature) on the film ‘In Which We Serve’. The film is based on the ‘actual service record of a British destroyer recounted to Coward by Lord Mountbatten’[6], and tells the story of H.M.S Torrin, from its creation in the shipyard to its eventual destruction by the Luftwaffe. The fate of the crew stranded at sea, clinging onto a dingy, is interwoven with flashback sequences of the wives and families back at home and of life on the ship.

The film can be used as an example of how the British character was portrayed during films of the war period, by viewing the boat as a microcosm of British society, and the crew as the people of the nation. One of the main purposes of British war films was to show the diversity and unity of the people, and this is exactly what Lean and Coward do in their film. On board the ship we can see representatives of all the classes to be found In Britain at the time – and most importantly they are all working together for a common goal, they have put any differences or prejudices they may have had about one another behind them and are united in their aims, their desire to rid the world of Nazism. This was what the people on the home front needed to see; to be reminded what they were fighting for, why their lives were being turned upside down, and that all the people of Britain were going through this together, rich or poor.

This notion of diversity and unity, ties in with another key aim of the British wartime film, which was to convey a sense of identity and heritage. The film, naturally, has strongly patriotic overtones, and the viewer is left in no doubt as to the nationality of the seamen. As well as any other characteristics that may stand out about individual characters, whether it be the indifference of Captain Kinross (Noel Coward), the joviality of Ordinary Seaman Shorty Blake (John Mills), the awkward, emotionally inept Chief Petty Officer Walter Hardyor (Bernard Miles) or the cowardly young sailor who leaves his post during the heat of battle (Richard Attenborough), they are all undeniably and quintessentially British characters, and English at that.

Heritage can be defined as something such as a way of life or traditional culture that passes from one generation to the next in a social group[7], and in this sense it can be applied to films such as ‘In Which We Serve’, where the viewers are being reminded of their collective history, and why it is worth preserving. George Orwell wrote during the war that the British were a people able to unite in the face of such a war, in a way that almost no other nation at that time could. There was a thread of patriotism running through the country that could pull people together despite their usual differences and allow them to forgo their usual misgivings about the other classes.[8] This is often shown in war films via the technique of sequences of montage showing churches, cathedrals, high streets and other places of national interest, places that have been blitzed but are still (often barely) standing, defiantly, like the people themselves.

This all added up to a level of social cohesion and solidarity that is rarely seen other than at times of great upheaval. This can be seen in ‘In Which We Serve’ during the Christmas dinner speeches made by various family members and people of all classes, but most clearly by Alix Kinross’ (Celia Johnson). She warns of how it really is being married to a sailor, that you come second to the ship at all times. Yet you get the impression that she would have it no other way, that she knows King and Country come first, and the crew are a type of family just as close and strong as any biological one. All express such sentiments; there are no dissenting voices to be heard. Whether this is wholly realistic was probably not of any concern to Lean or Coward, as this was the sort of thing people needed to see; basically themselves represented on screen as a cohesive group, getting on with the job in hand with traditional British cheer.

The behaviour and values of the characters in the film also portray a very particular image of ‘Britishness’ and the characteristics of British people. The strong sense of camaraderie, a ‘never say die’ attitude pervades the whole feature. Whether it be the men clinging to the dingy being shot at from above, or the women left behind on the Home Front, carrying on with their daily lives despite the growing severity of the Blitz bombings. At one point in the home shared by the women of both Hardy and Blake’s families, the bombs start falling, but rather than go to the bomb shelter, the pregnant Freda (Kay Walsh) sits under the stairs and carries on with her knitting, an action which ultimately saves her life when those around her lose theirs. Another noticeable feature of this and in fact almost all wartime films is the loyalty of wives and girlfriends of those away fighting. After all, it wouldn’t do the troops morale any good to see that whilst they were away the woman were having sordid affairs, even if it was just in a fictional film. For the British character, if the films are to be believed at least, it was essential that outward respectability be maintained at all times.

Interestingly the social hierarchy is still maintained, with the upper classes occupying the higher ranks, but this does not cause any conflict for the characters in the film, they all know their place. Like a recent army recruitment campaign put it, ‘who’d want to be a cog in a machine? It depends on the machine…’ When it comes to something as serious as war it would have seem ignoble and unpatriotic to make a fuss about such things as a ‘classist’ infrastructure within the armed forces.

Coward, as in many of his films personifies the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude of the upper classes. Whilst they float at sea watching their beloved ship finally sinking, along with many of their friends and comrades, Coward points out the dead are better off, because they lie at the bottom of the ocean in such good company (meaning the Torrin). The film also has strong religious overtones throughout. Themes of self-sacrifice and a clear idea of right and wrong are evident. The religious values referred to are distinctly British, W.A.S.P ones, Captain Kinross makes numerous prayers and references to God and at the films finale, we hear a voice saying "God bless our ships and all who sail on them." There wouldn’t have been any question as to which or whose notion of ‘God’ the film was referring – at this point in history people still went to church in large numbers, and even those who didn’t rarely questioned such things, Britain was still considered a ‘Christian’ nation. Throughout ‘In Which We Serve’ (and many of the other films made during World War II) there are three key factors which keep recurring and which relate directly to the portrayal of ‘British character ‘; a sense of belonging, an attitude of contributing and a spirit of enduring.

Three years after their collaboration on the film ‘In Which We Serve’ (and several others) Lean and Coward came together again to make a film that would become a landmark of British Cinema, and one of the most popular and successful British films of all time, both home and abroad. Whereas their first film together could be seen as a microcosm of British society as a whole, ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945) deals explicitly with the middle classes, but provides a more in depth analysis of its characters and the society within which they must exist, and which dictates their actions. French critic André Bazin wrote,

“…yet can we imagine a more realistic portrayal of English manners and psychology.”[9]

It is the story of Laura (Celia Johnson) a ‘happily married woman’, (or at least she was…) and her extra-marital ‘affair’ with a married man she meets at the train station. The uniqueness of the film is that, whilst it is meant to be a romantic drama, the romance is not fulfilled – they never consummate their affair, and it ends after only half a dozen meetings, after which Alex (Trevor Howard) emigrates to South Africa.

The overwhelming force working against their affair, which they ultimately cannot overcome is their own sense of right and wrong, their impeccably British morals. These feelings outweigh all else; personal happiness, pleasure and emotional wellbeing, both physical and mental. Laura says at one point “self-respect and decency are what really matter…”

After their second meeting, where they innocently have lunch and go to the cinema, Laura returns home to the news that her son has had a slight accident. She is immediately racked with guilt, and feels that God is punishing her for her promiscuity. Again, as in ‘In Which We Serve’ religious overtones are present throughout, and unquestioned. Whilst riding the train Laura becomes nervous and ashamed when she feels that a priest, sitting opposite has somehow read her mind.

Yet amongst Laura’s shyness and idiosyncrasies there lies the heart of a romantic. She goes to the cinema every week, and loves the ideas of romance that are portrayed there in films like ‘Flames of Passion’. On yet another train journey home, the frequency of which in the film serves to highlight the mundanity of Laura’s life, she imagines all the romantic places her and Alex could go. She envisages them at the opera, in Paris in Venice, notions of the ‘romantic’ fed to her by cinema, but she likes these films precisely because they are fantastical – now these things are even a remote possibility she plunged into feelings of guilt and despair. The reality of her, a middle class woman having a wild romance is too ‘violent’ as she puts it at the films beginning. Outward respectability being maintained was of paramount importance. The two lead characters implore each other, ‘we must be sensible’.

As well as the characteristics of the main characters, the other people in the film can show us other aspects of the ‘British character’ that were often portrayed in films of this period. Almost everyone, except a few of the working class men, is overwhelmingly polite. Laura won’t even allow herself to think about wishing her acquaintance was dead. References to the weather are made frequently throughout, and the films two main themes apart from unfilled romance sometimes seem to be tea and trains, two classics obsessions of the British. The portrayal of working class characteristics in the film is interesting, for a start they are shown as far less sexually repressed, with the station master carrying on quite openly with the tealady. They are portrayed as less refined, which may have been why the films initially popularity was not with the working classes, but the “middle aged, middle class…because it satisfied their own fantasies…of forbidden love affairs.”[10]

Perhaps ultimately the film is best summed by using one of the final scenes as an illustration. When we are shown the opening scene for the second time, this time from Alex & Laura’s viewpoint, we are now fully aware of the emotional resonance, since this is quite probably the last time they will ever see each other. Yet when their final minutes together are interrupted by an acquaintance of Laura’s, neither of them is capable of doing anything, they are literally incapacitated by their politeness and regard for doing the right thing, and maintaining a sense of outward respectability and normality. As the whistle blows for Alex’s train which will part them once for all, he does something which conveys the very essence of ‘Englishness’ as portrayed in British wartime films, he simply places his hand on her shoulder, allowing it to linger only a few seconds, politely says goodbye, and leaves. This reservation in the face of such an emotionally devastating blow dealt to them by fate was the right thing to do, and at the end of the day, their moral values are strong enough to stand this final test.

[1] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/british_declaration_of_war.htm

[2] Richards, J ‘Dream Palace’ 1984

[3] http://www.newi.ac.uk/rdover/medcult/thirties.htm

[4] Murphy, R ‘Realism & Tinsel’ 1989

[5] Ibid

[6] Silver & Ursini ‘David Lean’ 1974

[7] Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation.

[8] Orwell, G ‘The Lion & the Unicorn’ 1940

[9] [9] Murphy, R ‘Realism & Tinsel’ 1989 pg. 111

[10] Murphy, R ‘Realism & Tinsel’ 1989 (pg. 112)

city of modernity

Between 1853 and 1870 one fifth of the streets of Paris were the creation of Baron Haussmann. [1] He was appointed by Napoleon III to the position of ‘Prefect of the Department of the Seine’, a position he held from 1853-1870. During this period Paris was rapidly transformed, and modernised into a new, ‘imperial city’. The reasoning behind this huge undertaking was to make the city secure, by preventing the erection of barricades in the labyrinthine Parisian streets. Also, the city was dirty and unhygienic, polluted by the waste that flowed openly in the streets, and the Seine. So as well as creating over 85 miles of straight, wide, tree-lined avenues and boulevards[2], Haussemann also built a vast new network of sewers, that dispersed the waste out of the city.

During this same period, a new movement was gathering pace in the art world and the old academic system was slowly being superseded by a ‘new’ style of painting, which would come to be known as ‘Impressionism’. This new painting was a thoroughly modern construct, and came into being largely due to the industrialisation that was sweeping across Europe, particularly the chemical industry in France. This in turn caused an industrialisation of the manufacture of paint, canvas, and paintbrushes. With this new painting came new artists, - Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, Caillebotte, and many others. They painted what they saw, what the poet Baudelaire termed the ‘heroism of modern life’- the boulevards, the café’s the river, and any other aspect of modern life, these were there themes, or more specifically, modernity was their theme.

Therefore, the rapidly changing Paris is documented for us in a rare and incredible way; the mark of ‘Haussmanization’, and the changing nature of Paris and its people is recorded in some of the most famous works of art, by the most famous artists of the 19th century. By studying this medium, of Impressionist painting, we can also explore a key historical moment in the development of a modern city.

As a begging to this study of Haussmanization, via the medium of Impressionist painting, we can turn to depictions of the boulevards, for which the Baron is perhaps most remembered for building. These straight, lengthy streets enabled the movements of people, flows of traffic to be sped up, and perhaps most importantly for Haussmann, allowed troops to access the city centre in the quickest possible time. In fact, may of the boulevards led directly to army barracks, and many believed Haussmann had built the boulevards so the soldiers could have uninterrupted views, and thus a long range for shooting. By creating these spaces, and allowing flows of traffic to circulate, Haussmann took away the threat of the mob; he believed that if you kept the people moving, they were not a threat, it was only when they stopped moving, or met an obstacle that the people turned to insurrection. Also, the boulevards created a lot more space, and ‘openness’, and these spaces enabled greater surveillance, there was now a greater emphasis on the ‘gaze’ – one of the main aims of Haussman’s reforms was visibility, being able to see, and being seen.

In the late 1880’s and 1890’s, Camille Pissarro, the first major Jewish painter[3], founder and leading member of the Impressionist movement and left-wing anarchist, returned to Paris, living in hotels, first on the Place du Harve, then later the Hotel de Russie, on the rue Drouot. During this period he painted hundreds of pictures of the streets of Paris, the new boulevards. They all show how busy, and how wide open the new streets were; in ‘Boulevard des Italians’ (1897) and ‘Avenue de l’Opera’ (1898) we can see the tree lined avenues, filled with carriages and street-sellers, and people of all description – people in a rush, people standing round aimlessly, people reading the paper; it goes on and on. Interestingly however, considering his extreme leftist views, Pissarro’s pictures seem to be colluding with Hausmann’s control of Paris. Throughout these paintings, the viewpoint he adopts gets gradually higher and higher, as Paris becomes more and more an object for the gaze. The images are almost the equivalent of modern day CCTV cameras; they have a similar viewpoint, and richness of detail – yet paradoxically it is Pissarro who is showing us these images, and not resisting this controlling gaze. In what is probably his most famous boulevard scene, ‘Boulevard Montmarte, Night Effect’ (1897), which hangs in the National Gallery London, Pissarro shows us that in the new, street-lit Paris, even at night nobody is hidden from the ‘gaze’. For this new Paris, there is no night, in the picture the streets are still lined with carriages, and the pavements with people. Pissarro represents in these paintings the ‘flow’ of the city, and how it functioned as a circulatory system – almost like a machine controlling the movement, resulting in a ‘functional ecstasy’.

Pissarro was not the only impressionist to paint the new boulevards of Paris; Renoir (‘Grand Boulevard’ 1875), Monet (‘Le Boulevard Capucines’ 1873) and Caillebotte (‘Rue de Paris’ 1877) all depicted the changing nature of Paris, as it was happening. Particularly this last painting, by Caillebotte, shows the grandeur of the boulevard, and the “sheer appeal of modernity”.[4] Yet, on closer inspection, perhaps what it reveals is more along the lines of the description Walther Benjamin gave of Hausmann’s reforms; he accuses him of “estranging Parisians from their city…” leading them to “become conscious of the inhuman character of the metropolis.”[5] The groups, neighbourhoods, districts and traditions were being eroded away by the ‘new’ Paris. Charles Yriarte wrote in Paris-Guide 1867, “The Rue de Rivoli is a symbol; a new street, long, wide, cold, frequented by men well dressed, affected, and cold as the street itself…” [6]

With these new boulevards came space, and to fill the space café’s and bars sprang up, and new, expensive apartments. A ‘café culture’ began to grow, and there were café concerts to entertain the people, a sort of mixture of cabaret and opera. With growth and industrialisation came leisure time; people were earning money, and they needed something to spend it on. Drugs, alcohol, sex and paintings were all available as commodities for anyone willing to pay. There were new forms of entertainment, and new ways of enjoying them. Absinthe was a particular favourite of the café frequenters, and was hallucinogenic in strength. The artist Degas painted, drew and sketched in pastel several scenes from inside these café’s ‘Le Café concert’ (1882), ‘Cabaret’ (1875-77), and one of his most famous pictures shows the affect of the drug-like drink, Absinthe (L’Absinthe 1876) . It is both intoxication as an experience and as a representation; Degas was almost certainly drunk on Absinthe himself whilst painting, and the viewer is given a real sense of the disorientation of these Parisians, lost in the ‘imperial city’.

With an ever-growing population, largely due to Hausmann’s redevelopment, the government was facing a crisis in regulating and managing prostitution. Under the ‘regulatory system’ the state controlled prostitution, it was a profession, and any woman identified as a prostitute had to work and live in a ‘house of tolerance’. This way the state could confine prostitution, and keep prostitutes out of the public eye. However, around the middle of the 19th century, the state was becoming aware that they were violating these women, by forcing them to remain prostitutes, and they were also realising that they were the biggest ‘pimp’ in the city. Out of this situation, new forms of prostitution were arising; street prostitution, café prostitutes and ‘places of rendezvous’. Also, public sites of mass leisure and entertainment such as dance halls and café-concerts were becoming places of prostitution. Edouard Manet depicted the scene of a young woman, a waitress at a café/theatre, in his painting, ‘Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère’ (1882) . The viewer is confronted with an ambiguous scene; is the young lady a weary prostitute, or a waitress weary of men assuming she is. Her position at the bar, lined up with all the other commodities available for purchase certainly seems to suggest so. The painting sums up the ideology of Haussmann’s reforms, that of visibility.

Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris was a vast undertaking. As well as the miles of endless boulevard, over 100, 000 trees were planted and four extra bridges were built across the Seine, and a further ten were widened or restored. Whilst all this may sound like a great improvement, there was as much destruction going on as construction. 27, 500 houses were demolished, and 102,500 were built or rebuilt.[7] This inevitably led to a continual displacement and dispersal of peoples and communities. An estimated 350,000 people displaced during this period. Dirkheim described the feeling that modernity can cause as ‘Anomie’ – a feeling of despair at modernity and the way it swallows up and destroys everything you knew about social structure. This movement of people to and away from the city was not just due to demolition; there were new and improved rail links to the suburbs – to facilitate the ‘escape’ from the city. Parks, racecourses and the riverbank all awaited those who ventured out of town. The Gare St-Lazare, was one of the main stations that led out of Paris, and most of the impressionists were familiar with it, as they frequently travelled out to Fontainbleu and other locations to paint. Monet painted several series’ of various railways, including ‘La Gare St-Lazare’ (1877) .

From the train stations, people would travel out to the suburbs and surrounding countryside. However, when they got there, the number of factories may well have surprised them. Dozens of impressionist ‘landscape’ paintings feature the tall, smoking chimneys of factories in the background. As well as wanting to be counterrevolutionary in his re-designing of Paris, Haussmann wanted to rid his ‘imperial city’ of its factories, and so offered the business cheaper coal and taxes if they would move out of the city. The factories can be seen in many of the paintings of Seurat, such as ‘L’Homme Assis’ (1883). Manet was well aware of Haussmann’s attempt to promote the image of Paris as a new, clean city, as would most Parisians of the time. It is with this in mind that he painted ‘L’Exposistion Universalle de 1867’ (1867) . The ‘Exposistion was Haussmann’s attempt to show off what he had done, and what he was planning to do. Manet’s painting seems absurd, there is an almost no sense of perspective, and there are some bizarre characters, co-existing uneasily in a sort of nowhere-space. Perhaps this was the artists way of passing comment on Haussmann and his schemes. Certainly, not many people were in favour of the drastic changes.

Going sailing was also now a favourite pastime of the new, leisured class, with small towns on the upper Seine soon becoming tourist attractions. The process of Haussmannization did not only affect the city of Paris itself, but also the surrounding area. The industry, of renting out boats by the hour developed to satisfy the demand of the people, whose leisure time was becoming just as regimented as their working time. Sisley painted ‘Bridge at ‘Villeneuve-la-Garenne’ (1872) , which shows people lounging on the banks of the Seine, and ‘messing about in boats’, clearly amateurs. Monet and Renoir both painted pictures at La Grenouillere, which as well as being a popular place for bathing and rowing, was also a sight of assignation. In Monet’s ‘Bathers at La Grenouillere’ (1869) , we can see groups of unaccompanied woman, which, unless they were prostitutes would have been unheard of at the time.

The people and factories were not the only thing moving out of Paris, toward the suburbs. As well as redeveloping the streets of Paris, Haussmann also redeveloped its sewers, and now the waste of Paris was pumped out to the Seine, on the outskirts of the city. Perhaps ‘the piece de resistance’ of the ‘new’ painting was Seurat’s ‘Une Baignade, Asniéres’ (1883-4) . It is an ironic, almost sarcastic look at what had happened to Paris, and it’s people. It contains almost all the elements of the new painting, and of Haussmannized, modern French life. Railway bridges, sailing yachts, rowing boats, fully dressed city people and smoking chimneys. Yet the irony is, the ‘picturesque’ spot it depicts, is where the main Paris sewer outlet was. The people, in their attempt to get out of Paris, have in a way, quite literally ended up back in it. In more ways than one this is a painting of Paris going out to the countryside.

[1] Frascina, F (et al) ‘Modernity and Modernism’ (London, 1993) pg. 97

[2] Ibid.

[3] Shikes, R.E & Harper, P ‘Pissarro His Life and Work’ (London, 1980) pg.5

[4] Clark, T.J ‘The Painting of Modern Life’ (London, 1984) pg.15

[5] Benjamin, W ‘The Arcades Project’ (London, 2002) pg.12

[6] Clark ‘Painting Modern Life’ pg.44

[7] Frascina, F (et al) ‘Modernity and Modernism’ (London, 1993) pg. 97

Annotation – “Non-spaces and photography”

In the 21st Century, the environment that man finds himself in is increasingly a built one. This environment has been with us for hundreds, if not thousands of years, man has built since the dawn of time, but there are ever more ways in which we can experience and understand this space. We can begin to better understand our relationship to our man-made environs by asking how is the built environment seen, performed, heard, written and ultimately, experienced? The different ways of comprehending what we see around us are as myriad as the variety we find through this process of looking. There as many different types, or forms of built environment as there are ways of thinking about them.

I intend to look at a particular aspect of the built environment that has only really been in existence since after the beginnings of the ‘machine age’. In our post-modern, post-industrial landscape there exist spaces that are purely functional, global spaces of mobility - places and spaces that act as systems through which the city is/can be organised. These amount to non-spaces, areas to which we have no real relationship or connection. In his book,[1] Marc Augé describes these ‘non-places’ in contrast to ‘normal’ places.

“If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non place…” [2]

Such places (and also the things that make them possible) include – supermarkets, slot machines, credit cards, petrol stations, airports, railway stations, hotel chains, leisure parks and retail outlets.

These places are a product of what Augé calls ‘supermodernity’. This is a different place and concept to Baudelaire’s ideas of modernity as the coexistence of two different worlds, of the “chimneys and spires”, that symbolise the new world of industry and the old world of religion. For Baudelaire modernity was something heroic, a place of co-existence where modern man and woman dwelled side by side with the new, and with the built environment.

“The display of fashion and the thousands of floating existences which circulate in the subterranean places of a huge city – criminals and prostitutes- give us proof that we only have to open out eyes to learn about the heroism of modern life.”[3]

The experience of these places, or rather these non-places can lead to what Durkheim describes as anomie, a state of confusion with regard to norms and an increasing impersonality in social life, which can eventual lead to the breakdown of the social norms that regulate behaviour. In our modern industrial societies, the emphasis is no longer on society as a whole but on the individual. A move has occurred from what Durkheim called ‘mechanical’ societies to ‘organic’ ones, which separate people and weaken social bonds, mainly as a result of the increased complexity and division of labour. This is especially evident in (post) modern society, where people are further separated and divided by computer technology and the Internet, increasing beaurocracy, and specialization in the workplace.

More than ever before, members of Western society are exposed to the risk of anomie, and if environmental factors are taken into consideration, then the non-spaces of ‘supermodernity’ are surely the breeding ground of such a phenomenon. Alongside, or perhaps part of any feelings of anomie that arise in non-spaces, there also comes a sense of anonymity even amongst other people, the sense of being alone even in a crowd, (but not in a pleasurable way as in Benjamin or Baudelaire) and a loss of identity.

These are transitory spaces, like corridors, passages that serve only as a means to some greater end, places that only exist to be used temporarily, never quite complete.

In his existential work ‘L’Estranger’ Camus wrote about the effect this questioning and confusion of ones existence can have, as seen through the story and eyes of the novels protagonist Mersualt, who at times is overwhelmed with a sense of anomie.

Ideas around these non-spaces can also relates to ideas around ‘the strip’ particularly in the USA, but increasingly in the smaller, modified form of the Retail Park in the UK. In “Learning From Las Vegas”, Venturi, Scott-Brown and Izenour examine the Las Vegas Strip, a vast sprawling highway of consumer choices and of even vaster parking lots and billboards. The language of such places as the ‘strip’, and indeed of many of the non-spaces of the 21st century is the language of signs. Order is maintained in an airport, for example, by a vast system of signs – screens with numbers on, different coloured lines to follow, various lounges to sit in, you match a number on your ticket to a number on a sign so you know where to move to next, which gate to use and so on.

In an average European town, with narrow streets and market stalls, merchandise is sold because it has been seen or smelt or touched, but out on the strip the only way to connect the driver out on the road to the store set way back of the road and separated by a sea of parked cars, is through the huge sign advertising the bargain of the day that can be seen from the road. “The graphic sign in space has become the architecture of this landscape”[4], the stores themselves are inconspicuous, and it is the sign that dominates.

Henry Miller saw this landscape as an outward manifestation of a degraded American character. He titled the autobiographical sketch of the of a cross-country car trip he took in 1944, ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’. The title epitomizes his disgust with what he saw as a brash, ugly, and commodified landscape. He wrote how interior travel in America had become "diluted, contrived, and prefabricated." The uniform gas stations and restaurants just off the highway insulated a traveler from interaction with the local people, and the tacky roadside attractions spoiled any discovery of the landscape.

With reference more to the complexity and enormity of the road networks that were spreading throughout America in the post-war years, Jean Baudrillard wrote that they were creating a, “

“Gigantic, spontaneous spectacle of automotive traffic. A total collective act, staged by the entire population, twenty-four hours a day. By virtue of the sheer size of the layout and the kind of complicity that binds this network of thoroughfares together , traffic rises here to the level of a dramatic attraction, acquires the status of symbolic organization....”[5]

Even the architecture of non-places form a system of control, a way of making people flow in a certain way, often achieved without even the need for actual signs. Take a railway station – from the taxi outside you move to the ticket window, from there to the shops or cafés, on to a waiting room and then to the platform. [6] movement is regulated and controlled without the need for telling people what to do and when to do it.[7]

One way in which this form of the built environment can be figured, or annotated[8], is through photography. The lens can capture the sense of these places, the essence of which perhaps does not properly translate into words, more concretely, because the experience they create is one felt, a picture can sometimes more fully recreate this sensation.

In 1955, the Swiss photographer Robert Frank travelled throughout the United States by car and returned with a bleak portrait of what the American road had to offer. As Jack Kerouac writes in his introduction to the book that came out of the trip, ‘Americans’, Frank's photographs had "sucked a sad, sweet, poem out of America," [9]a sadness found in the forlorn looks of waitresses, funeral attendees, and human faces rendered unrecognizable in the glare of jukeboxes. The slightly offset angles and the blurred focus of many of the photographs suggest the nervousness and dislocation of the people they capture. Frank dispels any romantic notions of the lingering pioneer spirit of America by presenting a landscape of people and places absent of hope and promise. This wasn’t the prosperous post-war America that everyone else was talking about, this was the darker, concealed side, that made people feel uneasy just looking at photographs of it, letting alone living in it. His pictures captured the essence of the non-place, and the effect this environment has on its inhabitants.

Ed Ruscha, Artist and photographer also chronicled the non-spaces of his native America with his camera. Some of his works include ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ (1962), ‘Some Los Angeles Apartments’ (1965) and ‘Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles’ (1967). All of which comprise of exactly what the name suggests, photographs of gas-stations, apartment blocks and parking lots. Through their repetition the images take on a surreal quality, they are mundane every day places that we all know exist, yet we never give them this much attention – they move from being just random places to symbolic images of the non-place.

Personally, my built environment, the urban sprawl of south-east London, contains many of the non-spaces Ruscha and Frank captured, and many of those that Auge highlights in his book. On a walk around my area, (or a derive as some would have it) I took several photographs of what I thought might be considered non-spaces. But in the process of doing so I began to question the ‘non-ness’ of theses spaces. The local garage, petrol stations and railways stations did not seem somehow as transitory as perhaps I had begun to believe. The only place that to me had that some non- spaciality of, for exmple a large airport, was the local J.D. Wetherspoon Public House. The location of these pubs almost wherever you are in the country, and their faux-modern art interiors give them the atmosphere of a large waiting room, either in a hospital or an airport, I’m not sure which.

[1] Augé, Marc ‘Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity’ 1995

[2] Augé, Marc ‘Non-Places’ 1995

[3] Baudelaire, Charles, ‘The Heroism of Modern Life’

[4] Venturi, Scott Brown, Izenour, ‘Learning From Las Vegas’ pg. 13

[5] Jean Baudrillard, America (London: Verso, 1986), p.53

[6] Venturi, Scott Brown, Izenour, ‘Learning From Las Vegas’ pg 9

[7] This is not often the case in the airport, where the mood is often more subdued, and the threat of terrorism tangibly close, such much so that people do not mind being treated like sheep, herded through various gates and prodded occasionally. After all, there are armed police everywhere, so it must be serious.

[8]an·no·tate to add critical or explanatory notes to a text (often passive)

[9] “That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that's what Robert Frank has captured in the tremendous photographs taken as he travelled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenhiem Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness, and strange secrecy of a shadow, photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film.” - Jack Kerouac, from his introduction to The Americans.