Art, War and Revolution in France 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality

John Milner, Author Yale University Press $70 (256p) ISBN 978-0-300-08407-8
The actual text of this study makes for a solid, secondary source-based account of the time of the Paris CommuneDthe war with Prussia and end of the Third Empire that preceded it, the months the Communards ruled the city in 1871, the siege of Paris by Republican forces and the aftermath of general mayhemDbut that's not the point here. Every page of this coffee-table-sized volume contains one, two, three or even four or five illustrationsD337 in b&w and 59 in colorDthat not only embellish the story, but were part of the Commune's creation. Art historian Milner (Studios of Paris) of the University of Newcastle shows how, in an age before the widespread use of photographs in newspapers, artists like Courbet (who was accused of planning the toppling of the Place Vend me's giant column), Gustave Dor (a caricaturist and painter who remained neutral), veteran caricaturist Daumier and other artists rendered the figures and events of the revolution for public consumptionDthe fire-starting petroleuses and the heroic women at the barricades, the ""Laughing Man"" of the Republic and the ""Week of Blood"" that reigned when Republicans retook Paris. Milner's focus on the artists, the larger events they witnessed (or participated in) and explications of their works precludes a detailed look at how those works made their way to the press or how they were read by the populace itself, even though the title seems to promise it. It's an unfortunate gap, one that limits the book's usefulness and appeal to fans of cultural studies. But the assemblage of the revolutionaryDand counterrevolutionary-materials here will undoubtedly lead to further work, and a look at the personal decisions the artists faced gives some insight into the nature of artistic engagement at the time. It's a book that is sure to find its way onto the shelves of red-diaper babies of means. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/08/2000
Release date: 11/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
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