Both these books look at aspects of painting during the Second Empire from a sociological point of view. Patricia Mainardi takes the two Universal Expositions of 1855 and 1867 as the markers of a crucial change, the shift of taste that set the stage for modern painting. History painting, the highest form of the art was on the way out. Writers of the left were the first to see what was happening. Religious and heroic painting were dying, Castagnary told the readers of his first Salon review, 'to the same degree that theocracy and monarchy, the social structures that supported them are dying'. By 1867, conservative critics were saying the same thing: 'We can see it clearly today,' Charles Blanc told his readers in a review of the second Universal Exposition: 'Twelve years have sufficed for us to lose interest in Grand Painting.' The story that Mainardi tells in fascinating detail is a story of opportunism and manipulation on the part of the court, and of an artistic policy that no longer pretended to deal in 'noble' values but rather in entertainment, a version of bread and circuses. Ingres had died not long before the opening of the Exposition of 1867. It was the end of an epoch. 'His presence among us was a guarantee, his life a safeguard,' Léon Lagrange declared. 'His death breaks the last tie of moderation that was holding back anarchy.'
LRB 30 March 1989 | PDF Download