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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Corot and the figure in the social environment
by Johnson, Lori Nel, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2008, 136; 3295303
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation offers an interpretation of the work of the nineteenth-century realist painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot that challenges the traditional appraisal of his work, which consistently suppresses the political and cultural discourses that underlie it. My argument is that the motifs and composition of Corot’s landscapes are grounded as much in the social forms and practices of capitalist society as they are in the tradition of French landscape painting. To situate Corot’s oeuvre within his social environment, I explore how his primitivism was consistent with certain cultural practices that emerged with industrialization. My analysis of the relationship between Corot’s landscapes and capitalist modes of production entails an examination of the material conditions of industrial society as they were articulated through specific social forms, such as the workshop, country retreat, boulevard, theater and artist’s atelier. By exploring Corot’s involvement with these sites, I demonstrate how the structure of nineteenth-century landscape painting, often considered anti-commercial and remote from the concerns of capitalist society, was, in fact, a product of that society, and thus comfortably lent itself to certain modes of representation, through which nature was transformed into a site of exchange.

My argument stems methodologically from Roland Barthes’ Marxist-structuralist analysis of the culturally-determined nature of knowledge within capitalist society through which the conventions and values of the ruling classes are naturalized, which is a process he terms “myth.” Building upon Barthes’ examination of the role of myth in the organization of bourgeois society, I demonstrate how in his landscapes, Corot neutralized the political significance of anti-bourgeois cultural norms, by draining them of their historical meaning, and hence transforming them into mere objects to be consumed. I conclude that by situating himself as a figure within the French social environment, somewhere between the aristocratic past and the proletarian future, Corot forever changed the relationship between the artist and society.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Foster, Hal
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 68/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art history
Keywords: Corot, Jean-Baptist Camille, Figure, France, Landscape painting, Nineteenth century, Social environment
Publication Number: 3295303
ISBN: 978-0-549-40005-9
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