Artists are currently understood as curious figures. Their sites of living and working typically extend beyond a singular fixed location such as the house, towards the studio, the street, the cafe, and the landscape beyond. Their lives are rarely organised around conventional task divisions or family structures and as a result, their practices presage contemporary society’s embrace of the nomadic freelancer: a figure who is supposedly no longer bound by the nuclear family or their continuous fixed employment. We may refer to this condition as the studioification of the home, or the process by which the home is transformed into the studio. This paper will thereby study the relationship between the two concepts—home and studio—and define their significance to the nineteenth century artist.
While the historic events that led traditional artistic practice towards a precarious existence precede the nineteenth century, this study will focus on the period from the late eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century and on the specific region between Paris and the Forest of Fontainebleau in France. It is in this precise location that the idea of the home and studio were institutionalised by the state and the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.
In 1806 artists were evicted from their studios in the Louvre and in the same year, these salons were opened to the general public. These particular events, coupled with the aftermath of the French Revolution and the abolition of the guilds in 1791, produced profound ramifications for the life and work of artists. As such, the figure of the artist endured a paradigm shift and underwent a process of class re-articulation and individualisation: a freelance actor made precarious by the state.
In parallel to these events, individuals and spaces altogether were going through a process of codification that were consolidated in the Civil Code (Napoleonic Code).1 This code reorganised society around principles of private property, class and gender. As such, it extended government from the territory to its subjects.2 Artists were set against their subjectification and the categorisation of their spaces according to factors such as their routines, activities and gender. In this context, the plein air artists and the particular case of artist, Rosa Bonheur can be seen as two distinct forms of artistic practice that emerged out of a very particular idea of the artist and citizen at this time. Through their life, circumstance and practice, both cases present an example of how certain distinctions or categorisations established by the Napoleonic Code may have been enforced or transgressed. The plein air artist enlivened a peculiar use of the exterior and introduced the possibility of maintaining a peripatetic existence removed from property and formal training. In contrast, Rosa Bonheur, having been not only an artist but a woman, was conditioned to use the studio as her creative site. Her life and work was therefore bound by an interior and constrained to the social expectations of her gender, whilst the Plein Air artists continued to roam free of such restraint.
The consolidation of the bourgeoisie was in many ways aided by the facilitation of administrative control with the codification of French Society under a unified civil law. The project of legal reform by Napoleon was initiated in 18013 and intended to standardise forty-two pre-existing legal codes4 across the Ancient Regime into a unified system of law and justice5 that could be applied to all citizens. Declared during March 1804, the French Civil Code did exactly that, whilst also terminating “ancient class privileges”,6 in which no privileges were formerly recognised as a right from birth.7 Privileges were no longer assigned to specific groups (the artist being one of them), but to a domestic monarchy. That is to say, a patriarchy or state governed by a father and ruled under the notion of the patriarchal family.
The promulgation of the Civil Code “was the creation of an unforgettable symbolic system.”8 so wrote Jean Carbonnier. It fast became embedded in society and immortalised in the paintings and writings being produced at the time. As such, the code irreversibly “entered the memory of the French nation.” 9 It manifested itself in various ways, from the idea of kinship within the nuclear family as the basic unit of society, to the organisation of space and the methods by which boundaries were drawn. The Western canonical distinctions that we have come to learn as standard and have struggled so much to undo in the last century were part of this categorisation. Distinctions such as private and public, interior and exterior, centre and periphery, male and other, come precisely from the symbolic process by which these, and many other dichotomies were codified, both visually in signs and symbols and in writing through the words of the law.
The promulgation of the Civil Code and the implementation of its historical and symbolic significance permitted the boundaries between alleged opposites such as those mentioned above, to be formally controlled10. Lynn Hunt explains, “paradoxically an aggrandising public space and the politicisation of everyday life ultimately may have been responsible for the development of a more sharply differentiated private space in the early nineteenth century”.11 Ironically, the Civil Code was presented as a step towards equality and inclusivity, despite being “fully rooted in the divisions and biases of the French People”. It favoured the triumph of the bourgeoisie12, who in turn, were presented as the hegemonic model of “the people”. Therefore, the code’s paradox lies in its intention to unify society by drawing differences between them, rather than commonalities. As a result, the concept of society as outlined by the Civil Code, authorised the state to exclude anyone who failed to fit into the code’s perceived order of one hegemonic group, race and class.13 As Michael Hardy and Antonio Negri explained, the construction of “the people” only “eclipse(d) any internal differences.”14 In defining a singular group, the code constructed the idea of the marginal in the same breath and ultimately created marginal subjects.
In addition to the code, the family unit played a fundamental role in the regulation of its subjects. As mentioned previously, by considering the family as the basic unit of society, domesticity came to play—as Michelle Perrot puts it—“the role of a hidden god”.15 One of the code’s most prevalent spatial manifestations was the way in which domestic spaces were organised around notions of private and public. Divisions were forcefully implemented and spaces became associated and separated by gender and types of people. The production of writings and paintings (perhaps inadvertently in some cases) reinforced the role of the normative and normality: “Prisons and boarding schools, barracks and convents, vagabonds and dandies, nuns and lesbians, Bohemians and toughs, celibate individuals and institutions, often where obliged to define themselves in relation to the family or on its margins. It was the centre; they were the periphery”16. Such modes of separation instilled by the Civil Code, in addition to the Revolution, urged the repositioned role of art and artists within society.
Prior to Napoleon’s reign and during the year 1791,17 the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was abolished and the salons subsequently opened up to commerce. Artists resumed their fight with the guilds to maintain a monopoly on Art and were widely considered a privileged body protected by the King. This perceived privilege gave them the status of a “free artist” or an artist of the liberal arts, as opposed to an artisan. The latter of which was considered an inferior position. The artisan’s practice, rather than intellectual, would have been diminutively described as craft or manual work. While the relationship between manual and intellectual labour, as well as the material and immaterial qualities of art production lie beyond the scope of this essay, it is important to be aware that these conversations were—and still are—fundamental to the definition of “freedom” in art practices.
By the turn of the 1830s and the monarchy of Louis Philippe d’Orleans, or the “Bourgeoise King”,18 the ideas presented in the code became systemic. Arnold Hauser explained that from this point on, “the bourgeoise is in full possession and awareness of its power. The aristocracy has vanished from the scene of historical events and leads a purely private existence. The victory of the middle class is undoubted and undisputed.”19 Sarah Maza argued that while this became the most popular narrative, the Orleanist regime was actually “a crucial moment in the crystallisation of an antibourgeois strain central to the construction of modern French political and cultural identity.”20 This could be one of the reasons why the figure of the Bohemian artist became so popular during the mid to late nineteenth century. Dave Beech explains that the bohemian artist came to represent anti-bourgeois values “the Romantic anticapitalist affirmation of the aesthetics, the myth of the artist as an unbindable and self-governing genius […]. ” 21
The ideas expressed in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture during the French Revolution and those that ultimately lead to the idea of the “artist”, could be dated back to the time of Diderot and his influential writings on the salons. Diderot presented artists in relation to an idea of freedom outside of conventional patronage. However, as the church and King were their biggest patrons, artists had no choice but to respond to the demands of those in power. Patrons such as the King, were in fact “liberating” the artists from the corruption of commerce in allowing them to practice art outside the conducts of the guilds. Freedom from commerce was considered a necessary precondition for the production of art and instilled a hostility to commerce that was encouraged by separating artists from the guilds.22
Meyer Schapiro explains that for Diderot, the artist’s inner freedom “is the impulsive, unaccountable flow of the pencil and brush, of images and ideas; verve, enthusiasm, spontaneity, and naturalness are its outward signs.”23 and their “dependence on a commanding patron seemed degrading and incompatible with the artist’s dignity.”24 Schapiro further elaborates that for Diderot, it is the free man of the artist that draws one’s attention and focus to painting and sculpture,25 and that the free citizen can be found in the artist.26 These ideological principles were developed through Diderot’s writings in the mid-eighteenth century and came to present a series of threats to artists. By separating painting from technique, the internalisation of artistic practice around notions of genius was exasperated. In painting, spontaneity and creativity gradually became valuable qualities in their own right and this eventually lead to the notion of art for art’s sake. Indeed, rather than receiving a specific commission under the patronage of the King or church, the artist could now operate unrestricted: “freely created art of artists responsible to themselves alone, like the concept of intellectual freedom”.27
Gustave Courbet: The Meeting, 1854. Source: Musee Fabre, Montpellier, France.
The bohemian figure of the nineteenth century, which was typically associated with the possibility of social freedom, became uprooted and popularised by authors such as Baudelaire, in The Painter of Modern Life. As an alternative lifestyle to that which was imposed by the Civil Code and abided by in mainstream society, the bohemian figure became overworked in writings, paintings and poems. The so-called “art of living”28 was heavily romanticised. Notions of freedom in poverty—which ironically—were only afforded by those with access to property or inherited money from family, were grossly misunderstood. In fact, the image of the bohemian as “marginal” and their alleged “deregulation” became a way of drawing stronger differences between social groups in terms of gender, class and race. We might therefore consider the bohemian artist as a product of the state and capital. Today, the bohemian lifestyle has become highly stylised, manicured and standardised, to such an extent that it is one of the most profitable forms of existence for the real estate market and corporations. An existence whose supposed simplicity is exploited through the present-day idealisation of reduced living, rentable working spaces and minimal infrastructures.
Charles Desavary, Camille Corot painting outdoors in Saint-Nicolas-les-Arras, before 1875. Source: Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (muséed’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski.
The proliferation of the bohemian artist figure may be understood through the technological, social and political transformations that collapsed the home and studio into one space. As aforementioned, this essay will focus on two instances: the practices of the plein air artists and the case of Rosa Bonheur to elaborate on the conflation of the home and studio. The plein air artists characterised the modern free artist and according to Baudelaire, “a man of the crowd”. In search of liberation, plein air artists moved from painting inside the studio, to painting in the open air. This transition not only departed from the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the salons, and traditional artistic practices, but from the very space of the studio itself. An extreme example of this shift was the Barbizon members, a group of artists who decided to leave the city altogether and go to the forest of Fontainebleau. The plein air artist introduced the possibility to practice art anywhere, without the need of a physical building and/or fixed location. For Bonheur however, an almost opposite condition was endured, where the need for a studio was fundamental for her development as an artist, despite her practicing at the same time as the Barbizon members.
Winsor & Newton, The History of The Artist’s Colour Tube, 1911. Source: Winsor & Newton.
The wandering existence of the plein air artist should be considered alongside the industrial technological advancements that occurred around the same time. Just as the availability of public transport rapidly increased and facilitated the movement of the general public from the city elsewhere, the integration and standardisation of artistic equipment accelerated the artist’s atomisation. Collapsible paint tubes became readily available, as well as preselected colours that were set into a portable wooden suitcase. These engineered tools eased the practice of painting and enhanced its flexibility. The appearance of these instruments soon appeared in representations of plein air artists in paintings and photographs; some of whom were depicted in the landscape as pilgrims in search of the perfect scene, light and weather to paint. As described by Kimberly Jones when talking about the Barbizon members, the forest operated as a “laboratory in which they examined the subtle shifts in time of day, season, and atmospheric change with an almost scientific rigour.”29 In the painting by Gustave Courbet, titled “The Meeting”, the artist is carrying his tools in a box he has attached to his back [ 1 ].30 Whilst in the photographs of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, we see the artist sitting on a foldable stool in the landscape with a lightweight foldable easel, a box containing paints and his parasol. Images such as these illustrate the modernisation of artists’ tools and the ways in which this equipment enabled nomadic artistic practice [ 2 ]. The image of the artist was now uprooted from the idea of the studio and that of domesticity, towards a remote existence within the landscape and the actual site of their subject. This way of life presented a radical idea in a moment where the individual was otherwise understood as subordinate to family and private property.
Stradanus, Johannes Galle, Phillips, Painter’s workshop, circa 1580-1605. Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
Honoré Daumier, Paysagistes au travail, 1862. Source: BnF, Estampes et Photographie, Rés. Dc-180b (69)-Fol.
The plein air artist and the technologies developed around their practice symptomatically increased the popularity and accessibility of artistic practice [ 3 ]. The artist’s no longer relied on workshop assistance and the former need of several artisan’s knowledge, time and labour to prepare the colours being used in a given painting [ 4 ], was all reduced into a single compact suitcase. The reduction of equipment into a portable tool that could be used by any individual anywhere, increased interest in artistic practice and thus gave rise to the amateur artist [ 5 ]. As celebrated by Baudelaire in the case of Monsieur Constantine Guys, who “discovered unaided all the little tricks of the trade, and who has taught himself, without help or advice, has become a powerful master in his own way […]”.31 Artists no longer required technical knowledge, nor did they need a studio in which to practice. The rise of the plein air artists and the symptomatic autonomy of the artist as a result, facilitated the collapse of the studio, not only into the landscape, but into domesticity.
In contrast to the plein air artists, the expectations of Bonheur were significantly different. Bonheur was not only an artist, but a woman. This meant that she was automatically bound by a set of rules according to her gender. Prior to the abolition of the guilds and the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1791, a maximum of four women would have been permitted academic membership. Vignee-Lebrun was one of those four—yet, as Griselda Pollock and Rozinka Parker explained—when the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was refounded as the Institute des Arts, both artists were excluded for most of the nineteenth century.32 Following these events, the circumstances and opportunities for women who wanted to practice art deteriorated.
Since the foundation of the Royal Academy of Art and Painting in 1648 in France, women were forbidden to practice life drawing from live nudes, despite this having been a prerequisite and basis for academic training.33 It is important to note that we are observing a specific type of woman, one of the few who may have had the possibility and privilege to access art. We must therefore not overlook the reality that only the aristocracy or bourgeoisie, as the wives and daughters of male artists, were able to practice art. As pointed out by Linda Nochlin, one of the most common characteristics amongst female artists who managed to succeed, albeit within the parameters allowed for their gender, tended to be the daughters of artists (their father) or women who may have had a close connection with a successful male personality.34 Therefore, it was only a small number of women in specific positions who were able to practice art, and even then, they endured restricted modes of working.
As the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture only permitted a maximum number of four women at a time,35 there are a limited number of female artists known to have practiced before the nineteenth century. Of those women, the majority were self-taught middle-class white women, much like Kauffmann or Vignee-Lebrun. Upper to middle class female artists were not only marginalised in terms of their training; they were also expected to produce a type of painting that reflected their “female nature.” Namely, “sweet, graceful, delightful, charming and modest” pieces. 36 In some cases, women had to “manipulate the brushstroke to emphasise gender differences”.37
Bonheur’s Studio in The Rue Rumford. Drawing based on a Floor Plan, published in the Book Rosa Bonheur Reminiscences, 2020. Source: Drawing by Author.
Accordingly, Bonheur was the daughter of a socialist painter of portraits and landscapes, Raymond Bonheur and Sophie Marquis, a musician. Bonheur had three brothers and sisters, all of whom were educated on the technical groundings of painting by their father and later on, by Bonheur. Though it no longer exists, the arrangement of the first studio they had together in Paris can be seen in a plan indicating how the space was organised and the areas where each of the children were set to paint. Bonheur was positioned next to her father, whilst her siblings worked on the other side of the room [ 6 ]. The proximity of the family’s studio to the Louvre meant that Bonheur could regularly go to the Louvre to copy paintings.
Whilst female artists were not allowed to paint human nudes, animals were deemed as acceptable subjects. In respect to this, previous observations have described Bonheur’s fascination with animals and her frequent visits to abattoirs to paint the animals there. The painting of animals; a trend first introduced by the practices of plein air painters, thereby became a growing trend amongst female artists. However, middle-class women in Paris typically weren’t allowed to go outside without a chaperone. This meant that visiting abattoirs, as well as the overall practices of the plein air artists, was ultimately defined as “an exclusively masculine territory.”38
L’Illustration, Rosa Bonehur’s Studio, 1852. Source: engraving from: L’Illustration, 1 May 1852, 284, The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek.
As a young girl, Bonheur owned animals such as sheep and goats, all of whom were kept on the balcony of her family’s apartment.39 When she moved into her first studio on Rue de L’Ouest near Luxembourg Gardens, her animals occupied a significant amount of space, as shown in an engraving published in the magazine L’illustration. The foreground of this drawing is composed of a series of stables, kennels and cages containing horses, rabbits and dogs. Then, in the background of the image, we can see what was likely to have been the painting area of Bonheur’s studio [ 7 ]. The artists’ final studio, the one that she owned once she had established herself professionally, was located in Fointainbleu’s forest. Here, she kept about forty animals; namely sheep, goats, horses, lions, oxen and mules.40 In this particular case, the studio—and the interior—played a fundamental role in the development of Bonheur’s life and practice, where she must have spent most of her time despite her preference of the outdoors.
Whilst the general public’s growing interest in naturalism encouraged her successes, Bonheur’s paintings were limited in their subject matter when compared with the work of her male counterparts. In particular, unlike the paintings of Millet or Courbet41, Bonheur’s work did not engage with politics. As Boime explained, despite Bonheur having “defied the most rigid social costumes in Western society”,42 her political views remained rather conservative. Contrary to the Barbizon members, who rejected the salons at the beginning of their careers, Bonheur was actively engaged in them throughout her life. This was the case for the majority of artists who could not afford to rebel against the salons, because “The salon was an aid not only to glory but survival”,43 in the words of Benjamin Constant. For many including Bonheur, the salons were the only place for artists to exhibit their work, establish a reputation and potentially build business relations.
However, in the context of the salon, Bonheur’s work was first and foremost critiqued on the basis of her gender. In so much that the position of the female artist was ultimately a submissive one. A figure to be shaped and dominated by men and as such, a female artist could only expect her work to be judged and/or celebrated under engendered terms constructed by men. As a result, Bonheur was continually questioned around her role as a woman; “For as a member of the female sex, an artist was subject to the constraints bourgeoise society was increasingly placing on women’s activities and movements”.44 Bonheur presented a radical and alternative example of a woman who deliberately chose not to marry a man nor have any children. She lived with her partner Nathalie Micas until she died and then later Anna Klumpke. Despite the controversy, Nathalie assumed the role of the “devoted wife and managed their domestic affairs to free Rosa for her professional activities.”45
In addition to her unconventional lifestyle and success as an artist, Bonheur was a constant subject to gossip because “she dressed like a man.” When on-site copying animals, Bonheur tended to wear trousers and disguise herself as a man to avoid being disturbed by men. 46 Not to mention that men’s clothing would have likely been more practical and far more comfortable for working outdoors, suggesting that this choice may have been more so necessary for Bonheur’s practice than a chosen preference. In society, a woman wearing trousers was generally considered to be corrupt and “usurping masculine identity” and so, this act was forbidden. An ordinance issued on the 7th November during 1800 stated that, “if a woman wanted to wear trousers, she had to apply to the Prefecture de police for a permit.”47 These permits were issued by the police and were only “valid for six to three months and only during carnival season would cross-dressing without one be tolerated.”48 In this respect, the conventions of men’s and women’s clothing were forcefully employed as a further means to separate their gender, class and race.49
Nicaise de Keyser, Schools of the 19th Century, 1878 Source: Museum of Fine Arts of Nice.
While Bonheur’s preference for wearing clothes that were classified as male may have only been due to practical reasons, previous observations have suggested that Bonheur endured a struggle with her femininity and endeavoured to separate her gender from herself as an individual and artistic output. Bridget Alsdorf’s essay, Painting the Femme Paintre, explains that when being painted, Bonheur preferred to have her portrait painted by a woman, perhaps an eye more sympathetic to her position than a man’s. When she was portrayed as an artist or as part of a group of male artists, Bonheur was intentionally made to look like a man. This is perhaps most obvious in Nicaise de Keyser’s portrait, titled Great Artist’s of The Nineteenth-Century French School (1878) [ 8 ]. Here, Bonheur is depicted in the front row but is almost indistinguishable from her fellow painters.50 Beyond her unconventional appearance, Bonheur received attention for the masculine qualities found in her subject matter and quality of painting. While Bonheur benefitted from this in her profession, she was ultimately praised under a male gaze and celebrated for her masculinity, rather than her femininity.
Claude Oscar Monet, A Corner of the Studio, Before 1861. Source: Musee d’Orsay.
Claude Oscar Monet, The Studio Boat, Before 1876. Source: Barnes Foundation
During the mid-nineteenth century, artists started to use their plein air tools indoors. Claude Monet’s painting, Corner of a Studio dated 1861 is representative of this paradox. In the painting, we see what looks like the corner of a bourgeoise living room, where a plein air toolbox appears to have been left open and unattended on a cabinet [ 9 ].51 In this painting, the toolbox; as opposed to the room seems to represent the studio. Or rather, the studio as we know it, has been reduced to the artist’s equipment. The artist’s tools set against a bourgeoise living room thereby presents a juxtaposing iconography and implements an idea of living and working that is flexible. This condition continues to be reinforced in the various paintings produced by Claude Monet in his studio/boat; a rowing boat converted into a floating studio with the addition of a cabin and striped awning.52 Paintings such as the River Scene (1876) and The Studio Boat (1874, 1876) were painted on-site and from a transportable externalised studio and hence reinforce the idea that art need no longer be confined to a room. [ 10 ].
The portable boxes of the Plein Air artist movement, became particularly appealing to female artists who had to alternate between their domestic lives and their artwork. Anthea Callen explains that in their advertising, companies such as Windsor and Newton were not targeting artists, but amateurs and more specifically, “amateur lady painters”53 due of the “cleanliness and lack of smell”. This offered such companies the opportunity to expand their market audience. The entrenchment of this new way of working became so widespread that the involvement of the real estate market was inevitable and eventually lead to a form of architecture that seemed to favour the flexible and liberated working modes of the amateur artist. However, in stark contrast to their customers, these corporations were highly measured, managed and standardised.
The collapse of the home into the studio and vice versa, is arguably part of a process by which the commodification of poverty inevitably left the artist dispossessed of a place to live and/or work. Marx, Hardt and Negri explain how, “capital constantly operates through a reconfiguration of the boundaries of the inside and the outside”,54 and that it “does not function within the confines of a fixed territory and population, but always overflows its borders and internalises new spaces.”55 This is particularly relevant here in order to understand how and why the marketisation of the bohemian artist became so profitable. In real estate terms, this was an essential part of forming the ambiguity presented in the type of spaces artists used for living and working and for the first time, we find the necessity of flexibility as a parameter for living; one that is defined and reduced into something that can be replicated and exploited by the capitalist market. The increased demand for a new type of space that favoured the flexibility of the artist and their supposed ability to work in any condition, extended the artist’s already precarious form of existence by exasperating the potential of everything (and nothing) to be considered a studio and a home.
The studio, room and landscape was idealised through the notion of the “independent genius” and as such, became commodified and profitable. This seemed to strengthen the very differences some artists were fighting to oppose. In fact, the very notion of genius that was conceptualised in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was sustained around acts of separation rather than the integration of the artist in society. In other words, if social differences had not existed, the independent genius would not be so characteristic today. The subjectivity of the artist that became so popular during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries served to reinforce social differences as well as social groups and classes.
Be that as it may, Bonheur remained outside of these typical polarisations and was caught between two subjectivities at once: that of being women and an artist. Whereby, adhering to one would have resulted in the compromise of the other. This condition is clearly illustrated by the previously mentioned group portrait by Keyser. Here, Bonheur’s subjectivity as part of a group of artists, or rather, “great (male) artists” was only possible through her male characteristics. From society’s perspective, any female trait questioned Bonheur’s “genius” or identity as an artist; risking the value of her work. Equally, Bonheur’s femininity was likely to have been conditioned by her individualism as an artist and her lifestyle choices. Both of which opposed middle class family structures and the traditional role of women within them. However, Bonheur was highly conscious not only of her own struggle, but of what her struggle may represent to women and to the art profession as a whole. This is proven in her deliberate request to only be represented by women in her portrait or biography. In a conversation between Bonheur and Anna Klumpke, the author of the artist’s biography, Klumpke recites, “My feminism and my clothes aren’t meant to surprise you. It will be easy for you to explain the reasons behind them”56. In this sense, Bonheur stood on the line between her prescribed characterisations and one might then argue that it is in this position where she found her true resistance.