The thesis considers the motif of the village and the significance of its role amid the
profusion of rural landscape paintings in France during the period 1870-1890. Its aim is to
determine the extent to which the popularity of the motif among both artists and audiences
articulated contemporary artistic, social and political conditions. The subject is treated
thematically with each chapter presenting a contextual argument and followed by a
corresponding case study.
After establishing the topic and methodology of the thesis, the introduction distinguishes the
type of painting to be considered. It clarifies firstly what was considered a 'village' by the
nineteenth century audience, and subsequently what can be termed a 'village landscape'. The
second chapter then examines reasons for the appeal of the village landscape both from the
standpoint of aesthetic theory and contextual influences. Particular attention is paid to the
marketing of the village landscape in the Parisian art world. The following case study
contrasts the differing success of Claude Monet and Henri Harpignies in painting similar
types of village iconography.
The following three chapters consider specific components of the motif. Beginning with the
significance of geographical location, chapter three contemplates the characteristics which
different regions lent to the iconography. The particularly popular Breton village of PontAven is developed as an example. Chapter four looks at depictions of the generalised French
village as an idealised working community, contrasting it with the more immediate concerns
affecting rural France at that time. This is followed by an analysis of Alfred Sisley's
paintings of Saint-Mammes and its canal activity. Chapter five then complements this theme
by examining the significance of the village at rest. It focuses on images where the village is
represented as a place of respite and shelter for the worker, but also where it indicates
inactivity, closing and even death. Jean-Charles Cazin's paintings of villages at twilight
serve to demonstrate the loaded nature of such imagery.
The final chapter concludes by attempting to define the archetypal village, and summarising
the variety of values and associations that even the most simplified motif could encapsulate
for the nineteenth-century French artist and his audience.