When the cannons of the World War I fell silent and the world started to wake up from the global nightmare in which many millions of soldiers and civilians were killed, and even more left crippled physically or psychologically, people started to refer to the half of century that preceded the war as ‘La Belle Epoque’. It was one of the longest period in history with no major conflicts in Europe (although facing terrorism mostly of the anarchist brand, as well as colonialist wars in other areas of the world) and it was a period of economic expansion and industrial creativity that improves the lives of many. The conflicts that would lead to the great conflagrations, brutal revolutions, and totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century were slowly accumulating in silence, while Europe, North America and Australia saw a raise in the level and quality of life, as well as a flourishing of arts and entertainment. Revolutions took place in art as well, and one of the most visible happened in painting, with the emergence of Impressionism and the currents that rapidly followed it. France and Paris became the epicenter of modern art. The status of women also slowly started to change, but equality and full emancipation were still far away, and many women were at best forced to use their charms to succeed in the society, or in worse cases fell in sexual slavery just to survive. Many of the major painters (but also writers and artists of other skills) took inspiration and some of them lived in the media of the prostitutes and courtesans.

 

source http://dvdtator.canalblog.com/archives/2016/01/25/33256271.html

source http://dvdtator.canalblog.com/archives/2016/01/25/33256271.html

 

The interest about these aspects of the history of art and society of ‘La Belle Epoque’ raised in the last few years with a major exhibition ‘Splendeurs et misères, images de la prostitution 1850 – 1910‘ organized by Musee d’Orsay. The documentary ‘Cocottes et courtisanes dans l’oeil des peintres‘ directed by was a companion of the exhibition, and while the art works that were gathered for a few months were dispersed back to their museums or collectors, the film stays by itself as a serious investigation as well as beautiful gathering of art images related to the subject. Both commentary and visuals are very good. We are presented with a very clear and synthetic description of the historical background of the French and European society in the second half of the 19th century and the pre-war years at the start of the 20th century. The visual documentation is exquisite, and no major artists or piece of work is missing, from Manet’s ‘Olympia’, passing through the rich gathering of works by Toulouse-Lautrec or Degas, and until Picasso’s ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’. Major milestones of Impressionism and  Cubism relate maybe unexpectedly via the theme, characters and social messages. Photographs and filmed sequences from the closed houses and easy entertainment areas of Paris add to the documentation.

 

(video source srgsrsrh shhh)

 

‘Cocottes et courtisanes dans l’oeil des peintres’ is art documentary at its best. It is also now available on youTube at the address https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejofNlvlveo&t=82s. Recommended viewing for all art and history fans.