The role of women in the French revolution and how art reflected that at the time
The French revolution marked an upheaval of the political, social and economic scenario for France. Before the revolution, France was in high debt and attempted to restore the financial crisis through regressive methods that forced the poor to work hard under unpopular situations (Palin, 2). Notably, the clergy and nobility estates were exempted from high taxation, and this led the commoners’ estate to demand reforms. The involvement of women is highly depicted in artworks of the time, wherein women are posed as feminist figures representing equality, democracy and liberty. This paper discusses the role of women in the French revolution as well as how their involvement was depicted in artworks at the time.
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Women from both the Nobility and General estates played a vital role during the French revolution. Particularly, women in the Estate- General, who comprise of the commoners fought for a list of grievances including reduced prices and equal pay for equal work as that of men. On the other hand, women from the nobility estate participated to fight for inclusion in political, social and economic privileges similar to that of men (Palin, 4). Notably, the behavior of women with regards to the French revolution was similar to that of men.
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Women had a significant role in the fall of Bastille and the signing of the declaration of rights which was effected by the Versailles March. They also participated in the Twilight incident and the various riots aimed at reduction of bread and soap prices (Chu, 22). Further, Bourgeoisies women from aristocratic families participated by forming and joining salons that often operated from their homes. The elitist women used their education and intellectual capacities to spread ideologies of equality through prints such as pamphlets and journals. This can be seen in the works of Olympe de Gouges; “Rights of Woman and Child” (1791).
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In the later years of 1791, there was a rise in women activists who were radical and militant. This kind of activism was established through a club started by Pauline Léon and Claire Lacombe in 1793. The goal of the club was to stop projects by enemies of the revolution (Gutwirth 57). Their practices included aggressive participation in riots as well as kidnapping of officials and seizing grain (Chu 22). Through various clubs and activist movements, women fought for inclusion in the right to citizenship, and other revolutionary ideologies. Notably, women who were artists also participated through the creation of artworks that depict themes of the revolution and the representation of democracy, equality and liberty as seen in the works of Elizabeth Vigee Lebron, who painted Marie Antoinette as a devoted mother and gentle homemaker as a way to intervene between the generals and aristocratic estates.
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The declaration of the revolution incited art representations of the upheaval from both sides of the revolution (Taylor 1). Nonetheless, revolutionary art depicted women as feminist drivers of freedom. First, the shift from the Rococo movement to the use of neoclassic techniques in the artworks was a result of the revolutionary role of the women at the time. The involvement of women led to the introduction of a new set of imagery that replaced the nurturing and maternal role of the woman as depicted in Rococo styles. The Rococo styles portrayed women as the figures of aristocratic standards of style, homemaking, fashion and beauty (Gutwirth, 57). In contrast, the revolutionary art created a clear line between the monarchial representation of women and the feminist women who played a major role in the change process. With the new political inclination, neoclassic styles were instead used to depict women as feminist goddesses, a factor that altered the political landscape. Second, revolutionary art depicted women as symbols of democracy, liberty and equality. Pre-revolutionary art rarely portrayed women given that the Monarchial culture suppressed the roles of women in society to homemaking (Vaughan 5). However, the French revolution led to a rise in simplistic art that portrayed women as goddesses or centers of worship. This can be seen in works of art like Republican France and The Fountain of regeneration.
The depiction of women as symbols of the revolution was a direct representation of their active roles through activist movements and political salons. Further the sudden connotation of women in the arts suggests that the tides of gender roles in civic affairs had shifted from a male dominated platform (Vaughan 5).
Third, using the neoclassic technique of nudity, revolutionary artists focused on women to depict the eroticization of the state, where nudity and nakedness was used to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor (Palin, 6). Previously, Rococo style artworks portrayed women in fashionable and aristocratic styles; a symbol of wealth and monarchial ideals of a woman. Nakedness was therefore a result of the inclination to neglect the aristocratic portrayal of women in clothes that reflect on wealth and social class. Women were therefore depicted in nude paintings or in Greco-Roman dresses as goddesses, to further the feminist ideas as well as the revolutionary idea of inclusion regardless of gender (Palin, 15). The rise of eroticized paintings of women prompted the ideologies of liberty, democracy and equality which were the themes of such paintings as it seen in the Citizenes Domouchy Liberty. The use of nudity in the artworks of the time was also symbolic of the goodness of liberty through the representation of the latter as a seductive and desirable thing. Fourth, art during the French revolution started depicting women as goddesses of action. This followed the aggressive nature they portrayed in support of the revolution, as seen in the case of Charlotte Corday, who murdered a Jacobin publisher Jean Paul Marat in 1973. Artworks at the time started portraying women as the centerpiece of a piece of art, whilst taking a strong action. This can be seen in the paining Liberty, Triumphant Destroying.
In conclusion, the revolutions were spear-headed by a male dominated population. Nonetheless, women began participating in activist movements to fight for their rights and freedoms in 1979. The women faced oppressive pressures from society that restricted their participation in civic issues as they were forced to rely on their male counterparts for decision regarding their well-being. Women from the nobility estate were highly focused in the inclusion in political affairs while commoners raised concerns regarding the rising cost of living and other aspects of the lives like religion, which were affected by the political crisis at the time. Further, artworks at the time depicted the role of women through adaptation of various styles that portrayed women as feminist goddesses who were the image of the revolution.
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