Victor Marais-Milton (1872 - 1944)
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(1872 - 1944)
Cardinals and Bishops
Genre painting made a comeback during the late nineteenth century in
Victor Marais-Milton was born on
Working as a “Meissonnieriste” was not harmful to his public career which began at the 1898 Salon where he submitted a portrait of Mademoiselle Marguerite Picard of the Opera, at which time he had not yet begun his training with Jonchère. From then on Marais-Milton was mysteriously absent from many of the Salons during his early career. It was not until 1909 that he began to exhibit more consistently. But one must add, at this time
His imagery, therefore, often relied on impersonations of clergy members similar to Jehan-Georges Vibert and also Meissonnier; it is steeped in the established norms of the nineteenth century. This type of anecdotal genre painting had reached a point of tremendous popularity with Salon audiences earlier in time. Eric Zafran, in Cavaliers and Cardinals: Nineteenth Century French Anecdotal Painting (ex. cat.,
The popularity of these themes is related to the contemporary social, political, and cultural trends of the era. Both Meissonnier’s and his followers’ evocations of an age of cavaliers and guardrooms mirror not only the growing taste for Dutch art but also what Hook and Poltimore refer to as ‘the development of the historical novel as a popular literary form’
Relevant to the increase in religious images, anticlericalism had been growing since before the French Revolution. As the twentieth century approached, it was almost an established trend to mock this institution and its representatives, thus providing artists with the opportunity to create satirical images of clerics. Artists began to establish these images as an accepted form of art, made easier by graphic artists such as Honoré Daumier who also created images of amusement, though more politically-oriented, in the many illustrated journals of the period. Thus, images such as these were widely disseminated to the masses and fully understood by those who were viewing them.
Still, the paintings featuring the clerics carousing was a far cry from the overtly political and harsh work of many graphic artists, since the paintings were amusing and more suitable for display. This specific choice of clerical subjects was very popular during the period and many important artists dedicated their careers to similar themes, among them were Vibert, Landini, Croegaert and Brunery. Philip Hook and Mark Poltimore, in their book Popular 19th Century Painting, describe the reason for this:
The domestic antics of members of the higher echelons of the Roman Catholic Church exercised a powerful fascination for a number of popular painters and their patrons in the second half of the nineteenth century. These intimate scenes, set behind closed doors of the private quarters of a cardinal’s palace, constitute a clearly-defined genre of painting in their own right. … But to understand the original motivation behind this choice of subject, one must not overlook the element, present in varying degrees in most such works, of anti-clericalism. There is no doubt that contemporary collectors and spectators took great pleasure in the sight of noble figureheads of the church reduced to banal, even undignified proportions. The comedy was appealing, and the anti-clerical message suited the prevailing political mood of the buying public.
Marais-Milton’s images showed a fine attention to detail in every aspect of the paintings. At some point in Marais-Milton’s career, it is not fully known when, he established a studio in the floor of his house in Sèvres which had a large window which allowed a flood of light to illuminate his subjects, many of which are seen posed against the window or at least illuminated by light coming from it. He would use models, whether his maid, neighbors or Italian faces especially for his ecclesiastical subjects, to compose the layout, dressing them in suitable clothing which would then be in his paintings. Some of the furniture that was housed in his residence in Sèvres was also featured in his paintings.
He stayed at this studio all his life, remaining true to this type of art with its precise rendering of detail despite other creative advances of the time. Along with his achievements at the exhibitions in
Whether it was Parisian leisure scenes or humorous depictions of the clergy, Marais-Milton’s images satisfied the rekindled desire for genre painting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century France. It was equally popular in
A selected list of his Salon works includes:
Une querelle à l’office – Paris Salon 1909