Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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Burgundian Thatched Cottages

Burgundian Thatched Cottages

Charles-Émile Jacque (French, 1813–1894) Burgundian Thatched Cottages, 1866 Etching General Acquisitions Fund, 1971.101

SCENES FROM COUNTRY LIFE In his write-up of the fine arts show at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855, Baudelaire used an anecdote about Balzac as a means of illustrating his own approach to art criticism—that it should be partisan and highly personal. For Baudelaire a work of art is good only if it generates in the viewer rich and meaningful ideas. He described an incident in which Balzac was admiring a painting depicting a rural scene that was likely in a similar vein to the print by the Barbizon School artist Charles-Émile Jacque displayed here. “The story is told of Balzac,” Baudelaire wrote, “that one day he found himself in front of a fine painting representing a melancholy winter landscape, with hoar frost on the ground, a scattering of cottages, and some impoverished peasants. And, after intently gazing at a little house from which a vane of smoke rose in the air, ‘How beautiful it is,’ he cried, ‘but what are they doing in that cottage? What are their thoughts? What are their worries? Has it been a good harvest? No doubt they have bills to pay?’” The author of La Comédie humaine had used prose fiction as a means of imagining answers to just such questions, and his great novelistic suite contained several novels classified as “Scènes de la vie de campagne” (“Scenes from country life”).