Marc Louis Benjamin Vautier (L'Aîné)
Paysans au musée or À l’exposition (Peasants at the Museum or At the Axhibition), 1867
Marc Vautier, a native of the Vaud, had been a successful artist in Düsseldorf for fifteen years when he painted this work. He specialised in scenes of rural life, innovating in this work by bringing his peasants into a key site of urban culture. The dichotomy between town and country, often implicit in his work, is here foregrounded, enabling the artist to explore the exhibition theme from a moral standpoint where other artists, such as Honoré Daumier, used caricature to poke fun at the ignorant masses.
The composition forms a broad ellipse encompassing a range of social types, all displaying very different reactions. The impact of exposure to art on individual sensibilities, as promoted by Enlightenment thought, is measured in each individual figure. In the centre, a peasant family in their Sunday best stare dumbstruck at a mythological scene full of female nudes: the parents look embarrassed while the daughters blush and whisper. In the background, a bourgeois couple display a more mature understanding and enjoyment of the art. To the right, an elegant notable shields his eyes from the dazzle of the glass roof and an attendant in a bicorn hat keeps watch, while a learned old man reads a booklet. The groups are linked by a diagonal line rising from left to right in shades of red, from the peasant woman’s red stockings to her daughters’ bodices and the dandy’s waistcoat.
Two figures draw our attention in particular: the man who seems to be an artist in the background on the left, peering closely at a canvas, who may be a self-portrait, and the lad in the foreground wearing a fur cap, gazing raptly at a small painting. Together, the two figures symbolise the future of art and the future audience.
Jacques Longchamp, Marc Louis Benjamin Vautier (dit l’Ancien). Une monographie, Geneva, Slatkine, 2015: n. 75.
La peinture suisse entre réalisme et idéal (1848-1906), exh. cat. Geneva, Musée Rath, Geneva, Musée d’art et d’histoire, 1998: n. 82.
Sylvain Bauhofer, Benjamin Vautier (1829-1898). Chronique d’un village utopique, MA Dissertation, University of Lausanne, 1993: n. 171.