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More About Lower Class Men

Since the mid-18th century, the substantial labor requirements of preindustrial Paris had been met by extensive migration of working-age men, primarily from nearby rural areas, into the city. Unskilled men had particularly high rates of mortality due to the large number of them conscripted for military service, and the high incidence of accidents in workshops, on shipping docks, and on construction sites. For many lower class men, living conditions were far better, and exposure to diseases were far less, with their middle class employers, than with their own working class relatives. Poor pay and army regulations prohibited most soldiers from marrying. Non-commissioned officers could only marry if the woman brought a large enough dowry or guaranteed annual income to support them. Thousands of maisons de tolerance (brothels) were established and operated by the state to provide services for soldiers. Visiting a prostitute was considered a rite of passage and was expected of all young men.

Poor Artist Guys Make Good
Jean Francois Millet (1814-1875) was born into a peasant family and studied art in Paris; he joined the Barbizon painters leaving the city for the forest of Fontainebleau to primarily paint workers in the fields. He became successful enough to live the middle class lifestyle. Millet, along with many artists, writers and critics of the time, believed that paintings of peasant labor and rural life evoked sympathy and stimulated viewers to work for social change.

Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) came from a working class background; his father was a tailor. He was one of the earliest Impressionist painters to achieve some financial success, and was then able to afford to marry and have a family. Renoir served in the Franco-Prussian war and eventually married seamstress Aline Charigot, a lower class girl from a wine making family who was young enough to be his daughter. In his old age, he was financially secure, living a relatively comfortable middle class life, but was crippled by rheumatism. He required a wheelchair and much assistance as he gradually lost the use of his hands; he had assistants strap brushes to his arms so he could continue to paint. He died at his villa surrounded by numerous children and grandchildren.

Francois Rude (1784-1855), sculptor of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, was born into the family of metalworkers who made great economic sacrifices so that he could be educated at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. When Rude became famous, he was able to repay his family and was accepted by his middle class patrons.

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