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More About Middle Class Men

Many men became very alienated from their families in their quest to succeed socially and financially. Fathers demanded success and achievement from their children. Primogeniture, the practice of the eldest son inheriting the sole proprietorship of the business, the property, and the entire familyís wealth, was gradually abandoned. Instead, many middle class men married women of higher social and economic status to gain wealth. Some middle class men in 19th century Paris struggled to obtain voting rights for all adult men regardless of class.

Theyíre in the Army Now
Through national, universal conscription, all men were called to serve in the military. Many middle class men volunteered for or were drafted; some were able to pay to send lower class substitute men in their places. The army was generally composed of 50% volunteers, 25% draftees, and 25% substitutes. Officers were required to purchase their own formal dress uniforms and pay for their own expenses; dancing was a required skill along with marksmanship.Some army officers could only marry if the woman brought a large enough dowry or guaranteed annual income to support them. Officers wives were investigated to ensure that the dowries were paid and wisely invested.

The Business of Marriage
Divorce was rare; marriage was a secure economic alliance. Often older men married much younger women in what were called economic marriages. Newspaper advertisements from men seeking brides were common. Adultery was preferable to the economic loss of divorce, so lovers mistresses, and prostitutes were tolerated by wives. Due to the lack of eligible sexual partners of their own class, many young, single middle class men seduced female servants or visited prostitutes. Thousands of maisons de tolerance (brothels) were established and operated by the state to provide services for soldiers. By 1850, there were 34,000 prostitutes in Paris. Visiting a prostitute was considered a rite of passage and was expected of all young men.

Painter Guys
Some of the Realist, Naturalist, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters were men of the middle class. The artistís life was attractive to young men, and many alarmed their families by pursuing artistic careers. Artists had a reputation for pleasure and gratification, both moral and physical. Due to their well-to-do family backgrounds, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet remained the wealthiest of the Impressionist artists. Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) was born into a wealthy middle class family and his parents insisted that he continue to study medicine while he pursued his painting career. He was a financial supporter of Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) before they became popular, and for Sisley when he became destitute. Unfortunately he was killed on the battlefield in the war with Prussia.

Paul Cezanneís (1839-1906) father was a hatter who had risen in class and income to become banker. Cezanne had been a stockbroker before abandoning his work, wife, and five children to travel and paint. With an annual income of 25,000 francs per year, Cezanne did not need to sell his work to afford a rich bourgeois lifestyle, instead he forced his wife and children to live apart from him, and chose not to live among luxury items. He retired to his estate in the south of France abandoning bourgeois portraiture to instead paint the rural landscape, produce, and workers of his everyday life.

Jean Baptiste Camille Corotís (1796-1875) father was a wealthy merchant who attempted to bribe him out of an artistic career. He promised 100,000 francs to establish a drapers shop which Corot rejected, instead bargaining for an annual allowance of 2000 francs to finance his painting.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was born into a well-to-do middle class banking family. His wealthy traveled solo through Europe and to Italy on an artistic pilgrimage. He remained a bachelor all his life, enjoying his freedom from familial responsibilities. His wealth enabled him to visit with relatives in New Orleans, Louisiana during the occupation of Paris in Franco-Prussian War. Degas only signed works when he sold or exhibited them, limiting the number of his official works in the marketplace and thereby maintaining the highest prices possible for his works in his lifetime. Degas and Manet also served during the Franco-Prussian War, but far behind the lines of fire.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was born into middle class Paris, but left early to serve as a seaman in the merchant marine. Upon returning, he became a stockbroker with a successful firm, married a Danish woman, with whom he fathered five children, and had a comfortable life in Copenhagen, Denmark. In midlife, after the French financial crisis of 1883, he decided to paint full-time, abandoned his family, returned to Paris, then traveled extensively in the Pacific islands where he fathered an illegitimate son, and died in extreme poverty.

Edouard Manetís (1832-1883) father, a wealthy upper-middle class attorney, forced Edouard to take the naval college entrance exams several times, hoping he would pursue a military career, but eventually relented and financed his academic painting studies. After some professional success (showing in the Salon, selling paintings through galleries, and showing with the Impressionist), Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff.

Claude Monetís (1840-1926) farther and uncle were grocers and he was raised in a stable middle class home. Monet served two years of military service in north Africa, studied to become a bureaucrat for the government records office; he later studied law and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Monet then married his first wife, Camille Doncieux (1847-1879), and the family traveled extensively in France and England. By the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he was wealthy enough to keep them safe by leaving France and establishing homes in England and Holland. Camilleís death, not long after the birth of their second son, led Monet to cohabitate with, and marry in 1892, his second wife, Alice Hoschede (1844-1911). Aliceís first husband, Ernest Hoschede, had been a major patron of Monet, but lost his fortune in one of the French financial crashes and abandoned his family when he could no longer support them. Monet raised his two sons, Jean and Michael, and her six daughters fathered by Hoschede; Monetís elder son later married Hoschedeís eldest daughter Blanche. Monet purchased and refurbished a country home for this large family, installing the latest indoor plumbing technology including expensive tile and a gas hot water heater.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was the eldest son of a protestant clergyman; his three uncles and brother Theo were all art dealers. He failed at several business-related careers before becoming an artist.

Painter Gal
Some of the Impressionist painters were women of the middle class. Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was raised in a bourgeoisie family; her mother rented farmhouses and mills in the countryside to provide Berthe and her sister Edma with picturesque painting environments. Berthe often returned to the countryside to paint after her marriage to Eugene, Edouard Manetís (1832-1883) brother. Due to her family background Berthe, became and remained one of the wealthiest Impressionist artists.

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