Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

André Dombrowski


As a working-class consciousness developed in France in the nineteenth century, the emergent proletariat endeavored to organize itself nationally and internationally for the first time in history. The second half of the century in particular saw an efflorescence of organized labor movements—from the founding of the First International Working Men’s Association in 1864 to the Paris Commune of 1871, the first celebration of International Workers’ Day on May 1, 1891 to the end-of-century strike waves, and finally through the end of the Confédération Générale du Travail’s anarcho-syndicalist regime in the first decades of the twentieth century. In line with the rise of an urban proletariat and its eventual organization, avant-garde artists of the late nineteenth century began making the materials, techniques, and processes of their work newly legible as well; they did so, primarily, by leaving the “work” of their brushes more visible than in centuries prior. As labor began to organize and find forms expression, avant-garde artists took up the new urban working class as a subject of representation. This dissertation asks how modern forms of urban labor and the politics of its organization and resistance came to bear upon conceptions and representations of artistic labor itself. Its investigations span the philosophical underpinnings of Gustave Courbet’s Realism, the politics of the visibility of the Impressionist tache and the socio-political “invisibility” of Paris’s least enfranchised workers, the re-invigoration of the “artist-engagé” type in Maximilien Luce’s Neo-Impressionist visions of construction work, and the aesthetic forms of labor’s resistance in Jules Adler’s fin-de-siècle Naturalism. In carrying out their modernist experimentation on working-class bodies, these artists consistently analogize their own artistic labor while signaling either to the difference or similarity embedded in analogy—identifying the worker as either the “other” or an affiliate. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that avant-garde artists in the second half of the nineteenth century increasingly responded to, and even generated, the progressively public and revolutionary character of labor’s organization.

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