Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Couture's Satire of French Society

In Thomas Couture's 1873 painting "The Thorny Path," four men struggle to pull a cart driven by an angelic figure.

According to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the image is Couture's satire on the decadence of French society during the 1870s. They note that the carriage is pulled... 

"...not by animals but by four male captives who represent different ages and states of society. The naked old man leading the procession is flabby from indulgence; the troubadour following him, a symbol of young love, parodies the medieval ballads popular in nineteenth century France. The old soldier bends his head in self-reproach, and the young student writes as he walks, symbolizing the educated nobility's ignorance of the realities of daily life. The thistles and thorny plants along the road suggest the painfulness of their journey. The decrepit figure seated at the rear of the carriage with a bottle of wine in her basket foreshadows the courtesan's future. Finally, Couture signed his initials on the stone figure at center, which seems to be laughing at the entourage."

Couture developed an alternate version set in the open plain with the city in the distance.

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