Social realism

The Poor Side Of Town by Geoff Harrison

"A Meeting",  193 cm x 177 cm, Oil On Canvas 1884

"A Meeting",  193 cm x 177 cm, Oil On Canvas 1884

This is a painting by Maria Bashkirtseff.  Given the canvas is almost 2 meters tall the boys are depicted life size.  To the far right we can see a little girl walking off.  Bashkirtseff was known to have strong feminist tendencies.  Given the boys' well worn clothing it can be inferred that they are from a working class area, and the surroundings reinforce this impression.  Although this painting was well received at the 1884 Paris salon, Bashkirtseff was furious that it didn’t win a medal.  Her reaction mirrors that of many artists today,

"I am exceedingly indignant [...] because, after all, works that are really rather poor have received prizes" and also "There is nothing more to be done. I am a worthless creature, humiliated, finished".

At the time she was aware she was dying of tuberculosis at age 25, and was concerned she would die a forgotten artist.  She needn’t have worried, as this painting is housed at the Musee d’Orsay.

Among the artists she admired was Jules Bastien-Lepage whose painting "The Potato Gatherers" hangs at the NGV in Melbourne.  

Down and Out In Paris by Geoff Harrison

"What Is Called Vagrancy", 1855 (132 cm x 162 cm) by Alfred Stevens.  Three soldiers escort a beggarwoman and her 2 children off to prison whilst a passing woman appears to be making an offering, only to be warned off by one of the soldiers.

I've always admired the art of the 19th Century social realists as I like to refer to them as, depicting the lives of the anonymous poor as an urgently topical subject, to quote art historian Robert Rosenblum.  Whilst they had a powerful message to convey, they never forgot that they were artists, first and foremost.  Today the message seems to drown out the art in many instances, judging by what I encountered at art school and beyond.

Gregory Crewdson by Geoff Harrison

"These pictures are about creating a world.  I’ve always had these images inside my head that I want to get out into the world.  These towns are just a backdrop for a more submerged psychological drama.  It is really a projection from my own story where I have explored my own fears, anxieties and desires."   Gregory Crewdson

Crewdson was raised in New York City and his father was a psychoanalyst who practiced in the basement of the family home.  
What was going on there  was a complete mystery, Crewdson tried to eavesdrop on the sessions and hence the hidden psychology of his work.

Among other things he is credited with exploring lives of quiet desperation in towns abandoned by industry, although Crewdson denies there is a strong socioeconomic element to his work.