Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

La Mortalité des Enfants en Bas Âge

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La Mortalité des enfants en bas âge. Weber. December 12, 1874.

This image (The Death of Young Children) is a sympathetic depiction of the rural poor. It shows four small impoverished children, alone at home in a dilapidated house. This image is telling the needs of the poor, welfare, and hospices.

The Children: They all have an appearance of sickliness. The boy in the bottom left hand corner has a bloated stomach, which indicates that he is impoverished and malnutrition. The other three children are also pathetic looking. The one of the floor on the left hand side of the image is holding his stomach as if it hurts, an indication of either sickness of starvation. Finally, the two children in the bed are too weak to even move. The limbs of these children are extremely thin and gaunt. The artist has the uncovered child on the bed looking at the observer, to bring them into the picture. Through this effect, the observer feels a connection to the child, and thus has sympathy for him. The artist point for doing this was to make the upper-classes aware of the needs and abuses in the child abandonment system.

The House: It is hard to tell whether the house is rural or urban. There are not enough clues to state for sure which one it is; however, this may have been the point of the artist. By not explicitly showing which type of house it is, he is allowing for it to be more universal for the French citizens. However, it is fairly obvious that the inhabitants of this house are extremely poor. There is a hole in the roof through which the sun shines. The door is broken, and the house is extremely plain. The only decorations in the room are the two hanging pictures on the wall on the right hand side of the image. This was a plain give away of impoverished in a time when the Bourgeoisie prided themselves on aesthetics.

Missing Aspects: The parents, or caregivers are missing from the image. Therefore, it is not known whether the children are abandoned or left alone for the day either by their working parents or caregivers. Either way, the lack of supervision is a ploy for the reformation of the abandoned child system.

Artistic Techniques: The shades and hues of gray in this image do not vary tremendously. This makes the objects and children in the room blend together, and at first site many of them are not noticeable. This provides as social commentary for the artist as well. Through making the children and objects blend in together, the artist is staking that the abandoned children are a problem in society that everyone tries to push to the side and forget about. However, they are a serious problem, and Weber is showing that they cannot be ignored anymore.

 

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