Gavarni’s Students

Auteur / Author: 
Aimée BOUTIN (Florida State University, États-Unis)
Mardi 23 Août 2011 - 10:15


 Images of the happy-go-lucky student circulated widely in the popular French press in the 1830s and 1840s, in the satiric social sketches of La Caricature and Le Charivari, in the upscale but mainstream Les Français peints par eux-mêmes, as well as in cheap, popular handbooks or physiologies such as Louis Huart’s Physiologie de l’étudiant (1841). Newly arrived in Paris from the Provinces to obtain a law or medical degree, the student, bent on pleasure only, inevitably did everything but study, and went everywhere (the bal, the theater, the pawn shop) but to his classes. Though this portrayal accurately reflected the historical appeal of law among the educated elites as well as contemporary concern over the role of education and the overcrowding of the legal profession during the July monarchy, the pervasiveness of the image of the law student and its ability to reflect social conditions and anxieties underscore its ties to the realm of the imaginary.

Paul Gavarni was one of the principal contributors to Les Français peints par eux-mêmes and accordingly his sketch of the law student accompanies Emile de la Bédollierre’s portrait. By comparing the verbal/visual sketch in Les Français to Gavarni’s other works in the series Alcibiade Cliquet and Les Étudiants de Paris, this paper aims to investigate how the artist transposes in visual terms rhetorical strategies — notably irony — used in the verbal text. Indeed, as recent scholarship on the physiologies underscores, La Bédollierre’s text is rifle with self-reflexive commentary. In both Gavarni and La Bédollierre, the viewer/reader is made to recognize himself in the image and to reflect on his complicity or deception. Such an emphasis on Gavarni’s complex use of irony tempers the lightheartedness and innocuousness with which he is all too often associated.