A Studio in the Batignolles Quarter, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836–1904), is an emblematic picture. It was produced in 1870, and immediately caricatured as ‘Jesus Painting among the Disciples, or the Divine School of Manet’. That response anticipates hostile contemporary critical reaction to the new avant-garde. It groups around Édouard Manet (1832–83) younger men we think of as the Impressionists, notably Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Frédéric Bazille (1841–70), and Claude Monet (1840–1926). And it includes Émile Zola (1840–1902), the first of whose twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart series had just been started and who would dominate French literature (or at least the novel genre) until its completion in 1892. All those dates are telling, speaking of a particular artistic generation and the intersections of pictorial, textual, and political history.
The latter, in particular, is too seldom evoked in this context. Shortly after this apparently optimistic statement of aesthetic solidarity, France suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1), leading directly to the civil war of the Commune and the burning of Paris. The resulting disruption meant that it was only in February 1871, for example, that Manet discovered that Bazille, who had volunteered for military duty early in the conflict, had been killed in action on 28 November 1870. Renoir survived in spite of being called up. Manet and Edgar Degas (1834–1917) enlisted in the National Guard. Zola found refuge in Marseille and Bordeaux.