Tuesday 17 December 2013

Tuesday 17th December - The Drop of Milk in Belleville

A week today will be Christmas Eve, so I believe I get out the images of Christmas day now.  Here's a baby on Christmas morning...

The Drop of Milk in Belleville (1908) Henri Jules Jean Geoffrey
Subtitled 'The Christmas Tree at the Dispensary', it shows a charitable hospital at Christmas.  Not the jolliest place on earth, but still in the hospital there is a sense of the season.  The patients and visitors seem to be sitting looking at something, possibly a service, happening to the left of the picture.  In the front row, a woman with an angelic baby greets a little girl who kisses the baby.  On the right side of the picture, a child looks in a brightly coloured basket at some goodies.  The colours of the basket contrast with the dull grey clothes of the children, who are gathered around the tree, looking for the magic of Christmas.

It is interesting that the children in this image are such a mixture.  When you think of children in a Christmas image you either think of present opening or Messiahs and not a lot in between.  Here you have a cute baby, not the son of God but still a sweetie, but you also have children on crutches.  These children are presumably less fortunate, some are ill or disabled, but none of them ask for our pity.  At that moment they are children like all other children, excited about Christmas, filled with happiness around the Christmas tree.

July 14th Bastille Day
The French artist Geoffrey specialised in scenes of everyday, working class life.  His genre images took in the poorer members of society who he showed with dignity.  He used the images of children to show the future of society, the continuation in life, and innocence within everyday life.  In the painting of Bastille Day, the children look at us as we watch the parade.  What do they think of us?  Often I find children can be quite disconcerting as they aren't afraid to stare but they often do not have an opinion written large in the expression on their faces. Their curiosity mirrors that of the artist who wishes to record the scene.

The Drop of Milk in Belleville: The Weigh In
The Drop of Milk paintings were part of a series about the life of Belleville Dispensary, a charitable clinic.  Belleville is important because it was one of the first places that you could get properly prepared infant milk formula.  In 1908 there was a Public Hygiene Laboratory Bulletin that mentioned Belleville as being one of the pioneers of sterilising milk and so 'the drop of milk' would definitely be essential in keeping your baby alive.  In 1908 when Geoffrey did his series of paintings on Belleville, he was possibly celebrating the work of Dr Variot and his team at Belleville in improving the chances of France's next generation.  He shows the babies as chubby and thriving and being the centre of a Christmas celebration which is not only a child's favourite time of year, but is about a baby who had a hard start in his life.  Geoffrey shows us the reality of progress making sure that these babies do not suffer because they were born poor.

That is certainly something to celebrate.  See you tomorrow.

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Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx