Alfonse Cornet

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Biography of Alfonse Cornet ( 1839-1898 )

Born in Riom in Auvergne, Alphonse Cornet has been attracted to art very young, as his father was a craftsman. He began his apprenticeship in Paris and started to work as a painter and decorator. He joined the drawing class of the city of Paris and then entered the Suisse Academy. The latter was founded by Martin François Suisse in 1781 and allowed artists to practice for a modest sum. At that time, it used to welcome the future big names in the late 19th century painting, like Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Claude Monet (1840-1926) or even Camille Pissarro (1830-1903).

Employed beside the two decorator painters named Alexandre Denuelle (1818-1879) and Charles Lameire (1832-1910), Alphonse Cornet mainly realised mural painting with allegorical subjects.  Form 1864, he began to exhibit easel paintings at the Salon. He was a skillful artist who did some historical paintings as well as still lives or portraits. But the man was also very connected with his environment and he turned to Naturalism movement. 

The masters of this trend were Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton in painting and also Émile Zola and the Goncourt brothers in literature. The naturalists wanted to describe the strong mutation of this end of the century’s society with its beauty and its cruelty. The illusionist technique helped painters to explore the line between reality and fiction, with the sole objective of embracing the reality of the moment.

Seasoned painter in the production of murals, Alphonse Cornet exhibited during the 1886’s Salon a 1,37 x 5,90 meters painting titled “Le defilé des gueux” (The parade of beggars) now hold in the Museum of Riom. In this painting, he represented his social and cultural environment, in the miserabilist tendency of the naturalist movement at the end of the 19th century. At that time, Europe was experiencing an unprecedented evolution, both technological and demographic. People from countryside have moved to the cities where the worker population had been piled up. Life in the capital city was in full swing, also attracting intellectuals and dandies in search of recognition. The microcosm of this society has perfectly well been depicted in Cornet’s work.

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