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Parisian Rag Pickers

Jean-François Raffaëlli

European Art

Jean-François Raffaëlli frequently painted ragpickers, so called because they made their meager living on the margins of industrialized capitalism, collecting scraps and castoffs for resale. Here, a man and woman traverse the bleak landscape between Paris and its expanding suburbs. Such members of the urban lower classes were displaced when Paris was transformed at midcentury into a modern city of broad boulevards and leisure spaces. Many ragpickers struggled to maintain their livelihoods in the later nineteenth century after official sanitation programs limited where and when they could ply their trade.

Raffaëlli wrote that he associated his ragpickers with “an idea of liberty, of savage independence,” claiming “these men have no masters.” Ragpickers were considered poetic figures, but also ones whose lives on the periphery amid refuse led them to be classified as “foreign” outsiders. Racialized criticism of the time noted what were perceived as the darker, “dirty” skin tones of Raffaëlli’s ragpickers and characterized them as immigrants “who haven’t yet gotten their letters of naturalization.”
MEDIUM Oil and oil crayon on board set into cradled panel
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES ca. 1890
    DIMENSIONS Cradled Panel: 13 3/8 × 11 3/16 × 11/16 in. (34 × 28.4 cm) frame (Framed in microclimate): 22 1/8 × 20 1/8 × 4 1/4 in. (56.2 × 51.1 × 10.8 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Lower left: "J.F. RAFFAËLLI"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Henry C. Lawrence
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Jean-François Raffaëlli (French, 1850-1924). Parisian Rag Pickers, ca. 1890. Oil and oil crayon on board set into cradled panel, Cradled Panel: 13 3/8 × 11 3/16 × 11/16 in. (34 × 28.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Henry C. Lawrence, 10.88 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 10.88_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 10.88_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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