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Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


LACS: French Studies

First Advisor

Karen Humphreys


The French Academy was considered the most important institution of artistic production. The institution was believed to create the geniuses of the next generation by teaching the traditions from the previous masters. In the nineteenth century, the departure from the Academy completely altered the art world. The break produced much confusion and uncertainty among artists. The masters of contemporary style of art were no longer necessarily a part of the traditional authority.

In my thesis I explore this uncertainty and the representation of the figure of the artist in Emile Zola’s L’Œuvre (1886). Claude Lantier, the protagonist, is a literary representation of a tortured artist. He becomes increasingly obsessed with creating a masterpiece that provides him with the public recognition that he desperately wants. The character becomes so consumed with working and reworking his art that he squanders his potential and never creates a great work of art. Claude’s failure to produce a masterpiece leads to his untimely self-destruction as well as the destruction of the canvas.

I argue that the representations of genius and mastery--according to the artist himself, friends, critics, and the public--trace Claude’s transformation into a destructive and tortured artist. L’Œuvre is a depiction of the dark side of artistic genius within the Parisian art world of the late nineteenth century. In addition, it reflects the anxieties of a time that placed more pressure on the individual as the control and influence of the traditional institutions began to falter.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in French Studies. Full text access is limited to the Trinity campus.