Alfred Roll's 1878 "The Old Quarryman" exchanged with Alfred Smith's "The Grave Docks" (1884) in the exhibition "4.543 billion" at the CAPC musée

“Le Vieux Carrier” [The Old Quarryman] (1878) by Alfred Roll (Paris, 1846–1919). Collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux.
Following the conclusion of its four-month loan period, we wave goodbye to “Le Vieux Carrier” [The Old Quarryman] (1878) portrait by Alfred Roll (Paris, 1846–1919) on November 6, 2017. Roll's portrait has been on display since June 29 as part of the exhibition "4.543 billion" at the CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux. In its place we welcome Alfred Smith's (Bordeaux, 1854–Paris, 1936) “Le Quai de la Grave” [The Grave Docks] (1884).

Alfred Smith's (Bordeaux, 1854–Paris, 1936) “Le Quai de la Grave” [The Grave Docks] (1884). Collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux.

We are very grateful to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux for agreeing to these wonderful loans. In turn, and in companion to three artworks from 2012–3 exhibited at the CAPC, Birmingham-based artist Stuart Whipps is presenting a new off-site work entitled "Thin Section: Scottish Shale" (2017) in the galleries of the Musée des Beaux-Arts.


(Above and below) Views of Stuart Whipps' "Thin Section: Scottish Shale" (2017) at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux. Photo: Latitudes.
Photo: Latitudes.
(Left, floor) Stuart Whipps' "Thin Section: Scottish Shale" (2017) and (right, above) “Le Quai de la Grave” [The Grave Docks] (1884) by Alfred Smith (Bordeaux, 1854–Paris, 1936), painting that will be exchanged on November 6, 2017, with Alfred Roll's “Le Vieux Carrier” [The Old Quarryman] (1878). Photo: Latitudes.

A 0.5mm thick sliver of Scottish Shale rock (a gas-harbouring rock similar to schist) cut from a sample with a diamond saw is treated as if it were a photographic slide by being displayed on a Reflecta AFM 2000 slide projector, a model that has an in-built display monitor. The luminous minerals contained within the shale rock—quartz, calcite, dolomite, feldspars, mica, pyrite...—appear in 1:1 scale.


(Above and below) Views of the exhibition room at the CAPC musée that includes Alfred Roll's portrait. The room includes works by Maria Thereza Alves, Ângela Ferreira, Antoine J. Aalders and Stuart Whipps. Photo: Latitudes/RK. 

Photo: Latitudes/RK.

Photo: Latitudes.

Between 1878 and 1894, Alfred Roll (Paris, 1846–1919) painted a series of Realist works depicting the world of industry, and more pointedly, comprising statements of solidarity with the harsh circumstances of the worker at a time of great social unrest. Representing an elderly quarryman in his smock, “Le Vieux Carrier” [The Old Quarryman] (1878) began this sequence when it was first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1879. It is one of the few Roll portraits whose subject remains anonymous, yet the man depicted was undoubtedly a genuine labourer rather than a model—the artist was later known to welcome miners and their families to sit for portraits in his studio. Is it not known where the man would have been working. Yet given Roll’s later depiction of stonemasons on a quayside in Suresnes, near Paris, (“Le Travail, chantier de Suresnes (Seine)”, 1885), one might speculate that “Le Vieux Carrier” represents both the large-scale infrastructural projects taking place around the capital at the time, as well as the increasing reorganization of the French workforce in the extractive industries through retiring older workers and cutting wages. 

Roll would go on to spend several months living and working in the coal mines of Charleroi, Belgium, and Anzin, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, and he presented the celebrated painting “Grève des mineurs” [Miners’ strike] at the 1880 Salon. Roll seems to have painted from the perspective that exhaustion unfolds through human labour systems as much as through the depletion of raw materials.

(Unframed) Alfred Smith's (Bordeaux, 1854–Paris, 1936) “Le Quai de la Grave” [The Grave Docks] (1884). Collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux.
   
“Le Quai de la Grave” [The Grave Docks] (1884) is one of a number of Bordeaux cityscapes by the painter Alfred Smith (Bordeaux, 1854–Paris, 1936) in which the effects of the weather and the time of the day are treated with great fidelity. A mason appears to be sizing-up a large limestone block that has been brought downriver by boat. Other workers take a rest in the shade of the water tank and the sentry box during what appears to be a scorching hot summer afternoon in Bordeaux. The seasonal movement of migrant stonemasons from central France, especially the Creuse département, was an established and widespread feature of the construction industry by the late eighteenth century. Migrants had travelled by foot for centuries, but with the introduction of railways to central France in the 1850s, this began to change. Paris was the main magnet, but many young men also departed every March to look for work in Lyon, Bordeaux, and other cities. 

Until at least the beginning of the twentieth century, construction in France was defined by the cutting, dressing, and placing of stone and the industry would have encompassed a wide range of specialist and physically demanding jobs—from quarrymen to masons, roofers, and pavers. By the time of Smith’s depiction, much of the precision of stone cutting would have been done at the quarry site itself. Finishing, polishing and decoration would have been carried out on site. Building work had started to organize trade unions in the early 1880s and a national building trades’ federation was founded in Bordeaux in 1892.

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‘4.543 billion’ is the contribution of the CAPC musée to the cultural season Paysages Bordeaux 2017

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