Street jobs for poor children

Street jobs for poor children

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  • The little laundress.

    BONNARD Pierre (1867 - 1947)

  • A Martyr or Le Petit Marchand de Violettes.

    PELEZ Fernand (1843 - 1913)

  • The pastry chef and the chimney sweep.

    CHOCARNE-MOREAU Paul Charles (1855 - 1930)

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

To close

Title: A Martyr or Le Petit Marchand de Violettes.

Author : PELEZ Fernand (1843 - 1913)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas Exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1885.

Storage location:

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Vizzavona / M. El Garbysite web

Picture reference: 97-015045 / VZd4944

A Martyr or The Little Violets Merchant.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. El Garby

The pastry chef and the chimney sweep.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: July 2007

Historical context

The law of March 22, 1841 regulating juvenile work only concerns establishments employing more than twenty employees. Dressed in rags, their faces covered with soot, cluttered with baskets or hoods too heavy for them, these unfortunate people are clearly visible and attract the attention of artists who begin, in the XIXe century, to make children the subject of their novels and genre scenes. Thanks to them, laws on learning and education will follow one another, but they will have difficulty reaching populations of orphans and foreigners, most often homeless.

Image Analysis

These three children have one thing in common: in all weathers and all seasons, their job requires them to roam the city to the point of exhaustion.
At Pierre Bonnard and Fernand Pelez, these little workers are alone and everything contributes to accentuate their isolation: with the exception of a stray dog, the streets are deserted and a high angle frame makes it impossible to see the sky. The two artists also succeed in suggesting, each in their own way, that these two “martyrs” had their childhood stolen from them. The boy is young but already in pain. Asleep against the wall of a building before he has finished selling his bouquets, very thin and barefoot, he seems exhausted. He breathes with difficulty as evidenced by the open mouth. The little girl is ageless. If the black umbrella and the laundry basket, too big for her, weren't there to remind her of her small size, the viewer might think he was in the presence of an old woman. Moreover, the character, shown from behind and as if pinned to the ground by an astonishing distortion of perspective, seems to be just a shadow, disembodied.
If, at Pelez, everything is gray so that the violets merchant seems caught up in the decor, at Bonnard and Chocarne-Moreau, on the other hand, the colors are distinct. The black silhouette of the laundress contrasts with the immaculate linen; the chimney sweep, covered in soot from head to toe, is the counterpart of the apprentice pastry chef in the perfectly white hat and jacket.
But Chocarne-Moreau, unlike Bonnard and Pelez, does not dramatize the scene. The little chimney sweep, unlike the other two children, is not desperately alone. A friend, who also works, offers him something to eat, out of the pan, the dessert he has simmered. This solidarity is formally expressed by the presence, on the palisade of the second plan and on the Moriss column at the end of the field, of colorful posters.
And this composition is so cheerful, with its bright colors and simple contrasts between black and white, cleanliness and grime, that it will be copied, at the dawn of the twentiethe century, by several advertisers in charge of praising the merits of washing powder (La lye and la housewife) or starch (Rémy).


From the July Monarchy, while politicians and social investigators denounce too early work in the name of the defense of national interests, artists describe or depict unhappy childhood to arouse emotion and indignation in the French.
These convergent actions will make it possible to improve the juvenile condition even if, for small trades, the measures taken are difficult to be applied.
The law on apprenticeship, promulgated on February 22, 1851, obliges the employers to leave the young worker hours to learn but how to enforce the text when the child works in the street, frequently changes jobs and domicile ? How to convince the teacher to adapt his pedagogy to these dirty and ragged students, who pass in their classroom like meteors and often only speak the patois?
The law of May 19, 1874, which reinforces that of March 1841 on child labor, prohibits night work for those under sixteen, but how do you get in the bakery and pastry that apprentices work during the day?
The little chimney sweeps, despised by city dwellers because of their accent and their uncleanliness, have populated the literary and artistic world with ’André the Savoyard from Charles-Paul de Kock to The King and the Bird by Paul Grimault. In fact, they became picturesque types and quickly symbolized unhappy childhood. But, in reality, the boys, who leave in groups for Lyon or for Paris and return to the country when they have saved enough, are less to be pitied than the young girls. Indeed, the latter, which the Lyon spinners come to seek by promising them a bright future, weave relentlessly in unsanitary, damp and airless workshops, then are sent back as soon as orders are lacking, accused by the French workers of monopolizing the 'work. Many, suffering from pleurisy, die before they can return to their villages of origin.
The Savoyards are not treated less well than other cross-border workers either. For example, from 1845, when Flanders experienced an unprecedented economic crisis, many Belgian children were hired, at a low price, not only in the spinning mills and brickyards in the North but in the mines where they were the first victims. firedamps and other gallery flooding.

  • childhood
  • small trades
  • Ferry (Jules)


Gilles CANDAR, Childhood of the 19th Century, article on the website La Tribune de l'ArtChantal GEORGEL, The Child and the Image in the 19th Century, Orsay Museum file, n ° 24, RMN, 1988; The Child, Orsay Museum Route Book, n ° 16, RMN, 1989.Pierre PIERRARD, Children and young workers in France (19th-20th centuries), Paris ed. Workers, 1974 (reprint 1987). Jean SANDRINFoundling, child laborers (17th-19th centuries)Paris, Aubier, coll. "Floréal", 1982.

To cite this article

Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "Street jobs for poor children"

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