Belle Époque

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Poster motif Mayol et sa troupe (German Mayol and his troops , Adrien Barrère , approx. 1911)
The professors of the Paris Medical School. Adrien Barrère , 1904

Belle Époque [ bɛleˈpɔk ] ( French for "beautiful epoch") is the name for a period of about 30 years at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, mainly in Europe . Usually the period from 1884 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 is mentioned. The term fin de siècle ("end of the century") is also used for the period before the turn of the century .

Some framework conditions

BASF around 1893

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 was followed by an unusually long period of peace . It was the basis for a significant economic and cultural upswing in the core European countries of the United Kingdom , France , the German Empire and Austria-Hungary .

The second wave of the industrial revolution acted as the main driving force , with a focus on the chemical industry , electrical engineering , the steel industry and transport . New or larger urban agglomerations grew at the locations of the factories . This created special health problems, but also new approaches to solving them. Medicine and hygiene advanced, infant mortality declined, life expectancy increased. Attitudes towards work changed. In industry , manufacturing processes were rationalized through the division of labor , the work became more monotonous, but no less strenuous. The workers organized themselves into trade unions and political parties , the predecessor parties of the Parti Socialiste (PS) in France, the Labor Party in England, the SPD in Germany and the SDAP in Austria. By 1914, despite some setbacks, these organizations gained increasing influence in their home countries. Disadvantages in working life were at least partially offset by a general increase in earnings, in which the workers themselves also had a - relatively small - share; incomes rose significantly faster than consumer prices at times.

Profiteers of this "beautiful epoch"

Upscale evening party (1906)

The people of this period undoubtedly felt more materially secure than before and were optimistic about the political, technical and cultural prospects. However, it is not appropriate to see the Belle Époque only as a time of unrestricted enjoyment of life and general social carelessness. The large number of peasants and farm workers hardly had a share in a good time, the same applies to the mass of industrial workers and small salaried employees who returned to the light-poor backyard quarters of the fast-growing cities after many hours of work.

The Belle Époque essentially took place on the boulevards of the metropolises , in the cafés and cabarets, the studios and galleries, the concert halls and salons, carried by a middle and upper middle class that benefited most from technical and economic progress. In these milieus, however, an astonishing, highly dynamic cultural development could be observed in just a few decades. Although it took place against resistance, in ruptures, with overlaps, art and culture - also a culture of carefree, public entertainment - were able to develop particularly intensively and in a diverse manner. It was above all that gave the epoch its brilliant name.

International appearance

World Exhibition in Paris, machine hall

Due to the already well developed transport networks and falling tariffs, the increased leisure time (of the bourgeoisie) and the increased financial capacities, pleasure trips became more and more attractive. Popular travel destinations included the world exhibitions (beginning in London in 1851). A particularly impressive exhibition took place in Paris in 1889: the Eiffel Tower was the sensation.

More and more international associations were founded and the number of international scientific conferences increased significantly. In addition, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896 with great success.

Arts and Culture

The line of development went

The painting The Kiss by Gustav Klimt as an example of Art Nouveau
Advertisement for a corset, Paris 1908

Earlier than anywhere else, as early as the 1860s, a reform movement for handicrafts had begun in England , which was later taken up on the continent. Their goal was to free furniture and living spaces from the cluttered decor of historical quotations and to find a new style. Less emphasis should be placed on representation than on the factual requirements of living. The German art teacher Alfred Lichtwark formulated in 1896: "All art care must begin in the house" and "Have nothing in your house that you do not find useful or think beautiful."

In 1895, organized by the Skladanowsky brothers , the world's first certified public film screening took place in Berlin . The further development of color lithography , especially by Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Paris, enabled the inexpensive printing of attractive posters . As “the art of the street”, which was believed to have an aesthetically and even morally ennobling mass effect, they aroused enthusiastic interest; in France temporarily also a widespread passion for collecting.

Fashion, too, especially womenswear, began to move; from Victorian or Wilhelmine splendor after 1900 gradually to liberation from the constraints of the corset . The movement to develop reform clothing for women also fell during this period, but this did not take hold for a long time.

The time of a largely carefree attitude towards life ended at the latest with the start of the war in 1914 . The final point can also be set as early as 1912: with the sinking of the Titanic , the naive belief in the omnipotence of technology also symbolically disappeared. The recognizable omens of the new, great war also contributed to the fact that confidence in the future turned into uncertainty and fear. However , there had already been initial critical voices, for example from the life reform .

Revolutions in Science

Pierre and Marie Curie in their laboratory
Sigmund Freud around 1905

Many new discoveries were made, especially in the field of physics . First of all, the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895 and of radium in 1898 by the married couple Marie and Pierre Curie should be mentioned. This was followed by the quantum theory (1900) of Max Planck and Albert Einstein's theory of relativity (1905). In 1911, Ernest Rutherford derived Rutherford's atomic model from scattering experiments . Just two years later - based on Rutherford's findings - Niels Bohr set up his atomic model . These new discoveries contradicted the classical physics, which started from Isaac Newton (1643-1727) in several points .

The development of improved microscopes from the middle of the 19th century opened up a view of microbiology and the important bacteriologist Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis and cholera pathogens.

Thanks to Sigmund Freud , who founded psychoanalysis in 1890 , a new way of looking at the human psyche emerged, which received a great deal of public attention.

Sociology also emerged around 1900, the consolidation of which as a scientific discipline was promoted by people such as Émile Durkheim , Georg Simmel and Max Weber .

See also


  • Willy Haas : The Belle Epoque (= great cultural epochs in texts, images and testimonies; Volume 8). Hueber, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-19-001306-3 .
  • Dominique Kalifa: "Belle Époque": invention et usages d'un chrononyme . In: Revue d'histoire du XIXe siècle 52, 2016, pp. 119–132.
  • Dominique Kalifa: La véritable histoire de la Belle Époque . Fayard, Paris 2017, ISBN 2213655294 .
  • Dominique Lejeune: La France de la Belle Époque: 1896–1914 . Armand Collin, Paris 1991; 6th, revised edition 2011: ISBN 2200273924 .
  • Roger Shattuck , René Char (photos): The Belle Epoque. Culture and society in France 1885–1918 (original title: The Banquet Years ; translated by Erich Krois). Piper, Munich 1963, DNB 454677294 .
  • Michel Winock : La Belle époque: la France de 1900 à 1914 . Pour l'histoire, Paris 2002, ISBN 2262016674 .

Web links

Commons : Belle Époque  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Belle Époque  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Belle Epoque in general (texts in German, French, English, Italian; very extensive page; detailed synopsis 1870–1914, in three languages; image examples for architecture and posters; depiction of the early years of the film)