Psychology of the crowd
The crowd was actually the principal subject of Félix Vallotton’s woodcuts.
He was fascinated by the collective identity that groups of people seem to adopt spontaneously.
Vallotton emphasised this in the print Fireworks, for instance, by representing the mass of people as a many-headed black expanse, gawping as one at the sights of the World Exhibition.
The Crowd as nightmare
Crowds could turn suddenly to collective violence or hysteria — as a result, the unpredictable mood swings of the mass were an important topic of debate.
The growing urban proletariat was viewed as a particular danger to society — the ruling class fretted about how the police and army could best control the mass of people.
In prints like The Demonstration, Vallotton visualised the tension that existed between the dominant power and the unpredictable crowd.
Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, Paris 1895
Richard S. Field, ‘Exteriors and Interiors. Vallotton’s Printed Oeuvre’, in Félix Vallotton, New York 1991, p. 43-92
Richard Thomson, ‘Picturing and Policing the Crowd’, in The Troubled Republic. Visual Culture and Social Debate in France, 1889-1900, New Haven, p. 79-116