ART HISTORY PART 3: NEOCLASSICAL TO SYMBOLISM 1750-1910
Characterized by political fervor and independence. The Neoclassicists harkened back to the perfection of the Greeks and Romans and were impatient with the political and religious power structures. Scientific discovery began its rise to importance. Casting aside the overly decorative styles of Rococo and Baroque, Neoclassical art mirrored the thinking emerging in the political and social arenas. The belief that art had the power to reform and transform rose along with the Industrial Revolution.
[The Artist's Despair Before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins, Johann Heinrich Fussli]
The Death of General Wolfe
Artist: Benjamin West
Medium: oil on canvas
One of the first American painters to be recognized in Europe, West was know for his large scale historic paintings. Though accurate with regard to the fashion of the times (one reason his patron King George III rejected the work), 10 of the 14 figures West included in the painting were not actually present when the General died. He also knowingly filled his painting with stereotypes and symbolism.
Marie Antoinette and her Children
Artist: Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
Medium: oil on canvas
A successful portrait and landscape artist, Vigee Le Brun made the transition from the light and frivolous style of Rococo to the bolder use of color and stature found in neoclassical works. She is best known for her paintings of the aristocracy and royalty, painting the Queen, Marie Antoinette, 30 times.
The Death of Marat
Artist: Jacques-Louis David
Medium: oil on canvas
Though repeatedly referenced in pop culture, David’s painting is actually more famous than Marat himself.
Falling on the heels of the French and American Revolutions, Romanticism is characterized by the human imagination and a longing for the ideal. Though many artists continued to paint scenes of serious consequences the heightened dramatic effects depicted in these scenes clearly place them with the Romantics.
[The Desperate Man, Gustav Courbert]
The Third of May, 1808
Artist: Francisco Goya
Size: 8’ 9” x 11’ 4”
Purpose: The painting is believed to be anti-war. Although Goya sympathized with the French Revolution he was horrified at the slaughter of his Spanish countrymen.
The Raft of the Medusa
Artist: Theodore Gericault
Size: 16’ x 23.5’
History: The actual raft which is the subject matter of this work measured 23’ x 66’. Only 10 of the approximately 150 seamen who were on the raft survived. And, though it depicts an actual event the painting was considered too contemporary to receive the designation of a historical painting.
The Hay Wain
Artist: John Constable
A wonderful example of the romantic longing for more peaceful and idyllic time. This genre of Romantic paintings were called pastorals.
Characterized by the common, every day, nitty-grittiness of life. Realism emerged as a direct rejection of both Romanticism and Neoclassical art. Human struggle is real. Science and empirical data are truth. Only what man can know and achieve matters. The Industrial Revolution is born.
[Barge Haulers on the Volga, Ilya Repin]
Artist: Jean-François Millet
Size: 2’ 9” x 3’ 8”
Artist: Auguste Rodin
Size: 28 1/8 x 14 5/16 x 23 7/16 in.
Originally meant to be part of a much larger work.
Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (Whistler’s Mother)
Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Size 4’ 9” x 5’ 4”
The Past, The Present, The Future
Artist: Honore Daumier
Daumier so provoked King Louis-Philippe with his caricature depicting him as a poire (meaning both pear and imbecile in French) that the King sentenced him to prison—two months in the state prison and four in a mental hospital. Nevertheless, Daumier continued his negative depictions of the government and a society he loathed.
Rue Transnonain, Le 15 Avril 1834
Artist: Honore Daumier
Purpose: Though known for his satire when this lithograph was first published the publisher, Charles Phillipon, wrote, “This lithograph is horrible to behold, as horrible as the dreadful event it recounts. It shows a murdered old man, a dead woman, the corpse of a terribly wounded man lying upon the body of a poor little baby whose head is split open. It is not satire, it is a bloody page in the history of our modern era…” The etched stone was confiscated and many of the prints tracked down and destroyed. Political caricatures were outlawed the following year.
Concerned itself with depicting the visual sense of a moment, especially with regard to light. Feeling and experience were king. The clarity of form came in second to the mood or even the changing quality.
[Fishing for Oysters at Cancale, John Singer Sargent]
The Ballet Class
Artist: Edgar Degas
Artist: Claude Monet
Rouen Cathedral: the Facade at Sunset
Artist: Claude Monet
In 1895 he exhibited 20 painting of the Cathedral at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. For Monet the subject was only a reference point. What he truly wanted to paint was light. Monet used a very limited palette. He avoided brown and earth tones altogether and by 1886 black was gone as well. Of his own work he said, "The limited palette. He avoided brown and earth tones altogether and point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all's said and done, a matter of habit. Anyway, I use flake white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, deep madder, cobalt blue, emerald green, and that's all."
Luncheon of the Boating Party
Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Artist: Mary Cassatt
A reaction to the naturalism of the Impressionist movement, the focus was on the mind of the artist, a subjective approach to emotion which included symbolic motifs and unnatural color.
[The Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau]
The Starry Night
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Based mostly on a scene out his window at the Sant-Paul asylum in Sant-Remy, Van Gogh also utilized his memory, emotion, and imagination to convey the beauty of the night.
Artist: Paul Cezanne
A sub category of Post-Impressionism that focused on the use of dots of pure color next to one another on the canvas. They become blended with one another in the viewer’s eye. In part the goal was to create mood, harmony, and emotional content.
[Grand Canal, Paul Signac]
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Artist: George Seurat
Grand Jatte was meticulously planned with 20 drawings and 3 preliminary studies. A close look at the painting reveals a firm use of color theory. The woman at the center of the painting, for example, wears an orange/pink skirt which casts a blue shadow onto the grass. Her red jacket and parasol are set against a green background of leaves and grass. The purple skirt of the woman on the right in the foreground has a yellow halo separating it from the green of the grass.
Toward the end of the 19th Century an influx of tribal art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas to Europe gave European artist a new visual language to explore. Today the term primitive might have some negative connotations, especially as the movement seemed to reject the authentic art it chose to appropriate. From the European/modern artists perspective Primitivism was a rejection of the industrialization occurring all around them and a nostalgic look back to a time when humans were more connected to nature. It took the simpler shapes and more abstract figures and included a bold use of contrast and color.
[In a Tropical Forest Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo, Henri Rousseau
Vision After the Sermon
Artist: Paul Gauguin
Perspective and gradation of color which were considered essential developments from the Renaissance on in order to create realistic images were quickly seen as obstacles to the discovery of what is painting could be contemplative or transcendent, if painting itself could successfully move beyond a narrative subject matter.
Female Figure in Flenite (the flinty hardness of the stone)
Artist: Sir Jacob Epstein
Medium: serpentine (a dark green mineral sometimes mottled or spotted like a snake skin)
Size: 457 x 95 x 121 mm attached to a 35 x 410 x 330 mm plinth base
An art movement which celebrated the exploration of an idea above the realistic description. The symbolic world was populated with mysterious creatures in combination with Biblical characters and Greek mythology. The content was often filled with psychological tension, mysticism and erotica. Common themes included: death, anguish, ecstasy, fear, and unrequited desire.
[The Crying Spider, Odilon Redo]
Artist: Edvard Munch
Medium: oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard
Written about the work: The setting of The Scream was suggested to the artist by a walk along a road overlooking the city of Oslo, apparently upon Munch's arrival at, or departure from, a mental hospital where his sister, Laura Catherine, had been interned. It is unknown whether the artist observed an actual person in anguish, but this seems unlikely; as Munch later recalled, "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence ... shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."
This is the earliest of two painted versions of the picture. The other was finished in 1910. Munch also completed pastel and lithograph versions.
Death and Life
Artist: Gustav Klimt
The symbols covering death are the Christian cross. Those surrounding life are the flowery bed that all the figures lay upon to represent beauty. The figures themselves symbolize strength and the origins of life.