Advances in manufacturing, transportation, and communication created new products for consumers and new wealth which fueled the rise of urban centers and improved living conditions for many.
But, this so called Industrial Revolution also condemned masses of workers to poverty and catalyzed new political movements that sought to reform society.
Because of worsening working conditions, socialist movements began to grow in strength. The most radical of these movements was Communism, which called for the abolition of private property.
In 1848 Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto, which predicted the violent overthrow of the property holding bourgeoisie (middle class) by the proletariat (working class) and the creation of a classless society.
Also, in 1848, the first American women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York.
Some of the issues were:
Equality before the law
Acceptance of women into colleges
Admission of women into all trades and professions
Equal pay for equal work
Women’s suffrage (achieved in 1920)
Academic, Neoclassical art styles continued to dominate the art world. Students at art academies continued to study classical (Greco-Roman) and Renaissance art. Italy continued to be the source of inspiration fro artists, and many artist’s colonies were established in Rome and in Florence. One of the most prominent women in a Roman artist’s colony was Harriet Hosmer. Harriet Hosmer with statue of US Senator, Thomas Hart Benton in Neoclassical style.
Hosmer soon bean creating major exhibition pieces in the Neoclassical mode, such as Zenobia in Chains. This sculpture represents an exotic historical subject, calculated to appeal to the viewer’s emotions. Zenobia was a Queen of Palmyra who was defeated by the Romans and was forced to walk through the streets of Rome in chains. Hosmer presents her as a noble figure. Zenobia embodies an ideal of womanhood strikingly modern in its defiance of Victorian conventions of female submissiveness.
Edmonia Lewis, daughter of a Chippewa mother and an African American father, also moved to the sculptors colony in Rome to become a sculptor in Harriet Hosmer’s circle. Orphaned at 4 years old, she was raised by her mother’s people. With the help of abolitionists, she attended Oberlin College (the first college to grant degrees to women) In Rome, she continued to work on works that addressed human freedom, especially those issues involving women.
Hagar in the Wilderness represented for Lewis, the plight and hope of her entire race. Neoclassical idealism remained a powerful force well into the 19 th century, but a new taste for descriptive accuracy was gradually emerging. Photography may have contributed to this shift in taste. People became less interested in art that idealized than in art that brought the ideal down to earth. Increasing numbers of artists favored the naturalist credo that art should faithfully record ordinary life.
Many artists began to think of history as a set of facts rather than as something from which to learn moral lessons.
One group of young artists in England, The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, wanted to use the naturalistic, descriptive approach to the human body and nature used by earlier Northern Renaissance masters…and they filled their paintings with symbolism found in Medieval Art
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He often used Jane Burden as the model for his paintings, and eventually they became lovers, although she was married to Rossetti’s friend. In this painting, Rossetti looked back to a story from the Middle Ages for a story that brought spiritual beauty and meaning that he found lacking in his own life.
Rosary and prayer book = piety (the name of the painting is La Pia, The Pious One ). Ravens and sundial = passage of time and impending death Her enduring love for her husband is represented by the evergreen ivy and her husbands letters under the prayer book. She fingers her wedding band , possibly to suggest that she is not so much a captive of her husband as a captive of her marriage.
Another art movement of this time was Art Nouveau. This movement rejected the values of modern industrialized society, and sought new forms that would recapture a pre-industrial sense of beauty. (Art for art’s sake) Vines, snakes, flowers and winged insects were their inspiration. Delicate sinuous forms were the basis for their graceful linear designs. Antoni Gaudi. Serpentine bench , Barcelona. 1900-1914
The Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi, created spectacular examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Barcelona.
Gaudi’s main concern was to integrate natural forms into everyday life and to combine architecture, sculpture and craft arts.
Gilbert Stewart, The Skater , 1792 In America, the tradition of factual naturalism had an unbroken tradition in painting, stretching back to Colonial portrait painters. Realism had long been considered American and democratic. The Civil War brought more attention to that most naturalistic media-photography. One artist who made his name recording the Civil War was Winslow Homer.
Before the Civil War, Homer was a reporter and illustrator for popular magazines, and illustrated books.
In the 1870’s, Homer mastered the difficult medium of watercolor. Watercolor had become a popular medium for working outdoors.
The most uncompromising American realist of the era was Thomas Eakins. His frank paintings, lacking any conventional charm, generated little popular interest.
One painting DID attract attention, but it was negative notoriety. The Gross Clinic was severely criticized, and was refused exhibition space in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition. However, Eakins was trying to show that “amid the darkness of ignorance and fear, modern science is the light of knowledge.” (note light on the medical student, the doctor and his assistants)
Eakins taught art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and among his students were women and African-Americans. These two groups were often excluded from art schools. One of Eakins’ most brilliant students was Henry Ossawa Tanner. Tanner eventually moved to Paris where his painting was well received. In the 1890’s he painted scenes of African-American life, hoping to counter caricatures created by other artists of the era.
Later in life, Tanner dedicated his art to religious subjects. He believed that art should serve religion.
By the mid 1860’s, the painter Édouard Manet had become the unofficial leader of a group of progressive artists who gathered in the Montmartre district of Paris. The group painted in the Realist tradition, primarily painting the countryside and scenes of a city person on holiday. Eventually, this group (Monet, Renoir and Degas) became known as Impressionists.
Manet and Degas worked in their studio, but the rest of the Impressionists worked outdoors en plein air (“in the open air”) to directly record the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere .
In the official Salon of 1863, 3,000 paintings were rejected. SO, the emperor Napoleon III ordered an exhibition of the rejected works called the Salon des Refus és (Salon of the Rejected Ones). In that exhibition, Manet had a painting that caused an avalanche of criticism.
A French writer, Baudelaire, had challenged these young painters to paint contemporary manners. Manet’s response was The Luncheon on the Grass . It caused shock and bewilderment.
Basing his composition on a Renaissance drawing by Raphael and a painting by the Venetian “Old Master”, Titian, Manet had expected that his intent would be fairly obvious.
Figures are not integrated with the background…they seem to be cut-outs pasted there.
Soon after Luncheon on the Grass , Manet painted Olympia . Based on a painting by Titian, Manet has made his modern woman the very antithesis of Titian’s Venus. Venus is curved and softly rounded…Olympia is angular and flattened. Venus looks lovingly at the viewer…Olympia stares at us.
Manet had subverted the entire tradition of the accommodating female nude. Olympia’s stare indicates that she is in the position of power. This relationship between the viewer and subject is underscored by the black cat, ready to hiss at us!
In 1874, a group of painters exhibited together in Paris and called themselves the Soci été Anonyme. The exhibit was attacked by conservative critics and one critic, inspired by the title of a Monet painting ( Impression Sunrise ), dubbed the entire exhibit Impressionist.
Monet and his fellow painters were pleased to accept the label since it related to the way they tried to capture an instantaneous impression of a scene in nature
By the end of the century, these independent exhibitions effectively ended the French Academy’s centuries-old stranglehold on the display of art and thus on the artistic standards associated with them.
Monet recorded the shifting play of light on the surface of objects rather than the physical character of the object.
His decision to paint this street scene from an upper window enabled him to combine the high vantage point he admired in Japanese prints and direct observation of life.
Berthe Morisot, who exhibited in 7 of the 8 Impressionist exhibits, continued to paint after she married. (unusual for women of her time) She was married to Manet’s brother. Her subjects became bourgeois women and their activities.
Her brushwork became increasingly loose and painterly through the 1870’s. The painting In the Dining Room calls attention to the act of painting itself. Throughout her life, she sought equality for women.
Not all of the artists who exhibited with the Impressionists worked in an impressionistic style. Edgar Degas was one such artist. He eventually chose to focus his work on Paris amusements such as the music hall, opera, ballet, circus and racetrack. He was especially drawn to the ballet.
From carefully observed rehearsals and performances, he arranged his own visual choreography. (Often, the ballerinas mothers would accompany them to protect their virtue. Many of the girls were from lower class families, and showing their bodies in their ballet outfits would leave the impression that they were sexually available.)
Not a factual record of something seen, but a careful composition to delight the eye. Viewed as if from an opera box close to the stage
Although Manet’s early work embraced the Impressionistic ideas of a light palette and carefree subject matter, his later work is more somber.
When first looking at this painting, the woman behind the bar seems self-absorbed and downcast. But in the reflection she leans toward the man, and the distance between them has vanished. Manet’s reason for this has been much debated. One possibility is that he is showing the contrast between the longing for happiness, and the disappointing reality of everyday life.
In the years after 1880, the Impressionists began to be dissatisfied with their “loose” style of painting. Artists began to select subjects more carefully, work longer on their paintings and develop styles that were more permanent and serious. Renoir was most affected by this “crisis”, and he began to work with more firmly modeled figures and more traditional compositions.
In Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir composed a stable, glamorized grouping of his friends in an idyllic image.
Mary Cassatt, who also exhibited with the Impressionists, moved toward a more firm handling of for and more classic subjects after 1880. Cassatt, like Degas, remained a studio painter, but her distaste for what she called the tyranny of the Salon jury system made her a strong supporter of the Impressionists.
In Maternal Caress , Cassatt offers a sensitive modern response to the tradition of the Madonna and Child. The flat decorative pattern simple contours and sharply sloping floor are influenced by Japanese art.
Monet stayed closest to the ideals of Impressionism, painting in his gardens until his death in 1926.
Post-Impressionists were a group of artists who moved through an Impressionist phase, and then went on to develop their own unique styles, often abstract, that would have a huge impact on the development of modernist painting in the early 20 th century.
Paul Cezanne was a Post-Impressionist who had a profound influence on the abstract painters of the 20 th century. Ignored or misunderstood in his lifetime, his goal was to create a sense of order in nature through a careful and methodical application of color to his canvas.
In his still-lifes, Cezanne willfully disregards linear perspective by viewing his subject from several different viewpoints. The bottle seems to tilt on a table whose sides don’t match…the drawing seems wrong, but makes the painting more dynamic.
Paul Gauguin believed that art could be used for social commentary and even change. The name that came into general use to describe such art was avant-garde . Gauguin wanted to escape modern life so eventually gave up his life in Paris as a stockbroker and family man and moved to Tahiti (after going to Brittany, Panama, and Arles.)
Gauguin had developed a style influenced by Medieval stained glass. His style consisted of simplified drawing, flattened space, and anti-natural color. He called his style synthetism because it synthesized observation of the subject with the artists feelings about the subject expressed in shape, space and color.
Gauguin had gone to Tahiti hoping to find an unspoiled, pre-industrial paradise. He had imagined Tahitians to be child like and close to nature. What he discovered was a thoroughly colonized country whose native culture was rapidly disappearing . In his paintings, he chose to ignore this reality, and to depict the Eden of his imagination.
One artist in Gauguin’s circle before he went to Tahiti was Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh was influenced by the Impressionists, but eventually developed a technique where he applied his paint in multidirectional dashes of thick pigment, giving his paintings a sense of energy and surface texture.
Van Gogh and Gauguin planned to move to Arles in the south of France to establish a colony of artists. While van Gogh was waiting for Gauguin to join him, he painted his sunflower series. When Gauguin arrived, their constant arguments soon led to violent confrontation and Gauguin’s departure. Only a few close friends and his brother Theo stood by van Gough to the end.
After a series of psychological crises , van Gogh shot himself in 1890. The work that he produced the last year and a half of his life testafy to his heightened emotional state.
These paintings are early expressionist paintings where the artist’s feelings override the actual appearance of things.
A more frightening image of the night sky can be seen in the painting of Edvard Munch. His expressionism is one way of expressing the psychological impact of the modern world.
Another way to capture modern life was to show it’s emotional energy, as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec did in his paintings and prints. Toulouse-Lautrec chronicled the Paris neighborhood of Montmartre, where entertainment and the fringes of society dominated.
Toulouse-Lautrec designed posters as advertisements between 1891 and 1901. Although often energetic and colorful, many of these images showed the sad reality of the festivities at the popular dance halls. They revealed th artist’s sensitivity to a new kind of loneliness: the modern feeling of alienation.
The most successful and influential sculptor of the Post-Impressionist era was August Rodin. In 1884, he won a competition to create a statue commemorating the Burghers of Calais. He showed not only what they might have looked like, but also how they must have felt as they walked to what they thought would be their death.
Rodin’s willingness to show the human body for expressive purposes was a revolutionary move. Also, Rodin’s removal of the statue from a pedestal to a low base would lead to the elimination of the pedestal itself and the presentation of the sculpture in the “real” space of the viewer.
Camille Claudel, an assistant in Rodin’s studio, was an accomplished sculptor whose work was overshadowed by the dramatic story of her life. Although she enjoyed independent professional success, she suffered from psychological problems that eventually overtook her, and she spent the last 30 years of her life in an asylum.
In Claudel’s work, The Waltz , she depicts a dancing couple, the man nude and the woman seminude. The skirt was added because of a charge of indecency…but, was a fortunate addition. The swirling skirt conveys the illusion of motion as the dancers swirl through space. The figures have little physical contact, and facial expressions convey no passion or sexual desire. Claudel may have sought to portray love as union more spiritual than physical.