The 19 th century was on the whole a very tumultuous era for western culture and for the art that was being made as well. Remember now that this is following both the French revolution as well as the American revolution and you can add the Industrial revolution on top of that. What you get is the fall of monarchies and nobility the power is now by and large in the hands of the people, more specifically in the hands of a new wealthy middle class, the industrialists. In part because of this, this is a period driven by technological progress, including the creation of art museums, the gallery system that we now associate with the art world, and the invention of photography, a world where everything is moving at an increasingly frantic pace. With the centralization of manufacturing centers the population of cities begin to explode. Now all of this activity translated directly into the art that was being made at the time at a time when what was acceptable was no longer dictated by royalty or the church there was a great deal of debate about what kind of art the people wanted it is this debate this searching that defines this era and ground zero for this exploration was Paris. Now this all begins where we left off with the pupils of Jaques Louis David the foremost of which was Ingres. Ingres considered himself the champion of classical ideals he was trying to preserve what he saw as a tradition that was under attack he carried forward even more rigidly than his teacher the almost airless clarity, the classical idealized forms, the solid modeling of objects in value. Also in his view great art could only be made from great subject matter such as history, mythology, classic literature, and biblical scenes. Ingres attempted in 1827 a historical synopsis in his great composition, the Apotheosis of Homer. This canvas was originally a ceiling decoration in the Salle Clarac in the Louvre. The most famous artists in history are depicted here: Dante and Molière and painters such as Poussin, but Homer reigns above them all. This assembly of great artists and writers of all ages gathered to honour the ancient Greek poet before a classical temple might look the epitome of hierarchical academicism. The painting was intended as the sum of all aesthetic rules. However, it could hardly live up to the expectations. Today it seems stiff and unnatural. The painting's formal composition and pale, sugary colours appear at the opposite extreme to Delacroix's Sardanapalus, shown in the same Salon. Delacroix's picture seems far away from academic orthodoxy, while Ingres's Homer looks like its ultimate endorsement.
Now what was all this a reaction to. There were several concurrent movements all of which were trying to lay their own claim to the new art of this modern world the first of these is Romanticism. Romanticism springs from the Ideals of the revolution in particular from the writings of Jean Jaques Rousseau who in his widely read Social Contract exclaimed in the opening lines “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains” Romanticism itself springs from this desire for freedom, not just political freedom, but also freedom of thought, of feeling, of action, of speech, and of taste. Those artists that chose to affiliate themselves with Romanticism believed that the path to freedom was through imagination rather than reason and functioned through feeling rather than through thinking. Romantics themselves prized individuality Rousseau himself stated “I am like no one in the whole world, I may be no better, at least I am different” Every individuals freedom and unique subjectivity combined was the first principle of Romanticism and is also critical to the understanding of much that has happened and is believed in the modern world. Romantic artists tended to prefer subjects and methods that inspired intense feelings mysterious landscapes, scenes of exotic cultures, extreme and often violent human events such as this one. The Death of Sardanapalus, which was inspired by the work of another Romantic, the poet Byron, Delacroix paints an apotheosis of cruelty. The composition, which is all reds and golds, portrays the holocaust of the legendary Assyrian king, who destroys his possessions before committing suicide. The insurgents are attacking his castle; all is lost; stretched out on a bed at the top of an immense pyre, Sardanapalus orders eunuchs and palace officers to cut the throats of his women, his pages, and even his favourite dogs and horses; none of the objects that have served his pleasure are to survive him. His women are placed on a level with his horses and dogs. A number of the stylistic conventions that would typify Romantic painting are in evidence here. The dynamic diagonal rhythms, the fluidity of line, the brilliance of the colors and the profound sensuality of the subject matter.
Now while both Neoclassicism and Romanticism had their roots in the 18 th century the first movement to come from the 19 th century was Realism. Realism was in part a reaction to the prior two movements they did not want to depict the exotic or the historic or imaginary. Realist artists argued that only the things of ones own time, what people could see for themselves, are real. Accordingly realists focused their attention on the experiences and sights of everyday contemporary life and disapproved of traditional or fictional subjects because they were not of the present world. Realists portrayed objects and images that until then had been deemed unworthy of depiction, the mundane and trivial, working class laborers and peasants and furthermore they depicted these scenes on a scale that had previously been reserved exclusively for grand history painting. The painter Courbet started and dominated this movement toward realism. Art critics and the public were accustomed to pretty pictures that made life look better than it was. Courbet, against much opposition, truthfully portrayed these ordinary places and people. In the stone breakers Courbet portrays in a very straightforward manner two men in the act of breaking stones now this is the absolute bottom rung of society and Courbet reveals to his viewers the dreary drudgery of their work. This interest in the laboring poor as subject matter had a special meaning for his mid 19 th century audience. In 1848 workers rebelled against the newly formed second republic , demanding better working conditions and a redistribution of property. The army was able to suppress the revolution in only three days but not without significant loss of life. Despite this the revolution of 1848 raised the issue of labor as a national concern.
Now these competing artistic movements all trying to stake a claim on the new art of the modern world gave rise to a break in artistic tradition called Modernism surprisingly the artist that begins this is as they say a very mild mannered, conventional, well to do gentleman. What’s really astounding about Manet is not just that he shocked the public and art world with a painting such as luncheon on the grass which was considered not only scandalous for its subject matteralso its construction and the way in which it was painted were both baffling to the viewers at the time. But that his conventional man pushed the envelope of what was acceptable as art over and over again.
Even more scandalous to the viewing public than his previous effort Olympia depicts a well known prostitute who stares back at the viewer with something that borders on defiance she is displayed here un-glamorized and un-idealized. One critic described the painting as “ A courtesan with dirty hands and wrinkled feet, her body has the livid tint of a cadaver displayed at the morgue, her outlines are drawn in charcoal and her greenish, bloodshot eyes appear to be provoking the public.” One thing that is clear from this is that viewers were responding not just to his subject matter but to his artistic style as well. His brush strokes are rougher and the shifts in tonality more abrupt than those found in traditional academic painting he tends to flatten his forms and create illogical spatial transitions. In short his real significance is that he was using art to call attention to art, in other words he was moving away from illusion and toward an open acknowledgment of paintings properties.
The group that most directly identified with Manet’s innovations were the Impressionists. Impressionism both in content and in style was an art of industrialized, urbanized Paris. As such it furthered some of Realism’s concerns and was resolutely an art of it’s time. But where Realism focused on the present, Impressionism focused even more directly on a single moment. The term Impressionism comes from the reaction of a hostile critic to Monet’s painting “Impression sunrise” exhibited at the groups first public exhibition, and although it was intended as an insult it was soon adopted by most of the members of that loose knit group. Many of the conventions associated with Impressionism are evident in impression sunrise the brushstrokes are clearly evident, Monet made no attempt to blend the pigment to create smooth tonal gradations and an optically accurate scene. Although this painting is not a sketch it has a sketchy quality. And its this increased concern with the acknowledgement of the paint and the painting surface that advances the modernist direction that Manet began.
This lack of pristine clarity characteristic of most impressionist works is also grounded in the events of the time. The extensive industrialization and urbanization that happened in France during the last half of the 19 th century was a brutal and chaotic transformation. The rapidity of these changes made Monet’s world seem unstable and insubstantial. As the poet Charles Baudelaire observed “Modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent.” and accordingly impressionist works represent an attempt to capture a fleeting moment not in the absolutely fixed, precise sense of the realists but by conveying the elusiveness and impermanence of images and conditions.
While color and light were major components of the impressionist quest to capture fleeting sensations, these artists considered other formal elements as well. Degas for example became one of the great masters of line, so much so that his works often differ significantly from those of Monet and Renior. He uses his ability here to capture the rapid and informal action, recording the quick impression of arrested motion. The tub also reveals how Degas work like that of the other Impressionists, continues the modernist exploration of the premises of painting by acknowledging the artworks surface. Although the viewer clearly sees the woman as a depiction of a three dimensional form in space, the tabletop or shelf on the right of the image appears severely tilted, so much so that it seems to be parallel to the picture plane. The pitchers further complicate the space by being fully modeled yet they are depicted at a completely different angle than the figure.
As Impressionism began to open up new ways of painting many artists began to see it as a limited form of expression partially because many of the conventions that it promoted in terms of what could or should be represented became very restrictive in a time when the arts themselves were becoming increasingly individualistic. These artists are very loosely grouped together as post impressionists and very generally describe a number of artists who in their own ways were trying to grapple with the idea that painting was no longer representation but something in its own right. Seurat took a more analytical approach to this problem. He devised a disciplined and painstaking system of painting that focused on color analysis. Seurat was less concerned with the recording of immediate color sensations than he was with their careful and systematic organization into a new kind of pictorial order. He disciplined the free and fluent play of color that characterized Impressionism into a calculated arrangement based on scientific color theory. Seurat’s art was severely intellectual he said of it “they see poetry in what I have done, no I apply my method and that’s all there is to it” Seurat believed that space could only be a function of color, which made space an unimportant variable. For previous artists space was the reality with color as something added but for Seurat color was the only reality spaces and solids were just illusions.
Gauguin on the other hand rejected objective representation in favor of subjective expression. He also broke with the Impressionist tradition of minutely contrasted hues because he believed that color above all must be expressive and that the artists power to determine the colors in a painting was the chief element of creativity. Gauguin departed from optical realism and composed the picture elements to focus viewers attention on the idea and intensify its message. These images are not what the impressionist eye would have seen and replicated but what memory would have recalled and imagination would have modified. Guaguin was heavily influenced by Japanese prints and decorative arts particularly stained glass it was these influences that contributed to his own very radical experiment to transform traditional painting and impressionism into abstract, expressive patterns of line, shape, and pure color.
Van Gogh adhered neither to the methods prescribed by Gauguin who he worked and actually lived with albeit somewhat disastrously for a short time, or the means of the impressionists. He painted almost exclusively from observation yet he explored the capabilities of color and distorted forms to express his emotions with an intensity that has not been approached to this day. In the night café although the subject itself is somewhat benign he invests it with a kind of charged energy. As he described it the painting was meant to convey an oppressive atmosphere “a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.” He communicates this by selecting vivid hues whose juxtaposition augments their intensity. He combines this with a corresponding expressiveness in his paint application. The thickness, shape, and direction of his brushstrokes create a tactile counterpart to his intense color schemes.
Like Seurat Cezanne turned from Impressionism to developing a more analytical style. Although he initially allied himself with the Impressionists his own studies of old masters at the Louvre convinced him that Impressionism lacked form and structure. Cezanne said that he “wanted to make of Impressionism something solid, and durable like the art of the museums” Cezanne’s lasting interest was in the structure that underlies nature it was in search of this structure that he developed this method of fracturing the picture plane into geometric swatches of pure color. It was his superimposition of his own structures onto nature along with the fracturing of the image into individual planes that would so interest future generations of artists.
In the late 19 th century the Modernism that had began with Manet had begun to take hold, the academies authority had begun to diminish and started to be viewed as an anachronistic institution by many of the young artists at the time. These artists were intent on finding a new visual language that represented the contemporary world they were engaged in a struggle to push art into a new and rapidly changing century. This is the birth of the Avant-Garde (Avant-Garde is a term that means a military detachment that goes first into battle) this was not an organized movement at all in fact the only real commonality is the desire to create something new to redefine what art was. In 1905 the first signs of a specifically 20 th century movement in painting appeared in Paris in that year at the third Salon d’Automne, an Avant-Garde alternative to the institutionalized Salon, a group of artists under the leadership of Henri Matisse exhibited canvases so simplified in design and so shockingly bright in color that a startled critic described the artists as Fauves (wild beasts). The Fauve movement was driven by a desire to develop an art that had the directness and anti-theoretical orientation of Impressionism but also used intense color juxtapositions and their emotional capabilities, the legacy of artists such as Gauguin and Van Gogh. The Fauves however went even further in liberating color from its descriptive function and using it for both expressive and structural ends. Although the movement itself was short lived about three years or so the impact was significant the Fauves were beginning to realize the potential of Modernism they had finally completely liberated one of the elements from description altogether they had begun to see color as formal element that could be freely manipulated for its structural, expressive, and aesthetic capabilities. This Fauve use of color is particularly evident in the work of Matisse who was the force behind this group Matisse realized the primary role color could play in conveying meaning he described it like this “What characterized Fauvism was that we rejected imitative colors, and that with pure colors we obtained stronger reactions, more striking simultaneous reactions, and there was also the luminosity of our colors” for Matisse and the Fauves, therefore, color became the formal element most responsible for pictorial coherence and the primary conveyor of meaning.
Fauvism itself was part of a larger and more general European movement called Expressionism which essentially describes any style where the artists subjective feelings take precedence over objective observation more specifically however it refers to an art movement started in Germany in the early 20 th century. Like the Fauves Expressionists were drawing their inspiration from Gauguin and Van Gogh, One of the first Expressionist groups to emerge in Germany was Die Brucke meaning literally “the Bridge” their intention was to pave the way for a more perfect age by bridging the old age to the new. Now the Fauvist images appealed to the Die Brucke artists however, although color plays a prominent role in the work of German expressionists, the expressiveness of their images is due as much to the distortion of form, the ragged outlines and agitated brushstrokes. Unlike the Fauves however much of their art was politically and socially aimed. They protested the hypocrisy and materialistic decadence of those in power. Kirchner, their leader, in particular focused much of his attention on the detrimental effects of industrialization, such as the alienation of individuals in cities, which he felt fostered a mechanized and impersonal society such as in “Street, Dresden”. Further the tensions that would lead to WWI would exacerbate the discomfort and anxiety found in the works of Die Brucke and of Kirchner in particularwho here depicts himself as a soldier shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914.
Before that however there was another significant German expressionist group this one Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider) co founded by a Russian Wassily Kandinsky. Like other Expressionist groups they intended to produce paintings that captured their feelings in visual form while also eliciting a very visceral response from their viewers. Kandinsky felt that the way to communicate these feelings was through the use of the elements color, line, shape as a visual language and while this idea wasn’t new his approach to it was, he was the first artist to experiment with non-objective art or pure abstraction the story goes that he was struck by a painting that he didn’t recognize in his studio after looking at it for a minute he realized that the painting was oriented wrong it was on it’s side, through this experience however he came to understand that his experience with the work had to do with something other than the subject matter it had to do with the formal elements themselves his conclusion to this was that arts true power lies in that language and that the subject matter was only incidental. As it turned out his ideas although widely influential I his own time would not really take hold for another 30 years or so in America.
Jean Dominique Ingres “The Apotheosis of Homer” 1827 <ul><li>Ingres was trying to preserve the tradition of neoclassicism. </li></ul><ul><li>Clarity </li></ul><ul><li>Classical idealized forms. </li></ul><ul><li>Solid modeling of objects in value. </li></ul><ul><li>in his view great art could only be made from great subject matter such as. </li></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><li>Mythology </li></ul><ul><li>Classic literature </li></ul><ul><li>Biblical scenes </li></ul>
Eugene Delacroix “The Death of Sardanapalus” 1827 <ul><li>Romanticism promoted </li></ul><ul><li>Imagination </li></ul><ul><li>Intuition </li></ul><ul><li>Emotion </li></ul><ul><li>Individual experience </li></ul><ul><li>Romantic art is characterized by </li></ul><ul><li>Mysterious landscapes </li></ul><ul><li>Scenes of exotic cultures </li></ul><ul><li>Extreme often violent human events </li></ul><ul><li>Sensuality of subject </li></ul><ul><li>Dynamic diagonal rhythms </li></ul><ul><li>Fluidity of line </li></ul><ul><li>Brilliance of color </li></ul>
Gustave Courbet “The Stone Breakers” 1849 <ul><li>Realist’s were concerned primarily with </li></ul><ul><li>Everyday contemporary life </li></ul><ul><li>The mundane and trivial </li></ul><ul><li>Working class laborers and peasants </li></ul>
Claude Monet “ Impression Sunrise” 1872 <ul><li>Conventions associated with Impressionism </li></ul><ul><li>Brushstrokes are clearly evident </li></ul><ul><li>No blending of the pigments </li></ul><ul><li>No smooth tonal gradations </li></ul><ul><li>A sketchy quality </li></ul>