Art Appreciation Topic VIII: Art Movements in the Later 19th Century
Art Appreciation Topic VIII:Art Movements in the Later 19 th Century c.1840-c.1914
French Academic Art (c.1840-1900) Realism (c.1850-1900) Victorian Art (c.1837-1901)The Pre-Raphaelites (c.1848-1910) Impressionism (c.1870-c.1900)Postimpressionism (c. 1880-c.1910) Neoimpressionism (c.1885-1900) Symbolism (c.1885-1910) The Nabis (c.1890-1900) Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914)
The term “Academic Art” can be used to refer to all artinfluenced by the various established Academies, which began toproliferate throughout Europe during the early 18th century, but it isoften meant to refer to artists influenced by the standards of theFrench Académie des beaux-arts. The French Academy had atremendous influence on the Salons in 19th century Paris betweenc.1840-c.1900. As the main forum for academic art, the Paris Salons were heldin the Salon dApollon in the Palais du Louvre. These state-sponsoredexhibitions were enormously influential in establishing officiallyapproved styles and molding public taste, and they helped consolidatethe Royal Academy’s dictatorial control over the production of fine art.For much of the 19th century, the Salon had a conservative outlook,which discouraged new trends. French academic art used to be viewedas the rather dull art of the establishment, but in recent years opinionhas shifted somewhat. The most prestigious form of academic art was “historypainting,” which encompassed religious, mythological, and allegoricalsubjects as well as history. Landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes(paintings of everyday life) were deemed to be less important, whilemodern subjects were frowned upon. The question of “finish” was evenmore crucial. Academic artists favored a detailed, enamel-like finishthat appeared realistic even when viewed close up.
The Realist movement emerged in France in the mid-19thcentury as a reaction against the outdated strictures of academic art,and it signaled a definitive break from the artistic traditions of the past.The movement was spearheaded by Gustave Courbet and Jean-FrançoisMillet. In the late 1840s, a circle of writers, artists and intellectualsheld regular meetings at a Parisian bar, the Brasserie Andler. Theydubbed their meeting place the “Temple of Realism,” and it was thisnickname that Courbet adopted for his art. Although they appear anything but revolutionary today, thepaintings of Courbet provoked a storm of protest at the Salon, largelybecause they contravened normal academic practice. Instead oftackling noble themes, Realist artists painted the harsh conditions ofrural life. While such scenes were expected to be small and picturesqueto provide a sense of escapism, the peasant pictures of Courbet andMillet were on a large scale normally reserved for major historicalthemes or religious subjects, and they focused on the hardship ofmodern working conditions. The Realists attracted equal scorn for their figures, which oftenfeatured double chins and rolls of fat or wizened caricatures. For thedelicate sensibilities of critics accustomed to the idealized forms inacademic art, this was not realism but a deliberate quest for ugliness.
During the lengthy reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901),Britain enjoyed an unrivaled period of economic prosperity andpolitical influence, and the arts in Britain scaled new heights. Theleading painters of the Victorian age became rich and famous,and many Victorians felt they were living during a golden age in thearts. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were knowledgeable artcollectors, and there was a growing interest in art on the part ofthe middle classes as well. Britain’s Royal Academy, whichremained the chief marketplace for artists, regularly attractedmore than a quarter of a million visitors to its annual exhibition andthe academic tradition remained one of the surest routes tosuccess. New trends emerged in the field of genre painting, whichenjoyed a surge in popularity even before Victoria came to thethrone. The Victorian public loved pictures that contained a moralor told a story, but the tone of the resulting art could varyconsiderably. Art could have a patriotic theme, but the Victorianswere equally fond of moral or sentimental subjects. Above all, theyenjoyed seeing reflections of their own society.
The Pre-Raphaelites burst upon the Englishart scene in the mid-19th century. In a youthful act ofrebellion, they vowed to counter the stiflingpredictability of academic art by seeking to recapturethe honest simplicity of the early Italian painters whohad flourished before Raphael, hence “Pre-Raphaelite.”The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 bya group of seven young artists who sealed their pact byadding the initials “PRB” to their paintings. The Pre-Raphaelites tackled a wide variety ofthemes. They shared the Victorian appetite for colorand romance of the Middle Ages, taking themes fromArthurian legend. However, they were also interested incovering modern issues and social problems, such asemigration, prostitution, and religious reform. The group often focused on a moral or a story,many of which were drawn from literary sources. Theyavoided classical authors, but Shakespeare, Keats andTennyson were popular choices.
The Impressionist movement originated and achieved its fullestdevelopment in France, although its impact was felt throughout the West. Itwas never a school in the narrowest sense of the word, with a precisemanifesto and a common style. The Impressionists set out to paint the effects of light. To this end,they used visible brushstrokes of pure color, painting scenes of daily lifearound Paris. People at the time thought Impressionist pictures lookedunfinished and the subject matter pointless. But the new artists spelled theend of a tradition that had held sway since the Renaissance. Visually, the Impressionists were inspired by the boldness andsimplicity of Japanese woodblock prints, which had only reached the West,and their use of pure, bright colors, the lack of modeling in their figures,and their casual attitude to the laws of perspective. They were alsoinfluenced by developments in the world of photography. In their revolt against academic art, the Impressionists developedtheir own subject matter, celebrating modern life and painting scenes ofeveryday urban and suburban pastimes, chores and landscapes. At somestage, all of the Impressionist painters experimented with plein-air(outdoor) painting, completing entire pictures on the spot. This enabledthem to capture the most fleeting sensations of light and weatherconditions. To achieve this, they had to work quickly. They conveyed theirforms with short, broken brushstrokes and vivid flecks of color. Every itemwas condensed to its simplest form.
Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionismwere both an extension of Impressionism and a rejection of itslimitations. This new generation of painters started on the fringesof Impressionism, but many of them began to react against itspreoccupation with surface appearances. They pushed beyond thequest for naturalism and sought to express feelings and ideasthrough a radically new use of color, brushstroke, and content. The two recognizable “schools” were based on thetheories of Seurat (Neo-Impressionism) and Gaugin (Post-Impressionism). Seurat’s work is characterized by the use of dotsof pure color and an attempt to make the approach to light andcolor more rational and scientific--which he termed “Divisionism”or “Pointillism.” Gaugin renounced naturalism to explore a bold,symbolic use of color and line. The subjects of Neo-impressionist and Post-impressionistpaintings were as varied as the painters’ styles. In theirdetermination to find a simpler, more authentic mode ofrepresentation, Neo-impressionists and Post-impressionistsreinvented the art of painting by emphasizing geometric shapes,distorting forms, and applying unnatural coloring.
Symbolism and Art Nouveau were international artmovements that flourished in the final decades of the 19th century.Symbolism sought to restore the role of imagination and ideas in the arts,while Art Nouveau had a more decorative function. Symbolism, which developed in France but spread to most ofEurope, emerged as a reaction to against the naturalist movements—Realism and Impressionism—which had dominated the progressive artscene after the 1850s. By concentrating only on what the artist saw,naturalists had largely ignored the imagination, intellect, and emotions.Symbolism, part of the “Aesthetic” or “art for art’s sake” movement, aimedto rectify this by producing pictures that evoked certain moods andfeelings. They aspired to communicate ideas like music or poetry, onlythrough the use of line, color and form. Symbolists did not use readily-defined images, but opted instead for those that were richly evocative. Although Art Nouveau shared with Symbolism the element offantasy, it was primarily preoccupied with decorative effect, and had itsstrongest impact on the applied arts. Art Nouveau can be seen as aresponse to the Arts and Crafts movement, but it also was influenced byother styles, including Japanese prints and the revival of interest inancient Celtic patterns. It was a concerted attempt to create aninternational, modern style based on decoration. It is characterized byhighly stylized, flowing lines, and organic, plant-inspired motifs.
Although their subsequent reputations areoften eclipsed by the major figures of the art worldin France, a number of painters from other countriesat the end of the century enjoyed successful careersoutside the progressive artistic centers of the day. The latter part of the 19th century saw artistsin mainland Europe searching for new means ofexpression that would explode into the revolutionarymovements of the early 20th, but elsewhere,particularly in Britain and the U.S., French Realismand Impressionism were still exerting a stronginfluence. Artists from all over the world made theirway to France to study and work, taking the ideas ofRealism and Impressionism back to their nativecountries. Although these styles were no longer at theforefront in European centers of art, they made animpact elsewhere as they were adopted bycomparatively conservative traditions, paving theway for Modernism in many countries.
Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother by Whistler