Neoclassical and Romantic Painting


Table Summary

Summary of Neoclassical and Romantic Painting
Neoclassical/Romantic period
ca. 1750-1900
Neoclassical David
Romantic figure Géricault, Delacroix
landscape Barbizon school, Turner, Constable

General Features

The ages of Neoclassicism and Romanticism both span approximately the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.1,2 (Within this period, Neoclassical artistic activity peaked first, then Romantic.) Both movements flourished across Western Europe (especially in the north) and the United States, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.

Following the extravagance of Baroque and Rococo, a general longing for the restraint of classicism emerged, fuelling the rise of the Neoclassical movement. Another factor was the excavation of several major classical sites (including Pompeii and Athens), which expanded knowledge of ancient art and provided an enormous burst of inspiration.3,15 (The "Pompeian styles" of wall painting, for instance, were adopted for Neoclassical interior decoration.H913) The heart of Neoclassical painting was France, where the legacy of Poussin continued to resonate.19

Meanwhile, many artists of this period sought to break new ground in the expression of emotion, both subtle and stormy (see Western Aesthetics). This was the Romantic movement, which embraced a number of distinctive themes, including historical nostalgia, supernatural elements, social injustices, and nature. Indeed, the Romantic adoration of nature caused landscape painting to flourish like never before. (Landscape painting can be defined as "painting in which the environment is the primary subject; figures are absent or secondary".)

Painterly vs. Linear Style

Neoclassical painting usually features a linear style (in which the outlines of objects are sharply defined, thanks to carefully controlled brushstrokes), whereas Romantic painters tended to favour a painterly style (in which freedom of colour takes precedence over sharply-defined forms; brushstrokes are less restrained, resulting in somewhat "messy" outlines). The painterly style often has visible brushstrokes, while the linear style features smooth areas of colour, in which no brushstrokes can be seen.

Modern Developments

The world of painting was revolutionized by industrialization. The mixing of paint, a laborious procedure when performed by hand (such that it was often delegated to apprentices), was increasingly automated. New colours became available as artificial pigments were developed, and the packaging of paint in metal tubes finally made it convenient for artists to leave the studio and paint on site. (Up until the invention of the paint tube, artists usually only prepared sketches on site, returning to the studio for the actual painting.)E78,16

Paint Tubes (with palette and brushes)

The Neoclassical/Romantic age also witnessed the founding of public museums throughout the West. For the first time in history, large collections of artistic (and historical) objects were made available for everyone to see. The very first public museum was the Louvre, which opened under the reign of Napoleon.C100

Neoclassical Painting

ca. 1750-1900

Neoclassicism appealed to artists supportive of the French Revolution, given the democratic legacy of ancient Greece and Rome. Such artists included Jacques-Louis David, foremost of all Neoclassical painters. David’s first great work was Oath of the Horatii, which depicts three legendary warriors pledging allegiance to the Roman Republic. Later primary works include the portrayal of a revolutionary martyr in The Death of Marat (his masterpiece) and Napoleon Crossing the Alps, one of many works David produced as the emperor’s official painter.2,6,16

Oath of the Horatii
The Death of Marat
Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Main Article

Romantic Painting

ca. 1750-1900

Romantic painting can be divided into two main types: figure painting (in which figures are the primary subject) and landscape painting (in which the environment is the primary subject). The former type was led by France, the latter by England. Each nation produced two outstanding Romantic masters.

The first French master was Théodore Géricault, whose masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa portrays the victims of a contemporary shipwreck. The people on this raft were French emigrants en route to West Africa, whose ship foundered at sea. The lifeboats were seized by the crew, while the colonists (who numbered over a hundred) were abandoned on a makeshift raft with little water or food; only fifteen survived the wait for a rescue ship.E76

The Raft of the Medusa, Géricault
<em>Charging Chasseur</em>, Géricault

Eugène Delacroix, considered the greatest French Romantic painter, achieved brilliant visual effects using small, adjacent strokes of contrasting colour. (While a number of Romantic painters used this technique, which was eventually adopted and extended by the impressionists, Delacroix was the most influential.) His masterpiece, Liberty Leading the People, depicts the French Revolution in all its heroic glory and grisly destruction.E78,4,7

Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix
<em>Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople</em>, Delacroix
<em>Massacre at Chios</em>, Delacroix

Romantic landscape painting in France was led by the Barbizon school, a circle of artists who held meetings in the village of Barbizon.9 The two most famous members of this school may be Théodore Rousseau and Camille Corot.

Landscape by Théodore Rousseau
Landscape by Théodore Rousseau
Landscape by Théodore Rousseau
Landscape by Camille Corot
Landscape by Camille Corot

Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose works typically feature a dense, dreamy atmosphere, is often considered England's greatest painter. As his career progressed, Turner increasingly sacrificed physical realism for rich textures of mist and light, thus foreshadowing the rise of modern art.17

<em>Sun Rising Through Vapour</em>, Turner
<em>The Shipwreck</em>, Turner
<em>Rain, Steam and Speed</em>, Turner
<em>Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth</em>, Turner

The other leading English Romantic artist was John Constable, the foremost painter of idyllic rural England, who focused especially on his native countryside of Suffolk (on England's east coast).19 The bright, clear atmosphere and straightforward realism of Constable's work contrasts sharply with the dense atmosphere and distortion of Turner. The Hay-wain is often considered Constable's masterpiece.

<em>The Hay-Wain</em>, Constable
<em>Salisbury Cathedral</em>, Constable
<em>Stour Valley and Dedham Church</em>, Constable
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