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The Art Forms of 18th Century: Realism, Romanticism and Neoclassicism

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The 18th century was a progressive era where many great thinkers redefine the way of living in their culture. In the 18th century you see the trend of the growing power of centralized states and the rise of political powers in the middle class along with many new art styles like the neoclassical style which overtook the past style called rococo in 1750. The romanticism style which was full of emotion and realism style which portrayed the art in the most real way possible. These art styles are closely related to what was happening during the 18th and 19th century which was the fighting, the revolutions and the people of that time. In this essay I will be discussing these three art styles and why they are so important for the time they were in.

The first art form to discuss is the neoclassical art form which really started to take off in the late seventeen hundred and more specifically in 1775. New discoveries of past Roman cities led to a fascination around them during this period. The Europeans were very curious about this ancient world left behind and are one of the reasons why this new classical art form took place. Louis XVI who was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution played a key role in the making of neoclassical art. Louis appointed a man named Joseph-Marie Vien to head to Rome for an art school. When Joseph got to Rome he returned the art to its basic principles due to the curiosity around the past Roman culture. Vien started to instruct his students to focus on perspective, anatomy, life drawing, balance, simplicity, and restraint. These principals are the basic characteristics needed for a neoclassical painting. Jacques-Louis David was the dominant painter of the time and perfected the principals made by Vien. David painted many amazing pieces of art during the time and is considered the founder of neoclassical art. Soon the Paris Salons started to promote this new art form in their salons which in turn lead to the art form being very popular among artists during the late seventeen hundred.

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A prime example of neoclassical art is Jacques-Louis David painting, Oath of the Horatii. The painting was made in 1784 and completely swept people off their feet when seeing it for the first time. Nobody had seen anything like it because the prevailing art form before neoclassicism was the rococo style. Eventually, though the rococo style became very tired and the public was looking for something new. The Oath of the Horatii was exactly what they needed. This painting tells a story about the early Roman state being at war with Alba. Both sides didn’t want to go to a full-scale war so instead, they decided on sending brothers from each side to go to battle and whoever was last alive will be the victor. David makes the women in this painting very slouched and curved liked with their eyes not even open. While on the other hand, the men are very rigid and angular with an upright position and the muscularity being very defined on them. This style of art is very closely related to the classical style in Rome many years before this art form. The ancient Romans focused heavily on the anatomy of the body just like David’s paintings are doing.

Another painting in the form of neoclassicism is by Jacques-Louis David. The painting, the death of Socrates uses many similar techniques in relationship to the Oath of the Horatii painting. This is David’s imagination of what Socrates chamber looked like just before he drank that hemlock that killed him. David’s imagination is based on Plato’s dialogue written when Socrates was on trial. This painting can be closely related to The Last Supper by Leonardo De Vinci. Like Jesus in the last supper, Socrates is surrounded by his followers who will pass on his message after his upcoming death. The style in this art is very clean and well put together. The faces are very detailed and sharp and the lighting on this painting is very dramatic. These are all traits of what neoclassic art is. The last and final example of a neoclassical piece of art is Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne. This neoclassical painting shows the deep shadows behind the emperor himself and the Greek like face he has. He is very pale and is wearing a deep bold red color on while sitting at his throne. The painting is very much realistic and Napoleon position when sitting gives off a very dominant emotion. This painting is very similar to how the Romans painted the people in power.

Following after the neoclassical art style was the era where romanticism took over. Romantic painting became a European wide art style and the style symbolized the unbound and untamed culture during the time of the industrial revolution. Unlike neoclassical, romantic art is filled with emotions, feelings, and moods and is incorporated into many subjects like landscapes, meadows or revolutions. The structure of the paintings changed as well from neoclassicism. The brush strokes in neoclassical were very articulate and well thought out with very sharp and orderly lines. Romantic paintings brush strokes are looser, freer and less precise than neoclassical. The romantics found a beauty in nature which led to many of them painting these deep, emotion-filled paintings of nature. They even invented the term “sublime” to characterize mother nature’s power, fear and elegance in their paintings. Sublime consist of events such as storms, earthquakes, and floods. The other term is “pastoral” where the painter focused on landscapes in which the peasant life is equal to nature. The reason romantics were so obsessed over nature was that the industrial revolution just kicked off in the late seventeen hundred. The revolution was changing the landscape into something that nobody at the time was a witness to. The new giant factories and coal plants took over the landscape and made for an industrial view instead of the beautiful landscape mother nature provided. Many missed the view of nature and went out of the city a lot to witness mother nature in her full beauty. This lack of nature led lots of romantics to paint scenes and landscapes of trees or meadows or forest instead of portraits or styles more common in neoclassical.

One of the most famous painters in the romantic era was a man in the name of John Constable. John was born in 1776 and grew up in Suffolk where he would continue to grow up. He is best known for his landscape paintings. One of his famous paintings is The Hay Wain. John painted the painting using oil on canvas in 1824. The pastoral term was still undefined when he painted it, yet many were drawn to this painting and it helped reflect Johns personality into the painting. The painting has a very natural color shading and there is a very calm and relaxed emotion is in the painting when looking at the calm clouds in the sky with two farmers who are calm and collected while they steer the horse through the calm river. The painting is certainly a pastoral theme because of the calmness in the painting. There isn’t any storms or chaos happening in the painting. John is considered to be the main founder of the pastoral method.

As for sublime, Joseph Mallord William Turner created the popular method among artist during the romantic period. Turner’s painting, Snowstorm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps is one example of the sublime style he invented. The painting brings fear when looking at it, the dark, aggressive colors of the snowstorm give the painting an evil feeling. The snowstorm is casting a shadow from the sun, making the Alps dark and gloomy. You see Hannibal’s army look up in fear at the snowstorm, surely thinking and knowing that they will probably die like their other friends on the ground. The men are not the dominant part of this painting, Turner instead painted the sky to be the main visual point on the painting. The story behind the painting has meaning behind it as well. It’s based on a gothic novel during the time about Hannibal trying to attack Rome by sending himself and his soldiers across the Alps to conquer the Roman empire. Hannibal knew that by crossing the Alps he could get to Rome faster and with surprise. The voyage didn’t work well, and he lost a lot of his army due to the intense weather conditions illustrated by turners painting.

One of the most graphic painting during the romantic period was The execution of the Third of May by Francisco Goya. I chose to mention this painting because it’s not like past examples. This painting isn’t about the quiet, calm day out in the country nor is it about a violent snowstorm that killed many men in Hannibal’s army. This painting is showing men who are Spanish captives getting brutally killed by a French firing squad. This painting is graphically very bloody and chaotic. You see men expressing fear on their faces knowing they’re about to get shot and die. There are men lying face down in a pool of blood and men turning away not wanting to watch their own death. Goya uses a lot of emotion he must have been feeling to create such a graphic and emotional painting. This is a true romantic piece of art, the emotion you need to paint something this gruesome is hard to imagine. Goya took the anger, the frustration, the sorrow and expressed it in such a brilliant artistic way that the viewer them

A new style in 1848 started to take over the spotlight and put romanticism on hold. The realism era started when an ongoing dissatisfaction of romanticism grew bigger. The painter now began to attempt real-life events on the canvas compared to deeply emotional expressed paintings. This new style wanted to make the painting look as if it was a photograph and realistic, hence why the art style is called “realism”. The founder of realism is considered to be a man who goes by Gustave Courbet. He was able to give a message through a realistic painting he would paint. Many paintings Courbet painted were heavily criticized by the public, yet he kept on painting what he wanted.

One famous painting by Gustave Courbet is his painting Interior of My Studio. Courbet painted himself in this painting and was heavily rejected and criticized for this painting due to this style not being seen ever. The painting is of Courbet talking to a wealthy man with what looks like to be his servant and dog in the background. Courbet portrays himself as the dominant person in the photo even though the other man was wealthier than him. Courbet painted himself with a large walking stick in his right hand and his body posture strong and alpha like. He paints his head looking slightly back and up while talking to the man and making himself look organized and traveling with his backpack full of supplies to paint.

Honore Daumier was another big painter at the time and is considered to be a predecessor to Gustave Courbet. Daumier painted realistic scenes before realism started had started and he was also a master at lithographic paintings. A lithograph is when an artist draws an image on a stone or rock using a greasy substance and then pours chemicals over the drawing to get the image to show. One of Daumier’s most famous lithographs is The Freedom of Press, painted in 1834. This art piece shows a strong man standing with his fist closes and looking off into the distance. In the back, there are wealthy aristocratic men who look helpless and in need of some help. I think Daumier is trying to say that the press has all the power now not the aristocracy like in the past.

Art has changed drastically through the years and it has always been a way for the artist to express how they are feeling through a picture. We can see that new art emerges with how the culture is feeling, the revolutions in Europe at the time are a clear example of why some of the art styles took place. By going in depth with the art during that time, we can get a better historical understanding of what life was like centuries before us and the struggles that went on with it.

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