Painting In The Second Half Of The

Nineteenth Cent Essay, Research Paper

Painting in the Second Half of the Nineteenth CenturyDuring the second half of the nineteenth century, the ideal of self-determinationfostered by the French Revolution and spread by Napoleon helped spawn a revolutionaryspirit across Europe. This spirit of rebellion also infected artists of the period. Paintersbegan to challenge the philosophy and the aesthetic principles of the academies, lookingoutside these conservative institutions for their training, subject matter, style, andpurpose. While many artists and critics promoted the status quo, others sought change,seeing validity in new themes and new approaches. To many artists, the histories andmythologies still promoted by the academies offered no inspiration, and so they turnedelsewhere for their subject matter. Some looked to nature, others to daily life, and stillothers to themes of the worker, the poor, and the oppressed. As they sought alternatives,many artists gathered in groups based on common interests. Outside the establishedmainstream of their own time, the Realists, the Impressionists, and the Post-Impressionists broadened the horizons of Western art.Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), a self declared Realist, rejected the inherentsentimentality of work by the Romantics. Courbet s interest in portraying things as theyreally appear, together with his nonacademic orientation, placed him in the front rank ofthe quest for realism, the premise for much of the artistic activity of the period. MichaelWood quotes Courbet as saying: It was not my intention of attaining the trivial goal ofart for art s sake. My aim is to translate the customs, the ideas, and the appearance of myown epoch as I see them. According to Janson The storm broke in 1849, when heexhibited The Stone breakers, the first canvas fully embodying his programmaticRealism (dcv). Courbet was inspired by the complete expression of human misery hesaw in an encounter with an old road worker in tattered clothes and his young assistant.The painting was completely ridiculed by critics and public alike; it was consideredunsuitable for artistic representation, and linked to the newly defined working class,which was finding outspoken champions in men like Marx and Engels (Gardner dcclix).Courbet was praised by some social reformers; however, and they saw the painting auniversal condemnation of capitalism and its potential greed.In 1859, a young Parisian painter named Edouard Manet (1832-1883) submittedhis first picture to the Salon, but his Absinthe Drinker, portraying a drunken bum, wasrejected for its unseemly subject and uncompromising realism. In 1863 Manetparticipated in the famous Salon des Refuses, an exhibition consisting of works rejectedby the official Salon, and he came to be viewed as the hero of the nonconformists. Though Manet regarded himself as working in the tradition of the great masters, hisapproach was to rethink established themes in modern terms. Manet succeeded at shocking his audience many times, but no work created moreturmoil than his Olympia (1863), exhibited in the Salon of 1865. The response to thepainting was outrage against an image which was sexually explicit, socially provocative,and stylistically inconsistent with accepted standards of modeling and composition (Moffett xcv). Manet s picture, which is a reinterpretation of Titian s Venus of Urbino,substitutes a known Parisian prostitute for a goddess. Completely at ease with her nakedbody, Olympia calmly gazes over the viewer exuding a frank sensuality. As withCourbet s The Stone breakers, Manet s Olympia was harshly criticized, even by Courbet,but Manet was championed by others. The famed writer Emile Zola praised Manet struthfulness, and noted that Manet had introduced the Parisians to a woman of their owntimes. In the 1870s, while Manet was painting cafe society and other scenes of Parisianlife, his friend Claude Monet (1840-1926) had settled in Argenteuil so he could paintalong the banks of the Seine River. Four years later, Monet banded together with a smallgroup of artists, and they gave a show of their works in the studio of the photographerNadar. The exhibition was quite a radical idea at the time; never before had a group ofartists united together for a showing of their work without sanction from the governmentor judgment from a jury. Monet exhibited Impression: Sunrise (1872), a view of a sunriseseen through a window at Le Havre. This painting shows Monet s method of work. With the most sparing palette andbrushwork, he fixed the movement of light and water between the morning sun dulled byfog, and the small dark boat in the foreground. Monet only set down the essentials, yethis skill in translating vision into paint registered a complex reality. Distance,atmosphere, light, time of day, and place are all convincingly portrayed (Gardner dccvi). The exhibition lasted only one month, and, contrary to popular belief, themajority of press coverage was positive. However, it was the critic Louis Leroy, in asatirical dialogue renouncing Monet s painting, who gave the group its name: theImpressionists. Ironically though, according to Hamilton, Although Monet has long been

considered the archetypal Impressionist, he was possibly the first to express publicly hisdissatisfaction with the cult . As early as 1880 he confessed …that it had become a banalschool with its doors open to the first hack who comes along (xxxiv). The term Post- Impressionism, which arose from a famous exhibition held inLondon, is like many isms in art, a nebulous one. In its broadest sense it can be used todescribe the work of a number of individual painters who evolved a style in reactionagainst the Impressionists. Although several of these artists began their careers with theImpressionists, they soon developed a style of painting more concerned with evocativecolor, structure, and form. Less concerned with the transitory effects of light and motion,the Post-Impressionists often turned to different subjects, and painted with a greateremphasis on formal discipline. The most important of the Post-Impressionists is Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). Early in his career Cezanne came under the influence of the Impressionists, and heexhibited with them in their first show. Nevertheless, as Cezanne matured as an artist, hemoved off in another direction. His desire was, as Michael wood quotes, to make ofImpressionism something solid and durable. In Woman With Coffee Pot (1890), the central female figure is presented with thesame dispassionate, meticulous, exploring eye as the coffee pot. Cezanne discerned anddescribed the basic shape of all forms on the canvas, and then he revealed theirinterrelationships. The woman achieves monumentality through the abstraction andreduction of the various parts of her body; Her arms are cylinders, and the lower part ofher dress is a triangle. As a result, the human form is at one with the shape of the coffeepot, the cup, the tablecloth, and the rectangles of the door panels. Cezanne s analysis of structure is especially evident in his still lifes, which at thetime were revolutionary in there departure from previous examples in the genre. In thesepaintings there is little attempt at verisimilitude in the usual sense. Instead, Cezannerelentlessly examined the structure, texture, and colors of bottles, fruit, and tablecloths. Traditional conventions of spatial representation, perspective, and color have beenabandoned, and the still life has become a visual analysis translated into paint. ToCezanne it really did not matter whether he was painting an apple or a man; the searchfor the underlying structure of form was the same.Without a doubt the most famous of the Post-Impressionists today is Vincent vanGogh. His tragic and tempestuous life, and lack of recognition in his own lifetime, hasmade him the stuff of legend. In many ways van Gogh is seen as the prototype of themodern artist. He served no apprenticeship, essentially sold no paintings, labored in totalisolation, poverty, and obscurity, and saw art as a calling, not a profession.The greatest period of van Gogh s short but highly productive career came at theend of his life, where, between bouts of mental illness, he produced a series ofimpassioned paintings. His Night Cafe (1888) was intended, as van Gogh stated in a letterto his brother Theo, to express the most terrible passion of humanity by means of redand green [and] a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime (Chippxxxvi). The abrupt tipped-up view of the room with its dazzling lights and hot colors isboth strange and menacing. The harsh expressiveness of the Night Cafe is a clue toVincent s inner turmoil at the time. Here Van Gogh has used much of what he learnedabout form and color from the Impressionists, but in a much more ardent and personalway.The Realists, the Impressionists, and the Post-Impressionists, even with all theirradical departures from the artistic styles of the past, did not completely break awayfrom the major traditions of Western art. However, in 1886 a new generation of artistswas emerging: The young Pablo Picasso was growing up in Barcelona, Henri Matisse wasa student in Paris, and Georges Braque had celebrated his fourth birthday in Le Havre. They were among the artists destined to make Western art completely diverge from thepast during the first part of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, we must not discount theachievements of the masters from the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was theseartists who built the bridge whereby the next generation could continue on and developModern art as we know it today: Courbet and Manet forever changed our perceptions ofwhat is considered proper subject matter on the canvas, Monet and van Gogh s use ofcolor laid the foundations for Expressionism and Fauvism, and Cezanne s use of shapeand form led to the most radical break with tradition in the history of Western art,Cubism.

Wood, Michael A Fresh View: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Art of the Western World. WNET. 1989. Chipp, Herschel. Theories of Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press,1968. Moffett, Charles. The New Painting. San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of SanFrancisco, 1986. Hamilton, George. Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1880-1940. Eng.: Penguin, 1978. Janson, H.W. History of Art. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1977. Gardner, Helen. Art Through the Ages II. New York: Harcourt Brace