Nineteenth Century Art:
In the 19th century Matthew Arnold stated that “by art we mean not just an aim to please, however also pure & faultless workmanship." Arnold, who was the preliminary establishment arbiter of taste in the later 19th century, was being a little defensive here. He was reaffirming the significance of skill, whereas acknowledging that art should also aim to please; i.e., develop something beautiful. The ideals of art as declared by Arnold are exemplified through the painting on the right. But why was he being defensive regarding this well established idea that artists exhibit skill? In the 19th century because for the first time we have dissent from this particular idea, expressed in the idea of the Avant Garde is the notion that the creative powers of the specific artist are at the center of what art is. The artist was now seen like the leading edge, the prophet of new cultural ideas and it meant that the artist had started to take more extensive liberties along with established ideas of technique, interpretation, and appropriate subject matter.
In the later 19th century the birth of Modernism through such movements as expressionism, impressionism, and Symbolism. Modernism is a thought born in the industrial revolution. It was expression of an urge to embrace the new realities & materials of the industrial age, and expressed by literature, art, design and decorative arts. Underlying mostly modernist movements have been earnest efforts at social engineering utopianism for the new industrial state that was taking shape.
The nineteenth century was a slightly busy time in the world. It saw the grow of the British Imperial Empire; the newly created United States was just one of the British settlements that start developing in this century, with several others springing up on other continents. Discovery and invention swelled as the byproducts of the previous century’s age of enlightenment, and resulted in the urbanization that occur. With everything that was happening in the world, it makes sense that so many distinct types of art were gaining momentum. Three of the chief art movements of this period were Romanticism, Neoclassicism and Impressionism.
Paintings formed in the Neoclassic style reflect the rational way of thinking that was a important part of the Enlightenment of 18th century Europe. This scholarly movement emphasized reason and drew from Roman style and classical Greek and content. Art that is supposed part of the Neoclassicism movement can be recognized by its idealized forms and stable composition.
This work, displayed on the fourth floor of the Walters, is through Lawrence Alma-Tadema and is called Alcaeus and Sappho. There are many characteristics of this painting that categorize it as a Neoclassical work. Most apparently, the influence of classical Greece is evident in the subject matter along with the portrayal of a scene from a passage by ancient Greek poet Hermesianax. Classical effect extends beyond the subject matter as well. The idealized, statuesque figures are arranged deliberately along with strong linear organization.
On the other hand, the art from the Romanticism movement was depend on emotion instead of rationale, and placed an emphasis on the individual instead of on society. These works are characterized through a brighter use of color and expressive brushstroke, and were destined to evoke emotion. Exotic subjects through foreign lands were also more prevalent into Romantic art, and the Walters house various works from this period containing these subjects. Eugene Delacroix, an artist recognized for his work in the Romanticism style, has a space in the Walters collection. The work illustrated below, called Collision of Moorish Horsemen, is a good illustration of several characteristics of this type of art. The subject is mirror image of the excitement of Eastern culture. In addition, in the painting the action is delineated by quick brushstrokes, and there is an emphasis on the color.
The Romanticism movement was the forerunner to the Impressionist movement which was a group of radical artists at the time breaking into the traditional standards of painting. Named for Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, this sort of painting was characterized by loose, rapid brush strokes, a focus on one’s instant impression of scene, exclusion of chiaroscuro, & painting “en plein air,” outside.
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