Neoclassicism and Realism

Posted: December 2nd, 2013

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Neoclassicism and Realism

            In the mid 1800’s, a section of artists in the capital city of France stood up to express their displeasure with the then deeply rooted style of arts called classicism. Classical art was dependent in the traditional Greek and Roman society as the inspiration for its artistic expressions ranging from literature to paintings. This artistic uprising against being bound by the strict boundaries of classicism was referred to as romanticism. Romanticism advocated for respect of the artists’ broad capabilities to express themselves in many ways, not just in the traditional classicism model. Artists were granted the liberty to express in their works the heritage of their different nationalities, plus all forms of creation and not just, what they could observe or learn from the traditional Greek and Roman lifestyles.

Romanticism also insisted on the freedom of people to express to others their intellectual capabilities through forms of art while paying no attention to prescribed codes of expression, behavior or other general social conventions. The romantic revival also recognized the importance of emotions over reason as the core inspirations in art. Artists were now allowed to express in their art subjects such as love, anger, joy and hope. In France, the romantic revival first started in the field of literature before spreading to fine arts, politics, music and philosophy. Realism also cropped up around the time of the romantic revival and advocated for a true representation of current situations rather than imagination. Realism broke away from the customs of the French Academy in a bid to provide a more real and vivid portrayal of the French countryside.

David’s painting of Napoleon crossing the Belvedere is a painting that was seen to ascribe to neoclassicism. The painting does not bring out the real situation that Napoleon was in at that time, but brings out a more vibrant illustration of Napoleon as being younger than he was and sure of a victory in one of his conquests. The painting depicted Napoleon as a peacemaker rather than the conqueror that he was known to be. In this painting, the artist focused more on bringing out an accurate positive image of Napoleon while concentrating less on the background. David used vibrant colors in bringing out the image of Napoleon compared to other elements in the painting. This style was recommended by the French Academy.

Coubert’s painting, The Stonebreakers maintains a realistic illustration of the hardships the stonebreakers went through when going about their duties. In the painting, the stonebreakers are breaking a huge rock into smaller pieces to be able to remove the huge rock from a section of land that was to be turned into a road. To emphasize on the realism in Coubert’s work, the scene depicted in the painting was in the rural area where the painter hailed. The texture of the painting is also rough, unlike what most painters who ascribed to the customs of the French Academy did in the period preceding the Romantic revival. Also in this painting, Coubert strived to light all parts of the painting equally as much as possible and to paint all parts accurately. This is unlike what most artists of his time would do, focusing mainly on bringing out the individuals in their paintings while concentrating less non-human elements. The Stonebreakers is among the first paintings to emulate the arguments of the Romantic revival since it focused on bringing out the real state of nature.

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