Robin Urton: dimensional paintings on glass


Highlights From the 19th Century

Jacques Louis David
The Death of Marat, 1793


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
La Odalisque, 1814

There were three basic styles that held sway througout the 19th century. The first of these was NeoClassicism (led by Jacques Louis David), which was a reaction to the frivolous style of the French Rococo. He and his followers represented the ideals of the French Revolution. They desired an art form which was dignified and reflected their serious concerns. Opposing the flowery and decorative compositions of the Rococo, their work stresses rationality and clearly delineated forms. The Death of Marat is a good example,and portrays a martyred leader of the Revolution, killed in his bathtub. Ingres was one of David's followers, and has the clearly dilineated forms of classical style of David, but a less serious story to tell. The woman is a harem girl, or concubine.

Eugene Delacroix
Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Francisco Goya (Spanish)
The Third of May, 1808 (1814)

Another style of the 19th century is known as Romanticism. Those who followed this trend felt that portrayal of emotion was more important than rationality. They generally preferred a more dramatic and painterly approach. Politically, they are aligned with the counter-revolution, led against Napoleon's despotic rule. Delacroix symbolizes the battle with an allegorical figure of Victory leading the revolutionaries through the battlefield. Goya's painting portrays a historical event of Napoleon's soldiers killing citizens in the occupies territories of Spain. The dramatic gesture of the spotlighted man is one begging for mercy, but the spilled blood of others tells you what will be his fate.

Gustave Courbet (French)
Wounded Man, 1844

William Adolfe Bougeuereau (French)
Rest at Harvest, 1865

A third style reflecting the 19th century is that of Realism. The realists were opposed to the often mythological character of many Neoclassical and Romantic artworks. Their basic philosophy is that one should paint what one sees with their own eyes, and leave any mythological or overly dramatic content out of the picture. It is difficult to understand this concept if you think of realism only in terms of the artist's ability to portray a believable image. The "reality" is more a matter of concept. A wounded man, for example, is something one might actually see. A bare-breasted woman charging across a battlefield is not. The issue is further complicated by the fact that some artists present more than one style. The Rest at Harvest, above, looks like a fairly straight-forward, realistic image. Other works by the same artists, however, portray mythological subjects. There are no clear cut lines between the three styles, and many artists of the century are difficult to categorize into one specific style.


Theodore Gericault (French)
The Raft of the Medusa, 1819

Thomas Eakins (American)
Max Schmidt in a Single Scull

The above two images contrast a Romantic work with a realist one. The Raft of the Medusa portrays a shipwreck in which the crew took the lifeboats to safety, leaving the passengers to create their own raft. It was a tragic event in which many of the passengers died. Gericault's painting depicts the last survivors in writhing poses as they spot a ship in the distant horizon. Though it portrays an actual event, the artist was not there to witness it, and his composition dramatizes its tragedy by including some of the dead, who would have actually been thrown off the raft. Eakins, by contrast, paints a scene which he witnesses with his own eyes. His mastery as a painter lies in his ability to capture only that which can be perceived with his own senses, and the story is a simple sporting event. Eakins was also a pioneer of the photographic medium, and often used photographs to aid his paintings.


Sargent Madame X

John Singer Sargent (Amer.)
Madame X

Turner Slave Ship

J.W. Turner (British)
The Slave Ship, 1840

Whistler, Symphony in White

James Whistler (Amer.)
Symphony in White, 1862

Two important American portrait painters were Sargent and Whistler. They would both be termed realists, though Whistler did do some landscape compositions which were almost impressionistic (and he preferred musical titles, rather than descriptive ones). J.W. Turner's explosive landscapes and seascapes can probably be described as romantic, for they always focus on stormy compositions. He painted with a loose brushstroke, which will also be an inspiration to the Impressionists.

Winslow Homer
The New Novel (detail), 1877

Sir John Everett Millais
Ophelia, 1851-2

Winslow Homer, an American, is probably best categorized as a realist, for he painted only what he actually observed. He is probably best known for his seascapes, but also painted children and other subjects. He is a master of the watercolor medium.

Sir John Everett Millais, a British artist, has a realistic style, but the subjects are often of a somewhat romantic nature. For example, Ophelia has a literary reference to a play by Shakespeare, since she was Hamlet's girlfriend who commits suicide. This painting of her dead body floating down a brook is both beautiful and haunting.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti (Brittish)
La Ghirlandata, 1873

Edward Burne-Jones (Brittish)
The Garden of Hesperides, 1870-77

Dante Gabriel Rosetti was the leader of an art movement called the PreRaphaelites. I believe this style might be considered a varient of Romanticism, for it favors subjects of mythological and literary subjects. They preferred symbolic representations with a certain poetic appeal. Edward Burne-Jones was another prominent member of the Pre-Rapaelite movement who favored allegorical and poetic subjects.


Albert Bierstadt (German-born American)
Looking Down the Yosemite Valley, 1865

Frederick Church (American)
Catopaxi, 1862

Landscape painting is also very popular during the 19th century, and there are small schools or "clicks" of painters who work in specific regions. The Hudson River Painters are a group who concentrated on painting scenes west of the Hudson River. These are generally done on huge canvases. Though realistic in one sense, they also have a grandiose effect, and they preferred dramatic lighting conditions.


John James Audubon (American)
White Gerfalcons

Martin Heade (American)
Cattelyn Orchid and Brazilian Hummingbirds, 1871

Along with a growing interest in landscape, artists portrayed intimate scenes from nature. Audubon is probably the most famous illustrator of animals in America, especially known for his hundreds of representations of birds. Martin Heade is also well-known for his exotic images of birds and plants which he observed in South America.


Henri Rousseau (French)
The Dream, 1910

Henri Rousseau
Sleeping Gypsy, 1887

Rousseau is in yet another category altogether. The romantic element of these works is that they focus much more on the inner life of the imagination than they do on anything which can be seen by one's outward eyes. The psychological and fantastic nature of this Rousseau's "naively inspired" works will be of influence to a 20th century movement called Surrealism.


Eduard Manet (French)
Luncheon on the Grass, 1863

Eduard Manet
Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1881-2

Another 19th century artist who will be influential in the 20th century is Eduard Manet. His lack of reliance on mythological or literary subjects places him as a realist. His Luncheon on the Grass (Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe) was scandalous during its time, not because the woman is nude, but because she has no specific reason to be so. A nude woman (even in the presence of clothed men) is not unprecedented. What is unusual, however, is that she is not portraying a mythological subject. Staring directly at the viewer without any veil of poetic allegory, she is not nude, but "naked". She was also a recognized woman within Parisan society, adding to its controversy. In addition, Manet's manner of painting was more sketchy and flat than those of his contemporaries. This manner of more spontaneous painting as well as his focus on subjects of everyday life (such as the girl at the bar, above) will greatly influence the Impressionists.

Next: Impressionism