France Figurative Arts - Romanticism and Naturalism

France Figurative Arts – Romanticism and Naturalism

Romanticism and naturalism. – In painting, which had a great flowering in France, the first sign of Romanticism was given as early as 1812 by J.-L.-A. Géricault, whose Radeau de la Méduse (1818) fascinated the public and artists. There is no need to insist on the long rivalry of Ingres and Delacroix. The first, after spending twenty years in Italy, returned there as director of Villa Medici: he was an admirable draftsman, gifted with an exquisite sense of form and beauty. The other, more tormented, more restless, nourished by the readings of Dante, Byron, Goethe and Walter Scott, was after all the true classic; the trip to Morocco (1832) revealed to him a living image of the ancient, which he applied in his great decorative works in the Chamber of Deputies (1833-47), in the Senate, in the Louvre (Apollo Gallery), in the chapel of the angels in Saint-Sulpice (1859) and in some magnificent paintings, such as the Medea of Lilla and the Justice of Trajan of the Rouen museum. Théodore Chassériau could have been worthy to succeed him, if death had not overtaken him at thirty-seven. Under the Restoration, painting was carried out in two great enterprises: the decoration of public monuments (ceilings of the Louvre and of the Hôtel de ville, Gallery of the battles in the Versailles museum), to which Ary Scheffer, Horace Vernet, A. de Châtillon, L. Boulanger, etc.; and that of the Parisian and provincial churches, where especially the students of Ingres, E.-É. Amaury-Duval, the Mottez, the Orsel, the Janmot, H. Flandrin.

According to, two important events had contributed to the renewal of painting: the campaigns of Egypt, Morea and Algeria, which gave rise to orientalism (E. Delacroix, A.-G. Decamps, P. Marilhat, A. Dauzats, A. Dehodencq, E. Fromentin, etc.), while another brigade of artists was discovering the modern landscape. In the latter movement two tendencies were distinguished: a group, to be connected with the Anglo-Dutch school, in the footsteps of Louis Moreau and Georges Michel went to discover the nature of the surroundings of Paris: to it belonged the Flers, the Cabat, Dupré, Diaz and above all Th. Rousseau, who formed around 1830 the group called Barbizon (v.). The others, following Bertin, Aligny, Michallon, remained faithful to the Roman countryside. J.-B. Corot is the link between the two groups. Corot drew many themes from Italy; of his he put the angelic sensitivity, grace and freshness that make him one of the most magical, one of the most poetic landscape painters.

Among the many dubious results obtained by Romanticism, the landscape, bringing painting back to reality, was a lasting conquest. For their part, the illustrated pamphlet, the “human comedy” by Daumier and Gavarni, achieved the same purpose. Everyone felt the disgust of the theories, the need to live. Although the popular uprising of 1848 was still romanticism, it had the effect of relegating the scenes of the Middle Ages dear to the romantics alongside the classical ones of David. With 1849 the country subjects of JF Millet (Farmer who hoeThe sifterthe Angelus, etc.) had immense resonance, changed the atmosphere of the rustic idylls, renewing their subjects forever. Millet put a biblical and georgic touch in his earthy painting. In 1850 Gustave Courbet’s Funeral in Ornans, no less than his Atelier in 1855, launched the manifesto of naturalism. The powerful master carried out a revolution in painting comparable to that of Caravaggio, but in more favorable conditions and such that, in the past, they had occurred only for Velásquez and Goya. Once all the old ideologies were suppressed, painting was no more than the mirror of the universe through the artist’s sensations. And these feelings became all reality.

Impressionism. – Since 1860 painting is almost completely dominated by Corot, who died in 1870, and above all by Courbet and by the Spanish school, formed by LJF Bonnat, by Th.-A. Ribot, by A. Legros, by JP Laurens, etc. Historical painting, derived from the Dutch and from Paul Delaroche, whose main representatives were J.-L.-E., remained isolated. Meissonnier, J.-L. Gérome, É. Detaille, and which was a huge success also for the patriotic interest it aroused; and an academic painting, by no means negligible, represented by A. Cabanel, by Élie Delaunay, by P. Baudry, who painted the foyer of the Opera; it is then continued by A. Besnard. Solitary remained G. Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes.

The interest in the history of painting is concentrated above all on landscape painters – Ch.-F. Daubigny (v.), Lépine, E. Boudin, Jo.-B. Jongkind – and on the followers of Courbet. Five or six masters almost the same age, from twenty to thirty years old in 1860 – E. Manet (v.), H.-G.-E. Degas (v.), Cl. Monet (v.), The Bazille, P.-A. Renoir (v.), Th. Fantin-Latour, portrayed by the latter in 1870 in the painting A study in Batignolles – form a famous group. Manet was its leader: from the very beginning (Breakfast on the grass, 1861; Olimpia, 1863) he announced himself gifted with a very high sense of style. Since 1873, the independents, coming from all over the world, gathered to exhibit,; name inspired by a painting by Monet entitled Impression. The last of these exhibitions was held in 1886. A kind of workshop was created, the members of which devoted themselves to an unanimous work: it was not only a question of renewing the subjects, but the very vocabulary of art, of re-fusing all of them expressions, to eliminate all rhetoric, to control all elements of color and design. In the course of a few years there was thus a total renewal of the forms. The prodigious studies of a Degas on movement (horses, jockeys, dancers, women at the toilet) have no equal after the analyzes of a Leonardo or a Pollaiolo; those of Monet on light and atmosphere leave Turner’s daring colors far away. Renoir stands out especially for lyricism, naive sentiment, voluptuous tenderness. The Pissaro, the Raffaelli, the Caillebotte and above all the enchanting Berthe Morizot complete the admirable group. The violent decomposition of the tone, which for fifteen years had been the main aim of Degas and even more of Monet, became with Signac and with Seurat (who died in 1892) the principle of a kind of mathematical reconstruction; these masters try to paint with elements of pure color, as the ancient mosaicists did. At the same time, the first abstract searches for balance and rhythms appeared. We wanted to escape vulgarity, imitation, make-up, the copy of nature, and change the representation into an art show. Meanwhile, Paul Gauguin (died 1903) and Vincent van Gogh (died 1890) applied the principle of pure color to large surfaces and reconstituted the contour line used by the ancient stained glass painters in the drawing of the figures. In that new geometric art they already appear, in certain canvases by Seurat (e.g., Chahut, 1888), the seeds of Cubism.

On the other hand, some painters, condemning what impressionism had that was too showy, banished color, taking refuge in the penumbra and in a dull chiaroscuro, the domain of thought and feeling (Eugène Carrière, Charles Cottet, R. Ménard). Finally, others, aloof from the Impressionist group, solitary sought the ways of a classical and eternal art, such as is found in museums: thus Odilon Redon, who often knew how to put so much poetry into a flower or a shell, or the Cros, that sometimes the greatness of the frescoes, or the best of all, the Provençal Paul Cézanne (v.), brilliant and shy, patient and humble, clumsy and powerful like an ancient Romanesque sculptor, who sometimes managed to equal the nobility of Poussin (v. Impressionism).

France Figurative Arts - Romanticism and Naturalism