France Figurative Arts - The Neoclassical Reaction

France Figurative Arts – The Neoclassical Reaction

In 1737 the first excavations of Herculaneum began, which Caylus (v.) Soon made known in France; shortly after, the memorable discovery of the temples of Pesto took place. Those discoveries were the signal of a general reaction, very fruitful of consequences, to which the names of Winckelmann and Lessing must be added.

The Baroque had had little luck in France; the rocaille or the rococo were used only to decorate the interiors, in the wood paneling and in the furniture, altering very little the great lines of the architecture. But even in this little there was a corruption, an offense to taste. Formerly Ch.-N. Cochin (v.), In his Supplication aux orfèvres (1755), preaching simplicity, protested against the undulating, serpentine, capricious and mannered lines.

According to, the return to grandeur, to pure lines can be seen in two important buildings of the time: the facade of Saint-Sulpice 1733-45) by the Italian GG Servandoni, and the Sante-Geneviève (the Pantheon) by J.-G. Soufflot (1757-64); the columns take back their lost function for two centuries. The first of these constructions is inspired by the prospects of the Lateran, and the second, for the interior, by the models of Vanvitelli such as Santa Maria degli Angeli, and since the eighteenth century was the era of Anglomania, also to S. Paolo of the Wren.

Speaking of this century, too much recourse is made to secondary works, to the Piccolo Trianon (1763), to the Bagatelles by Fr.-J. Bélanger (1786), to the neoclassical fantasies that populate the “English” gardens. We forget that that was also the century of the Encyclopedia, of the vast architectural and urban planning programs. JA Gabriel’s grandiose work, piazza Luigi XV (1757; today piazza della Concordia), was inspired by these concepts, the first conceived with modern criteria. The same character of majestic grace is found in other works by Gabriel: the military school (1755), the castle of Compiègne, the theater of Versailles (1770); and in many other constructions of the end of that century: the theaters of Bordeaux by Louis, and Besançon by Ledoux; in the Odéon del Wailly, in the Hôtel des monnaies at Antoine, in the School of Medicine, etc.

The Revolution did not break the dominant taste; and except for some nuances, the style remained unchanged until the middle of the last century. Religious architecture, in deference to ancient purity, returned to the basilica type. From Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, by Bro. Chalgrin (1783), to Notre-Dame de Lorette, by H. Lebas (1823), to Saint-Denis du Sacrement, del Godde (1835) and to Saint-Vincent de Paul an identical pattern persists. The church of Chesnay, near Versailles, that of Saint-Germainen-Laye, Saint-Pierre du Gros-Caillou, in Paris, all of the same period, are also basilicals. La Madeleine, by Constant d’Ivry and P. Vignon, erected as a temple dedicated to Glory, was imitated by the Parthenon. The blind cult of antiquity made one conceive of abstract constructions, without looking at their purpose; so H.-Th. Brongniart (1808) built the Stock Exchange, which was considered in its time as the most beautiful building in Paris. Two kinds of monuments are due to the obsession with antiquity that the men of the Empire had: the triumphal arches and the commemorative columns. The Triumphal Arch of Carrousel, by Ch. Percier (1812), is a graceful composition derived from the Arch of Titus, adorned with numerous sculptures by Cl.-M. Clodion and J. Chinard; that of Marseille, by M.-R. Penchaud, is a replica of the first, elevated by the legitimist party. But the Arc de Triomphe par excellence, is that of the Étoile, in Paris, due to Chalgrin (1806-12); the column of Place Vendôme, by Goudouin (1806-1812), is a bronze imitation of the Trajan’s Column; from it derive that of Boulogne, of FJ Bosio, the Column of July, of J.-L. Duc (1835), etc.

The sculpture was also entirely classical. The bas-reliefs by P.-Fr. Berruer in the School of Medicine and those of Moitte in Salm’s palace (today of the Legion of Honor). One of the characteristic features of the time was the formation of a new pantheon, of a secular hagiography inspired by Plutarch, of a humanitarian religion based on the cult of great men: the greatest sculptor was JA Houdon, with the incomparable series of his busts and with his masterpiece, the Voltaire of the Comédie-Française (1778). To the same sentimemo we owe the Descartes, the Bossuet, the Pascal of A. Pajou, the Fénelon of France Lecomte, the Montesquieu of the Clodion, the Racine by L.-S. Boizot, Mouchy’s Sully, Berruer’s D’Aguesseau, etc.; later the Vergniaud by P. Cartellier, the Marshal Ney by Bro. Rude, the series of old statues of the Concordia bridge, long confined to the courtyard of Versailles, and finally all the work of David d’Angers, summarized in his famous pediment of the Pantheon.

The painting ends all in one name: J.-L. David (v.). For forty years, the author of the Belisario (1785), of Socrates, of the Orazî (1787), of the Sabines (1800), of Leonidas (1812), of the Coronation of the Emperor and of the Distribution of the Eagleswas without contrast the king and the tyrant of painting. His example and pupils Guérin, A.-L. Girodet, Br. Gérard, A.-G. Gros, ensured the triumph of Winckelmann’s ideas. For half a century the despotism of the ancient was imposed on the arts. But the very rigor of academicism provoked a fiery reaction, Romanticism.

France Figurative Arts - The Neoclassical Reaction