Podcast Episode 7: The Academy and the Avant-Garde

THE ACADEMY AND THE AVANT-GARDE IN FRANCE

The artists of the French Academy and the artists of the French avant-garde are often presented as being protagonists, but, in fact, each group defined itself in terms of the other. The French Academy was the bastion of the establishment, of rules and regulations and of order. The avant-garde bohemians were the original outsider artists, misfits without credentials, who were able to break the rules of art and change the course of art. But the Academy absorbed and co-opted and softened the concepts and techniques of the avant-garde artists, making the “radical” changes acceptable to the general public.

The model for the Academy as the purveyor for “official” art, approved by the State, which supported the system of art schools, was followed by other nations. England had its own Royal Academy, Germany had its academies, even Spain and America had an Academy. The struggles between the forces of the Academy or the status quo and the Avant-Garde or change were fought mostly in Paris and London. There were several reasons for the quarrels between the older and young generations. First, there were questions of style, centered mostly in painting—how to paint, second, there were issues of content—what subject matter was appropriate for public consumption, and third, by the second half of the nineteenth century, there were economic conditions.

Arbitrary academic restrictions on art, censorship by the state on artists became an economic restraint of trade. As Pierre Bourdieu pointed out, there were simply too many aspirants for too few positions in the Academic system and the so-called avant-garde artists were those artists who, for reasons of style or content or both, could not find success within the existing establishments. It would be these artists, pushed into the position of being Refusées, who would seek out new means of exhibiting, displaying and selling their “outsider art.”

 

 

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are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

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The Origins of Neoclassicism

NEOCLASSICISM AND THE ANTIQUE

The Rediscovery of the Past

Classicism, since the Renaissance, had been the foundation of an expression of all that was superior and exhaled in the fine arts. Capable of morphing, the classicism of the Renaissance, of Raphael and Michelangelo, became the Mannerist distortions of Pontormo and the drama of the Baroque and even the eroticism of the Rococo. By the eighteenth century, “classicism” had become so overridden by the new styles and the new demands of the new patrons that its distinguishing characteristics were nearly invisible. The idiosyncrasies of Mannerism and the drama of the Baroque were alien to the internal calm and self-sufficiency of the classism of ancient Greece and Rome. During the Renaissance, classical sculptures were unearthed and provided the basis for a fifteenth century reinterpretation of the antique. But no authentic example of painting, beyond vases, was available, allowing the classicism of the Renaissance and the Baroque to flourish iwht invention but without discipline. What made Classicism “new” again in the late eighteenth century was a discovery of a new authentic source of Classical painting at Pompeii and Herculaneum, two resort towns near Naples and far too near to the looming volcano, Vesuvius. Buried since 79, these towns were the ancient equivalents of the Hamptons on Long Island, and the wealthy inhabitants had commissioned wall paintings to provide decorations for the unbroken expanses of walls, illustrating ancient and fanciful myths and events of everyday life in antiquity. The significance of the uncovering of the ancient murals is that, after centuries of basing “classical” on sculptures, now there were, amazingly, actual paintings (almost certainly provincial) for contemporary artists to study. These ruins inspired the beginnings of archaeology, however primitive, that fit in well with the practice of scientific analysis and the new respect for empirical knowledge. Throughout the eighteenth century Pompeii (discovered in sixteenth century and excavated in 1748) and Herculaneum (discovered in 1701 and excavated in 1738) were being excavated, a process that continues to this day.

Early archaeologists and artists and architects explored and discovered the remains of classical civilizations and these recoveries were made available to the public and to artists through carefully engraved reproductions. In addition to the significant public displays of the remarkable specimens of classical art from the long buried cities was the circulation of drawings of ancient architecture, also in Italy, through portfolios of drawings, such as Bernard de Montfaucon’s 15-volume work, L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures (1719-1724)and Le Antichità di Ercolano (The Antiquities of Herculaneum) (1744 and 1792). The former was translated by Davy Humphreys (one of the early experimenters in photography) as Antiquity Explained. Even more remarkable was the work done by the English architects, James Stuart and Nicholas Revett who, thanks to the easing of travel restrictions to Greece, were able to make careful measurements and beautiful drawings of the ruins of ancient Athens. The years after their field work, they were able to publish The Antiquities of Athens in 1762. Books such as these, combined with an increase in tourism, the English Grand Tour to Italy, and the support of the French government of artists who lived and worked in Rome, suggested the very real possibility of a “return” to a more authentic, historically rooted form of “classicism.”

The Roman ruins were especially compelling as crumbling lessons of morality. Roman virtue was more than a dream, for Rome–ancient Rome–had become the climax point of every Grand Tour. Politically, the example of antique virtue, as seen through eighteenth century eyes, provided an example to the French Revolution, which could serve as a call to return to the “roots” of the proper moral and ethical government that existed prior to the imperialism of the Roman Empire. Artistically, the new interest in ancient cultures fired the imagination of artists, who, in the beginnings of Neo-classicism, used ancient Rome as a kind of fashion statement. Joseph-Marie Vien reimagined pretty people, usually women, dressed (or undressed) in diaphanous draped gowns, posing for genre scenes of life in antiquity. Indeed the long named catalogue of the 1972 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert, The Age of neo-classicism: a handlist to the fourteenth exhibition of the Council of Europe [held at] the Royal Academy and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 9 September-19 November, 1972, pointed to Vien as the tastemaker of his time and the father of Neo-Classicism. As Alice Mackrell pointed out in her book, Art and Fashion. The Impact of Art on Fashion and Fashion on Art (2005),

The 1770s in France were notable for the re-emergence of costume books hat conveyed a specialist antiquarian knowledge of dress. Michel-François Dandré-Bandon spent the years 1726-31 studying in Rome..A vivid draughtsman and theoretician, he wrote and illustrated a number of books, including his magnum opus, Costumes des ancient peuples. Published in six volumes in 1772-74, he dedicated it to the marquis de Marigny in recognition of his encouragement of le goût grec. André Lens’s book, Le Costume des peoples de l’antiquité appeared in 1776.

These simple new fashions for the aristocrats, especially the women, who obligingly clad themselves à la grec were well suited to be both a statement of that which was “natural” and politically wise, given the rising political criticism of insensitive displays of wealth. Scholars and tourists inspected the ruins, and artists, such as Hubert Robert (1733-1808) and Canaletto, responded to the demand for Italian vistas with view paintings. For his part Canaletto (1697-1768) provided veduta paintings of Venice to tours who had reached their Italian destination, but Robert satisfied the desire to contemplate the past. The crumbling and romantic ruins of Robert (“Robert des Ruines”) were a painted mix of modern fantasies of the meaning of the ancient world and past grandeur and accurate descriptions of actual remaining buildings. Antiquity, from the reading of Homer to the use of the ancient as a suitable subject for artists, became the order of the day from the mid-eighteenth century on.

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Joseph-Marie Vien. La Toilette d’une jeune mariée dans le costume antique (1777)

Preference for classical art was articulated by Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768), the first modern art historian, who recommended copying the ancients in order to study nature more thoroughly. In 1755, Winckelmann, the secretary and librarian to Cardinal Albani in Rome, published Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, which was an attack on Rococo and an assertion of the superiority of the art of the Greeks. Winckelmann established the idea that art was created within a particular cultural and social context. The writer concluded that the temperate climate of Greece and the Athenian emphasis on outdoor sports as performed by the young males (in the nude) fostered ideals of “noble calm and simplicity.” Using Cardinal Albani’s collection of antique art, Winckelmann wrote his History of Ancient Art in 1764 in which he conceived of the development of Greek art in successive phases within a political, social, and religious context. Winckelmann put forward the idea that art evolved within a society in a teleological fashion, reaching a peak of perfection. For the art historian, the peak was the antique art of Classical Greece, and the modern artist could do no better or no more than to emulate the Greeks. In 1755 Winckelmann wrote,

The only way for us to become great, and, if indeed it is possible, inimitable, is through the imitation of the ancients, and what someone said of Homer, that the man who has learned to understand him well learns to admire him, is also true of the works of art by the ancients, especially of the Greeks.

Two years later, an Englishman, Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), envoy extraordinary to the court of Naples, published a four-folio volume of antiquities as a result of his participation in excavations (and unabashed looting). Hamilton’s post as ambassador did not pay well and he created a side line as an art dealer, excavating Greek vases from ancient sites of colonial settlements in Italy, inflating their value, and selling them to the British Museum. One group of vases arrived safely to England but the another batch of antiquities sank with the HMS Colossus in 1787. Hamilton’s discoveries, including the famous Roman cameo vase, the Barberini Vase, sold to the Duchess of Portland, provided additional information about the drawing style of ancient potters. The luxury folio which presented exquisite illustrations of the vases was titled Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities (1766-1776). Although the text was in English, the line drawings, strict and plain, created a series of illustrations that were influential internationally and studied by potter Josiah Wedgwood, artists John Flaxmann, Henry Fuseli, Jacques-Louis David, and Jean-August Dominique Ingres for inspiration and information. Continuing his efforts to revive interest in ancient art, Hamilton published another set of folios, Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of The Honble. W. Hamilton, illustrated by Johann Heinrich Tischbein, director of the Naples art academy, in 1791-95. The folio drawing were flat outlines that deftly handled details without becoming orange or cluttered, giving the illustrations a restrained and severe appearance.

This burgeoning historicism allowed identification with an ancient past that could be understood in relation to contemporary political goals. To Europeans, Rome was far more accessible as the source of ancient art than Greece. Greece, dominated by the Ottoman Empire, was cordoned off, making it difficult to travel to the territory of Plato and and the Parthenon. Actual (ancient) modern Greece was virtually unknown to most Europeans. But in a remarkable act of cultural imperialism, an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, a native of Scotland, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Lord Elgin, convinced the Sultan in charge of the Parthenon, an ancient temple of incomparable beauty and perfection, to allow him to take all the sculptures, external and internal to England. On the surface this stripping was nothing less than an act of vandalism, but there was a counter argument. The Athenians were using the stones of the Parthenon to build their own houses and the building was being slowly dismantled. But Elgin was not interested in saving the building; he wanted the sculptures, because the French wanted the sculptures. Due to the shifting alliances during the Napoléonic wars, the French were shut out of Greece long enough for Lord Elgin to spring into action and was granted permission through a series of firmans or letters of instruction to acquire the art of the Parthenon.

The Muslims in charge did not care about Western relics and watched while the priceless works of art were removed from the building and shipped to England. Even at the time of these actions, cries of “vandalism” could be heard, but Elgin claimed he was protecting the sculptures for their own good. The cost of removing the sculptures and transporting them to England was astronomical and bankrupted the Bruce family. The British government, which eventually acquired the sculptures, never paid Elgin back for his troubles, giving him only half of what he had demanded. As was pointed out, the “acquisition” of the marbles played out during the war against France, led by the tyrant Napoléon. As Ian Dennis Jenkins wrote in his 2007 book The Parthenon Sculptures, “Against a background of British post-war patriotism and a new-found sense of self a liberator of Europe, a Parliamentary select committee sat in 1816 to investigate the prospect of acquiring Lord Elgin’s Athenian marbles for the nation..They went on show at the British Museum in a temporary makeshift gallery that opened to the public in 1817. From the time of their arrival in London until the present day, these sculptures of the Parthenon have been objects of exceptional fascination. Even those, moreover, who revile his actions must admit that Lord Elgin’s acquisition of them is now and irreversible part of their history and, indeed, has to a large extent made them what they are.” The English public was stunned at the realism of these actual works by the workshop of Phidias himself. It would take years before the artists could reconcile the abstraction of the Greek vases, as illustrated by Tischbein, and the physicality of the “Elgin Marbles” still on view in the British Museum today. In her 2012 book, The Modernity of Ancient Sculpture. Greek Sculpture and Modern Art from Winckelmann to Picasso, Elizabeth Prettejohn wrote of the divided reception of the Elgin Marbles, pointing out that their condition was (predictably, given their exposed condition and lack of maintenance) fragmentary and rough, disconcerting to those used to the line drawings of Greek art. “Interestingly, the draped figures of the female figures were much more difficult than the nude males for most witnesses to accept: the broken folds of the drapery appeared incompatible with the notions of the wholeness and serenity of the classical ideal.”

But as Pettijohn noted, the surprising sculptures had an eloquent and very early defender in Georg Hegel in his series of lectures on Aesthetics, beginning in 1818. By the 1820s, he had taken up the issue of the Elgin marbles and their place in antiquity, breaking away from Winckelmann who had seen only Roman copies of Greek sculptures. “The whole body, except the head, witnesses to the truest treatment and imitation of nature. Even the accidental feature of the skin are imitated and carried out excellently with a marvelous handling o f the marble; the muscles are strongly emphasized, the bone structure of the body is indicted, the shapes are constrained, by the severity of the design, yet reproduced by such knowledge of the human organism that the figures almost deceive is into thinking that they are alive, why! even that we are almost scared by them and shrink from touching them..” Hegel wrote, “..even the minutest detail has its purpose..and yet it remains in continual flux, counts and lives only in the whole. The result is that the whole can be recognized in fragments, and such a separatated part affords the contemplation and enjoyment of an unbroken whole.” As Pettijohn explained, “Ingeniously, Hegel has managed to produce a theoretical justification for appreciating the Elgin Marbles in their fragmentary and fractured condition, perhaps the greatest sticking-point to their reception.” In retrospect, it is interesting that Neo-Classicism, as a style, would be identified as “French,” not English, despite the absence of authentic examples in Paris, largely due to the work of Jacques Louis David, a painter.

Also read: “French Neoclassicism: Sculpture and Architecture” and “French Neoclassicism”

Also listen to “Neoclassicism” and “Jacques-Louis David”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution

The English Invention

For the artist of the modern period, the most essential problem was how to depict the modern: as a new style, as new content, as a new attitude? Each generation would find its own answer, only to have the next generation find this answer inadequate. In the process of attempting to locate the “modern,” the role of art would change, the role of the artist would change, the role of the public would change, and ironically, the artist and the public would become completely separate. How did the artist become separated from the mass art audience? This estrangement was the result of significant social and economic changes that gradually changed the artist’s role in society. The condition of the avant-garde—that is, artists being “ahead” of the public’s taste and expectations—is closely linked to the development of the Industrial Revolution. This social and economic revolution in manufacturing was, perhaps, both the most sudden and swift and also the most complete and comprehensive revolution in history: it changed everything. But–and this is an important element of the revolution–the technological advances introduced the notion of change, interjected notions of novelty and progress into society, long before the actual industrial evolution had arrived.

The trend away from small scale artisanal or intimate domestic manufacture towards mass production began around 1740 in England and a bit later in America with the industrialization of the textile industry and the development of mining to find the coal to run the machines to run the textile mills. In England and America, these mills sprang up near rivers, a source of natural power and thousands of workers were pulled from the surrounding countryside to new factory towns, lining the river banks. Under the auspices of Josiah Wedgwood, the the first assembly line was set up for the mass production of fine pottery in a new factory at Etruria. Not to be confused with the moving conveyor belt deployed by Henry Ford more than a century later, Wedgewood’s establishment divided the production of a single vessel into segments in which the crafting of a single part was the sole task of a a worker. The potters of Etruria were therefore separated according to their assigned tasks and each focused on one aspect of the making of the object. This separation of labor into specific repetitive tasks and the “alienation”–as Karl Marx would have it–of the worker from the product would be the model for mass manufacturing for the Industrial Revolution.

Pre-revolutinary manufacture was in the hands of one maker who was the “designer” who made a unique hand made item from start to finish and was thus totally identified with this object. Whether this was a piece of luxurious jewelry for a courtier or a laboriously hewn wooden bowl handed down within a peasant family, the craftsperson was not separated from his or her own tools or from the resulting product. The industrial revolution was based upon separating the worker from the tools, which are owned by the factory, and from the completed object, which emerges fully formed at some point far away from most of the workers who contributed to its making. These separations are extremely efficient and allows depersonalized manufacture on a large scale of a mass number of consumer goods. Mass production meant mass profits for the owners. Thanks to the increasing importance of industry to the economy, the workplace moved from the home to an environment that was artificial, where there was no day and no night, only endless labor. The factory was among the first truly “modern” works of architecture, specifically designed for a designated purpose. The exterior was usually long and low with glazed walls, allowing for the maximum amount of light to pour into the long open workspaces inside. The machines could be placed row upon row, operated by low paid workers, supervised by the all seeing eyes of the overseers. This interior environment was based upon the relentless rhythms of the omnipresent machines that ruled those who worked for and with them, severing the workers from the outdoor world of nature and its eternal rhythms, and harnessing them to the mechanical demands of animated devices.

Beneath the earth, miners toiled in an equally artificial environment, in total darkness broken only by candles, in constant danger from escaping gases or cave-ins or flooding. Here in the mines, as in the factory, night and day had no meaning, time itself was unnatural, linked to the length of the “shift,” or the span of time one worked, not to the rising and setting of the sun or to the cycle of the seasons. Far from home, severed from the land, people–men, women and children–now worked long days, measured by carefully segmented time, in dangerous places for low pay. There was no concept of worker safety, of benefits to the laborers, of a living wage, because the alternatives for those formerly of the peasant class were few. In England, their way of life was effectively ended with the closure of the Commons, or lands that had been, through customs and practice, been set aside for centuries for the benefit of the lower class community. The owners of the land, the gentry had traditionally felt an obligation, noblesse oblige–inferred responsibility–to take care of the less fortunate. The medieval arrangement of mutual recognition between “master” and “servant” worked until a more profitable alternative presented itself, a shift that began to manifest itself in the early eighteenth century. Farming crops became less profitable than a combination of farming coupled with the raising of livestock on a large scale. Slowly the Commons closed: fences were erected, walls were built, people were shut out and forced to seek work in the factories that were springing up, conveniently, at the same time. Hungry peasants joined the growing army of industrial workers.

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1860 view of Wedgwood’s Etruria Works

Labor in the factories, as was pointed out, was very different from the labor of the fields, and people had to be trained to the new demands of life in the enclosed factory and the dark and dank mines. One had to be taught to endure work that was hard and difficult, often deadly and dangerous. Humans were “disciplined,” as Michel Foucault explained, through time honored methods developed by monasteries and carried over to the military and to schools and finally into factories. In Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison, Foucault wrote,

Disciplinary control does not consist simply in teaching or imposing a series of particular gestures, it imposes the best relation between a gesture and the overall position of the body which is its condition of efficiency and speed. In the correct use of the body, which makes possible a correct use of time, nothing must remain idle or useless: everything must be called upon to form the support of the act required.

“Labor” became a new kind of concept, referring to a new kind of work regulated by the rhythm of the “shift” or the number of hours worked and, therefore, timed to the ticking of the clock. Time itself was sped up, cut, like the gestures of the body, into tiny pieces, and adapted to the needs of the task at hand. Work, too was speeded up and was equally divided into a segmented process. In dusty, noisy factories, absorbed in repetitive tasks, working like machines, the workers were also alienated from the end product, the result of a rational and an analytic process, which investigated and examined each aspect of manufacture, a mode of thinking that would, in the twentieth century be called “Fordism” or time and motion studies. The factory was a vast machine, and the workers mere cogs in the machine. The process and pace of manufacture ruled their lives and their deaths.

With the social and financial shift from landed wealth to industrial wealth, money and power were no longer solely dependent upon inherited position and were increasingly based upon new opportunities provided by trade and commerce and manufacture. The shift in social power also moved the site of culture from the aristocratic courts to urban centers, teaming with ambitious middle class individuals, all determined to take advantage of the opportunities capitalism promised. The medieval world, largely rural and ruled by the landed gentry and an unquestioned habitus, or habitual learned behavior, depended upon personal contacts consisting of mutual obligations, and this world simply disappeared. Money and the exchange of money could not recognize moral values and the profit motive ruled all actions. Not until well int the twentieth century were there any constraints on the actions of capitalism, a cultural force beyond the control of mere individuals. Nevertheless, people were shaped by the demands of capitalism, which in the eighteenth century was global and international. Newly rich middle class individuals created prosperity for themselves and controlled the new sources of wealth, whether through manufacture or trade, as completely as the now-deposed aristocrats had once ruled their domains. While the middle class rose, working conditions actually declined in quality for the lower class workers, regardless of age, who worked every day for well over ten hours a day under inhuman and unhealthy conditions.

Despite the unprecedented hardships on the workers, the Industrial Revolution allowed a new form of upward mobility. Any man (not women) with wit and foresight and a few good ideas could become wealthy and powerful, taking advantage of new prospects and horizons. Two hundred years ago, vast fortunes were made by the newly formed middle class, who had scrambled up the social ladder, eager to forget their humble origins. Coming from the lower classes, the peasants and the urban proletariat, the factory workers operated machines which fabricated products on a massive scale, making consumer goods available to the entire population, making the owners of the factories wealthy while raising the standard of living for everyone, even, by the twentieth century, for the laborers. Those who owned the manufacturing process—mining and making—enjoyed the fruits of what the Prussian philosopher, Karl Marx, called “surplus value,” meaning the difference what the worker was actually paid and what the object was actually sold for. Even today, the average worker, whether in a factory or field or a tech lab, is paid for about two hours a day, with the owner pocketing the other six hours as profit. This profit is usually shared with stockholders and not with the workers. Today, for example, the shareholders demand and end to labor, which is expensive, and ask the owners to increase returns by shifting to automation or by finding cheaper workers. During the eighteenth century, the middle class grew in social and political power and became their own investors, elevating each other as bankers, lawyers, and manufactures, participating in the new system of exchange and international trade. The profits were theoretically endless. Land is limited; farming is dependent upon weather; manufacturing, on the other hand, is limited only by demand and independent of anything but the marketplace, which was, as Karl Marx pointed out, driven by bourgeois desires for commodities. Later, Sigmund Freud would agree with Marx that a commodity was a mere symptom or a fetish, guaranteed to create, not to satisfy desire.

The manufacture of commodities necessitated the training of a new kind of individual, the consumer, who would be willing to purchase the new, the novel and the innovative. The consumer society was built on endless change and turnover of ever new objects to admire, desire and purchase. The spenders were, at first, the moneyed class, now defined, not by birth, but by ability to consume. Once acquired by the acquisitive class, the ephemeral commodity would “melt into air,” as Marx put it, only to be replaced by the next fad and the next novelty, the new desire. It is during the nineteenth century, that this system of “melting” would be formalized into a social practice called “fashion,” centering at first upon clothing. The creation of the web of commodities exploited the rights of the workers who were so blinded by their collective need to survive and make a living of sorts that they dared not complain. Caught up in a apparatus that was the vast economy, the worker was oppressed and was socially and cognitively conditions or disciplined to accept his or her fate. Writing the Communist Manifesto (1848) in exile in England, the Prussian philosopher imagined an uprising of the proletariat once the “veil” of ideology was torn from its eyes. The workers would recognize that their wages were stolen, that their souls were crushed, and that they had rights and power. Without them, the machines would stop as surely as if they had thrown their sabots into the gears. Under the spell of “consciousness raising,” the proletariat would seize the mode of production, and inaugurate the phase of the people’s ownership–“the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Witnessing the degradation of the workers on the eve of the Revolution of 1848, Marx waited in vain for the success of the workers’ uprising. But it was not to be. The Revolution which sprang up all over Europe was crushed by reactionary forces, the alliance of the governments with the owners of the modes of production. Another attempt was made to rise up in France in 1870 but once again, the lower classes were defeated and seemed to subside to the will of the ongoing Industrial Revolution.

It is important to note that only in England could Karl Marx had conceived of his economic and philosophical theories. The Industrial Revolution, which seemed so all-important in England and Scotland, actually spread very slowly to the continent. Decades after Marx completed his economic theories the industrial revolution and its effects began to alter France and then Germany. But in England, the shape of the Industrial Revolution and its effects on the construction of a new knot of human being, enmeshed in a new system of human relations, based upon reciprocal powers. The internal workings of the system were disguised by the beguiling array of commodities offered to the workers. Buttressed by capitalism, the Industrial Revolution offered more chances for social mobility than political revolution. If one worked hard, then one could join the class of consumers. Increasingly workers were seduced by the all-powerful commodity, which, as Marx noted, had the qualities of the fetish to arouse desire.

“Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it. The newfangled sources of wealth, by some weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by the loss of character. At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to have become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy.”

During the nineteenth century, burgeoning technology was buttressed by an unfettered optimism that the quality of life was improving, offering more opportunities for more people. It was an era when most people believed in Progress, not just of science and technology, but also for human beings themselves. It was an article of faith that industrialization had ushered in a better way of life, which, like the human beings who benefited from it, would develop and evolve in a positive direction. The world became defined by constant changes, some of which were good, but there was a dark side to the state of flux: upheaval and disequilibrium. Old worlds were destroyed and the new worlds were not easily reached by those who had been displaced off the farm and from the factory or out of the office. The alternative belief system was that of a sense of a Mastery of Nature. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, human beings seemed to be in control of the environment, capable of acting as designers of Nature itself. Although by the time the Industrial Revolution was fully in effect, the Enlightenment as a philosophical or social movement was long over, but the new economic system of capitalism still echoed some of the Enlightenment’s most cherished concepts: optimism and progress.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
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Podcast Episode 6: Romanticism

ROMANTICISM AND NATIONALISM

Romanticism was a form of modern consciousness that was expressed as art style, as an attitude of individualism, as a political stance, and as a new way of being an artist. In the nineteenth century, modern nations were beginning to take form and Romanticism became a way of fashioning a unique identity. Manifested in music, poetry and the visual arts, Romanticism varied depending upon the location. Defining Romanticism, therefore, is a complicated affair.

This podcasts seeks of outline the basic elements of Romanticism—a new emphasis on subjectivity and the individual and a resounding rejection of the rules of ancient art. Romantic art is both escapist and exotic and is concerned with events in the contemporary world. Romantic art was a court art for tyrants and a rallying cry for democratic uprisings. Finally, Romanticism served the aspirations for a new class of middle class artists, mostly men, who sought to express themselves through art.

Although Romanticism was supposedly subjective, or based in the individual sensibility of the artist, this movement was an international movement with characteristics unique to each nations. The Romantic Movement is discussed in comparative terms, assessing the differences among the movements in France, England, America and Germany.

 

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
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Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

The Rise and Fall of Napoléon

Napoléon and the Birth of Modern France

Napoléonic Art

The small island of Corsica lies just below the Mediterranean coast of France but it was long under the sway of the Italian region. After the war with Genoa, the Treaty of Versailles of 1768 ceded the island of Corsica to France, and, as a result, Nabuleone di Buonaparte was born in 1769 was a French citizen. The French embarked on a campaign of what Robert J. Blackwood called in The Gallicisation of Corsica: The Imposition of French Language from 1768 to 1945 (2004) “gallicisation” or turning an Italian island into a French one. After translating his name into its French version, Napoléon Bonaparte, the young military officer was part of the army raised to repel the invasion of France. For Europeans, especially the Austrians, the initial reason for intervening in internal French affairs was the Queen herself who was Austrian and must be rescued. Allies, Austria and Prussia, attempted to invade and end the Revolution before it was too late for Marie Antoinette. However, the first nationwide draft of any country, the levée en masse, in 1793, put large numbers of French men in the field and, in an extraordinary feat, the new Revolutionary government managed to feed, clothe and arm the citizens’ army. Even after the deaths of the King and Queen, the European powers still sought to restore the hereditary right to rule, or, to put it another way, to safeguard the legitimacy of aristocratic power for themselves in their own nations. The fever for Revolution had already infected America, to the great cost of Britain, and this strange and rebellious desire for “equality” must not be allowed to spread to the rest of Europe.

To counter the reactionary European alliance, a young Corsican coporal, Napoléon Bonaparte, rose through the ranks of the French Army by exhibiting his talents with artillery, a relatively modern weapon for modern war. Napoléon was a common man, who, for many, personified the promise of the Revolution—success through merit. Napoléon understood artillery—it could be moved, it could be deployed strategically, and with its flexible firepower, artillery could be the decisive edge for victory. Before he was born, French artillery had been modernized, standardized and, most importantly, lightened by artillery officer and designer, Jean Baptiste Grimbeauval (1715-1789). Like any new soldiers of his generation, Napoléon was trained to deploy these mobile guns and he did so with skill and military genius. Although he had been trained as an artillery officer and under the old regime he was a captain, in the new post-Revolution army he was an unknown and low ranked corporal who made his mark at the Battle of Lodi on the Italian border. A captain at the time, he used the artillery to capture the promontory of L’Eguillette above Toulon, and Napoléon’s role in recapturing the French base from counter-revolutionaries earned him the rank of Brigadier-General in 1793.

Napoléon was the kind of “new man” the Revolution could bring to prominence and his rise to fame was due, not to noble birth, but to sheer excellence in his profession. Throughout Europe in the fired up imaginations of the commoners, Napoléon was not just a new kind of leader; he was a savior. A “man of the people,” he was perceived as bringing the ideals of the Enlightenment to the rest of Europe. For the French, the Corsican colonial brought order out of the chaos of a Revolution gone wrong. Lucky to be stationed outside of France, Napoléon avoided the internal politics of the Revolution. Many French people outside of Paris were anti-Republican and opposed to the reforms promised by the Revolution. The result was decades of rebellion, collectively called “The Vendée,” also known as the “White Terror,” which carried on until 1813. Indeed it was the lingering Royalist spirit that further elevated his reputation. Once peace of the Italian frontier was restored, Napoléon was at loose ends, drifting through Paris, until a Royalist uprising in 1795 brought him back into the center of action when he quickly took command and ended the rebellion against the Republic and restored order.

The idea of a powerful and popular general in the city, made Parisian politicians nervous and Napoléon was sent back to the army in Italy, this time in command. When Napoléon, not yet thirty, handily dispatched the Austrian army, the Parisian government sent him even further from home to Egypt. Those early years of post-monarchy government is referred to as the First Republic, which oversaw the Reign of Terror, was established in 1792. Far from being a “republic,” in the traditional sense, this Republic included the dictatorship of the Jacobins, the Directory, which employed Napoléon, and the Consulate. Napoléon became the First Counsel in 1799, when he staged a coup d’état, in a typical act of bravado, after being soundly defeated by the British in Egypt. This seizure of power is referred to as “The 18 Brumarie,” after the day and month of the coup. Napoléon’s victories over victories over the enemies of France left only Great Britain in the field and the British, wanting to pursue their own industrial and imperial goals, signed the Peace of Amiens in 1801.

Jacques-Louis_David,_The_Coronation_of_Napoleon_edit

Jacques Louis David. Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804 (1805-7)

To the English, it was clear that the radical aspects of the French Revolution had evaporated under the conservative control of Napoléon. Indeed the First Republic ended and Napoléon was in total control by 1804, when, dashing the hopes for democracy of European intellectuals from Beethoven to Goya, Napoléon crowned himself Emperor of France and crowned his wife, Josephine, Empress for good measure. The French Revolution was over, the experiment in representative government was ended, and dictatorial power was restored. Napoléon invited the émigrés, who had fled for their aristocratic lives to England and America, to come back to France. He reinstated the Catholic Church, but its property was not restored. Then he embarked upon a campaign of conquest throughout Europe that would stall the benefits of modern life and the Enlightenment in France and for the rest of Europe for decades to come.

Under the guise of being a liberator and a bringer of the ideals of the Revolution, Napoléon conquered the Continent. The longstanding problem of the French debt was solved simply: by looting Europe. While many liberals welcomed the weakening of European monarchies, they were soon disillusioned by Napoléon’s iron grip on his “allies” and became the conquered peoples became restive. Only England, newly alarmed, stood alone, against the French. The resistance of Great Britain only made the nation stronger, while the need to control Napoléon’s conquests eventually drained the French of blood and treasure and the new nation eventually tasted defeat in 1814. The downward spiral began with the ill-conceived invasion of Russia, where the French conquered and occupied Moscow, but were brought low by the Russian winter. Fighting a guerrilla war, also used against the French in Spain and Portugal, the Russians decimated the French army with a scorched earth mode of hit and run warfare. Napoléon prudently but dishonorably abandoned the doomed army and retreated to the safety of the German states with the Prussian and Austrians wings of his army largely intact. Having no clear idea that the defeat in Russia was actually his death-knell, Napoléon returned to France to raise another army only to face an angry and rebellious Germany, Austria was now neutral but opposed to him and another enemy in the Swedes. Intent on regaining his former power and status, the Emperor decided to attack Germany to restore his dominance and his reputation. Describing Napoléon’s Last Campaign in Germany, historian Francis Loraine Petre O.B.E wrote, “The Emperor’s task, looking to the tremendous sacrifices he had already required from France and his allies, was Herculean, but he faced it undauntedly, and his success in conjuring up, as if by magic, a fresh army is perhaps one of his most remarkable achievements.”

This large but inexperienced French army with a command divided among marshals who disagreed with their leader. Although he was able to fight effectively if not always victoriously in Germany, Napoléon decided, despite the objections of his lieutenants, to retreat from Germany and to consolidate beyond the Elbe. But he had to face the joint forces of the Russians, the Prussians, the Austrians and the Swedes at the Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of Nations. This enormous battle in October of 1813 was fought over a three day period. in the face of such a large force, Napoléon was defeated and retreated from Germany. Munro Price wrote of the end of Napoléon’s domination of Europe in his book, Napoleon: The End of Glory: “The retreat from Leipzig was a ghastly trial for the French army. Given the need to outstrip the victorious allies, it was conducted by forced marches. Unable to keep up with the pace, thousands dropped by the wayside. Advancing in their wake, their pursuers found the woods on each side of the main road filled with dead and dying stragglers, and abandoned wagons and cannon everywhere. The scenes was not as terrible as the retreat from Moscow, but it carried unmistakable echoes of that calamity.” To the West, the British had pushed the French out of Spain and Wellington invaded France. Napoléon was now caught in a pincher between two powers. After the Battle of the nations his opponents tried to arrange a peace which would have resulted in his relinquishing conquered territories but in retaining the “natural limits” or geographical borders of Revolutionary France, but Napoléon could not accept negotiations. The result was a massive invasion of France, now a nation of exhausted people who wanted nothing but peace, and a final and decisive defeat of the Little Corporal. He was sent away to exile on the island of Elba where he was allowed to rule and retain the title of “Emperor.”

Napoléon had invented the dark side of modern life—total war—devastating anyone in his path and it was perhaps too much to expect a defiant former Emperor in his forties, presumably at his prime to subside into a quiet life on a remote island and in February of 1185, he managed to escape and return triumphantly to France to a delirious welcome. For the next One Hundred Days, Napoléon revisited the glory of the old days.

Napoléon and his total war was an attempt to return to the glory days of the Carolingian Empire which allowed England to become the dominant industrial and military power while he was consolidating his power. The Code Napoléon turned back the reforms and the ideals of the Revolution, abolishing equality but acknowledged the power of the middle class and the principle of merit as a condition of advancement in the military and the government. Most importantly, following the years of upheaval, the Code spelled out the winners and losers. Slavery was reinstated in the colonies. Women were disempowered and the lower classes were put back in their place and the revolutionary energies were drained by the total war that dominated the decade. Thus, the real losers of the French Revolution were the very class that had led the Revolution—the lower classes.

Unwittingly the proletariat had done the dirty business of eliminating the troublesome aristocrats for the bourgeoisie. The sans-coulottes had demonstrated their lack of judgment in following unqualified rabble-rousers. The lower classes had never supported the Enlightenment ideals that had so inspired the upper classes, and, the proletariat and the peasants were unwittingly responsible for the end of the Enlightenment itself. The horrors of the Terror demonstrated the futility of relying upon the powers of human reason and rational thinking. The American Revolution had been eminently rational; the French Revolution had been strikingly irrational. The English Royalists in America were allowed to leave or adapt; the French aristocrats had been massacred in public spectacles in town squares all over the country. In America, the lower classes could aspire to social mobility. The lower classes had terrified their fellow French citizens by acting out centuries of rage, earning the disqualifying sobriquet: “The Dangerous Class.”

Although leading the way to Revolution, the bloodthirsty lower classes were safely distanced from power. The middle-class feared and loathed the undisciplined and unwashed mob and would view any move on the part of the lower classes to protest their status with suspicion and oppression. By behaving less badly, the middle class inherited France and moved into the court of Napoléon, newly empowered under the Empire. The proletariat would have to endure other Revolutions and wait for the century to end before they too would become fully enfranchised. The lower classes, who were promised “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” but got little of the “natural rights” that had been promised. At the end of the Napoléonic wars, one in three lower class men had died, sacrificed for the glory of the nation. The levée en masse created the modern idea of a national army, staffed by proud citizens rather than by mercenaries. In an age when the idea of a “modern nation” was still being developed and in a time when many people in France did not speak official French, the Grand Armée was a unifying force for nationhood.

Under the leadership of Napoléon, after decades of unrest, France was unified against the rest of Europe. Despite the fact that the nation was eventually defeated in 1814 and Napoléon abdicated and went into exile. Ironically, the opposition to the upstart French Emperor also unified European states into modern nation states. Over these years of Revolution and Glory and Defeat, out of the strife and struggle, the modern French Citizen was constructed and the modern French identity came into being within a modern nation state. But there was a cost. The French lost their burgeoning international empire, and England emerged suddenly dominant in Europe. France became a defeated and diminished power, destined to yearn for those years of patriotic glory under Napoléon.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
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Podcast Episode 5: Romantic Aesthetics, Part Two

AESTHETICS AND TRE RISE OF ROMANTICISM

Emerging in the mid-eighteenth century, Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy which seeks to define “art.” The formulation of aesthetics as a separate aspect of Enlightenment thinking was a project of British and German writers on the arts. One of the new concepts developed by these thinkers was the modern idea of “disinterest,” which meant that art was to be contemplated for itself on its own merits, not for its content or subject matter. With the lessening importance of the patrons, this new mode of looking put the artist and his or her at the center of the art making process.

Now on display in public salons, the artist had to have a recognizable style and a new identity for the modern artist began to take shape. By the end of the eighteenth century, Emmanuel Kant consolidated “aesthetics” into a coherent and influential book, the Critique of Judgment, which would impact the intellectual world of the Romantic artists. Due to this important discourse in aesthetics, the artist was remade into a “genius,” who was independent of the public and who made art for art’s sake.

 

 

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This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles

ART AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Rococo and Revolution

From the early eighteenth century on, the visual arts, from painting to interior décor, were markers of class and harbingers of the Revolution to come. A late expression of the pompous and grandiose Baroque, the soft Rococo style was the pompous Baroque turned lovely and domestic. The domaine of female patrons and even of women artists, the Rococo style was long given short shrift by art historians, who glossed over the pale pastel colors in favor of the more “masculine” style that supplanted it, Neo-Classicism. But even during the eighteenth century, this split between masculine and feminine and frivolous and sober, immoral and moral existed in the opposition between the aristocratic Rococo style and the genre paintings made for the middle class. The Rococo is a world of mirrored rooms with mirrors that had to be kept clean, of pale paneling trimmed in gilt that needed to be dusted and polished, of embroidered and brocaded fabrics that required careful maintenance–the maintenance of all of which demanded hundreds of servants. The sight of elegantly carved furniture and voluminous shimmering silk gowns and shirts with lace cravats, depicted so appealingly by Jean-Antoine Watteau, makes one understands the rage of a vengeful revolutionary mob rioting in tattered clothes.

The Rococo style is dualistic in that it is both private and aristocratic and public and accessible. The aristocratic Rococo reflects the aimless lives of the privileged elite but had a sense of humor, respecting neither church nor state. Rococo art was an anti-style with a palette and a type of brushwork all its own, rejecting the grandeur of the Baroque and aiming to simply please the wealthy spectators with its fleshy and witty eroticism. With Rococo art, the grandiose didactic Baroque was watered down to an art without serious purpose or, to put it another way, an art for pleasure’s sake only. At the hands of Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809), antiquity became an excuse not to wear clothes and to exhibit plump and pink female bodies to the male spectators under the disguise of “classicism.” After decades of religious strife and endless preaching of the Reformation, the sheer prettiness of the Rococo was a great relief to weary art patrons. The Rococo was an art of sexual allure rather than solemn instruction as to duty and country, an idyll beautifully imagined by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) who pretended that life is an endless game, a fête galant for lovers who lived on a fantasy island or a Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717).

The world envisioned by the Rococo is a world of the court, where as Madame du Châtelet said, “We must begin by saying to ourselves that we have nothing else to do in the world but to seek pleasant sensations and feelings.” One can almost hear the clock of the Enlightenment ticking as it remorselessly reordered Madame’s world of pleasure into a world of democracy and equality. Today’s interpretations of the pleasures of Rococo art and the pretensions of Baroque art would have been largely lost on the actual audiences at the time, who, like any other art audience were interested in what they liked not in the social and class sub-texts of the art. The more famous of the Rococo paintings would have been private commissions, such as the quartet of paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) done in 1771 for the King’s mistress Madame du Barry. Now in the Frick Collection, the Louveciennes panels, The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, and Love Letters are almost as famous as earlier 1767 work, The Happy Accidents of the Swing (The Swing). To more discerning eyes, however, both Baroque art, as still alive and well in history paintings, and Rococo art represented outmoded styles of an exhausted art form that would be judged as frivolous in comparison to serious Neo-Classicism.

Enlightenment writer and art critic Denis Diderot (1713-1784), one of the founders of the Encyclopédie, published in thirty two volumes between 1751 and 1765, used his pen to critique his age. Because his job was to observe society, everything caught his eye and he was one of the first art critics, publishing Correspondance littéraire, accounts of the French Salons. As a hardworking journalist, Diderot used art criticism to press the cause of righteous and moral art, as seen in the genre scenes of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) and Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), over the licentious art of François Boucher (1703-1770), such as Leda and the Swan (1741). The Diligent Mother (1740) by Chardin displayed the sober and reasonable life style of the middle class. The Father’s Curse, The Ungrateful Son (1777) by Greuze was an object lesson in didactic morality. In these paintings, the middle class behaved rationally, pursing definite goals through industrious and productive work. “Reason,” Diderot claimed, “must be our judge and guide in everything.” In contrast to the private art of pleasure patronized by aristocrats, the simple human virtues of ordinary people could be compared to the ideals of a past that existed before the current age of decadence.

As opposed to the divine right of the monarchy and the idle lives of the nobles, another alternative morality was to be found in Nature and in Antiquity, the repository of ancient ideals and virtues. The middle class virtues and serious behavior were “natural,” compared to the artificial lifestyles of the court, controlled by arcane rules of etiquette. Even Marie Antoinette sought “nature” in her Versailles retreat, Le Hameau (1783), where she played peasant and the acting out of the natural only underscored its un-naturalness in her highly artificial “farm,” Le Hameau. “Nature” became fashionable. Inspired by Discourse on Inequality (1755) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) criticized modern life (culture) and compared it to the “natural” state of original human beings untainted by civilization. In addition, the world of nature itself was becoming an object of admiration, not of fear. Most importantly, Nature or the Natural, was mobilized as a critique of current social conditions being examined under the pens of the gens de lettres.

Hameau de la Reine

Hameau de la Reine (1782-83)

The kind of art preferred by Diderot the critic was moralizing and didactic that encouraged the public to use reason instead of the senses. As one of the first art critics, his task was twofold, to describe the works of art to the rulers of Europe who would never see them and to use art as a subtle vehicle for his social ideas. Although Diderot learned about art through studio visits with the artists, his audience, European despots, who sported the sobriquet “enlightened,” were informed of French art through an internationally distributed newsletter, Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique, edited by Baron Friedrich-Melchior Grimm. The newsletter was not subject to French censorship and could freely critique the social system. The irony of Diderot extolling middle class virtues to the lusty Czarina of Russia, Catherine, is intriguing and one can only wonder what the great queen thought when she read in his review of the Salon of 1763, “First, I like genre–it is moral painting.”

In relation to the works of Boucher, Diderot wrote in 1765, “Depravity of morals has been closely followed by the debasement of taste, color, composition,” and suggested a year later that an appropriate alternative to aristocratic frivolity would be antiquity: “It seemed to me that we should study the antique in order to learn to see Nature.” But Diderot demanded more than mere stylistic servitude, “First of all, move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder, outrage me, delight my eyes, afterwards, if you can…Whatever the art form, it is better to be extravagant than cold.” Although Diderot did not live long enough to witness either Neoclassicism or Romanticism, both of which are anticipated in his writings, he articulated many important concepts in his art writing with his emphasis on naïvité, which led to “primitivism” in the Realist Movement and the grand ideal of Nicholas Poussin, grand manner painting based in classicism. He advocated restraint: “Paint as though in Sparta.”

The re-discovery of Pompeii (1748) and Herculaneum (1709) reignited an interest in ancient life. The towns, buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 CE, were perfectly preserved under layers of ash and lava and consequent (and ongoing) excavations revealed a way of life thought extinct. Fueled by the unearthing of wall paintings, history painting shifted more and more to the moral lessons of antiquity. The example of ancient virtue, especially the Roman virtue of the early days of the Roman Republic, provided an alternative to the current decline in social standards. Roman virtue was more than a dream, for Rome–ancient Rome–had become the climax point of every Grand Tour for every well-to-do European during the eighteenth century. Scholars and tourists inspected the ruins and artists, such as Hubert Robert and Canaletto, responded to the demand for Italian vistas with vedutas. Archaeologists explored and discovered the remains of classical civilizations, and these recoveries were made available to the public and to artists through carefully engraved reproductions. Antiquity, from the reading of Homer to the use of the ancient as a suitable subject for artists, became the order of the day from the mid-eighteenth century on.

Diderot believed that art should teach moral development but at the same time he believed in the idea of genius, a new idea that was beginning to circulate and would be best articulated decades later in the writings of Emmanuel Kant. Although the moral sentiments of the works by Greuze were admirable, Diderot lamented that he was “no longer able to like Greuze,” who occasionally attempted the grand manner, and preferred Chardin, who was not only morally sound but also the superior artist. Reading Diderot, one thinks of Jacques-Louis David as the Messiah of art that the critic was waiting for, but Diderot died too soon and never saw “Spartan” art of David. In fact, the artistic period of the Enlightenment is one of transition, because intellectuals found it hard to either predict the future or to foresee the logical consequences of the newly forming ideals of “reason,” “democracy,” and “equality.” Diderot’s public counterpart, the art writer, La Font de Saint-Yenne, author of Réflexions sur quelques causes de l’état present de la peinture en France, 1757, also took a middle path and equated the aristocrats with the ancients and was typical in his inability to imagine a form of government or society without these hereditary rulers. The aristocrats, in turn, took the prudent course of denouncing their own decadence and corruption and joined in the vogue for the “natural” by praising simplicity and order. The nobles attacked royal despotism of King Louis XVI and the Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette, in defense of their own privileges and positions, threatened by the wayward behavior of these hapless monarchs.

The repudiation of the monarchy did not save the lives of the French nobility and the stage was set for a new form of art that would more precisely reflect the Enlightenment ideals for a middle class art public.

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Reason” and “The Enlightenment and Society” and “The Enlightenment and the Art Public” and “The Political Revolution in America”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Podcast Episode 4: Romantic Aesthetics, Part One

THE AESTHETICS OF ROMANTICISM

Part One

With the decline of religious commissions and with the end of aristocratic patronage, the modern artist was left dependent upon the State and the new art public. In the past, it had been sufficient to define “art” as that which had been approved by a higher power, but in the nineteenth century, a new definition of art was required. Aesthetics, which provides the epistemology of art, or the ground of “art,” was a new aspect of philosophy that emerged coincidentally with the historical break in the old definition of art. This podcast will examine the social and cultural foundations of Aesthetics and the philosophical development of the definition of “modern art.”  

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you. [email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Revolution and Terror in France

UNREASON AND ENLIGHTENMENT

The Revolution and Terror in France

When the American Revolutionary War was waged, the conflict was unpopular both in England and America. Only one third of the colonists supported and participated in the War. And yet the Revolution was won—astonishingly—by the upstart colonists; and suddenly America was on its own, as the “United States,” embarking on one of the most revolutionary governments of all time, a democracy. It cannot be exaggerated how experimental this new nation seemed to the Europeans. America was an unprecedented ideal realized and many observers predicted failure and chaos. It also cannot be exaggerated how much Europeans distrusted the very concept of “democracy,” or rule of the “mob.” “Government by the people, for the people,” as Lincoln said later, was a horrifying concept in Europe. And with good reason, from the perspective of the sober middle class, the “dangerous” lower classes were to be feared. Those fears were manifested in France, only a few years after the formation of the United States of America, when another Revolution erupted in 1789. All fears of the wrath of the lover classes were realized, and, in France, this revolution was bloody and violent, utterly without common sense or reason.

Unlike the American Revolution, as much as it was a revolution against a King ,the French Revolution was a civil war, a war between the classes. For centuries the lower classes had been repressed and kept under the delicate high heels of the aristocracy, which refused to part with any of its age old privileges. Those with titles lived in a world of the past, frozen in amber, clinging to a past, unaware of the dangers of the present. The middle class, literate and educated and ambitious were steeped in the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment. The real civil war in France was between the past and the future, with the Revolution as the blood midwife of the present, giving violent birth and presiding over gruesome death. The American Revolution pitted one restive nation against an oppressive parent nation, but the French went war with themselves as class fought class for survival and dominance. The reasons for the French rebelled against King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were quite different and more personal compared the the distant antagonism of the Americans to a far-away King George III, who suddenly tried to tax them. Their political cry–“no taxes without representation”–was a demand for equality, but the slogan fell on deaf ears. It was quite possible that if the Crown had negotiated with the colonists, an agreement might have been reached, but in France there was no possibility of reasoning with the angry proletariat. Although inspired by Enlightenment philosophy, the French Revolution began, not with the middle classes, but with the lower classes. The sans coulottes, or the proletariat, had suffered under the unbending rule of the aristocracy and were struggling with the impact of a change in climate, known as The Little Ice Age, which brought years of crop failure and famine. In addition to the lowering of temperatures, a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783 resulted in devastated harvests. After years of dramatically cold winters and devastatingly hot summers, there was a significant shortage of grains and bread riots began in 1789. The starving proletariate demanded that the inert government act to protect its people.

The lower classes, the peasants, tired, overworked, and hungry, and they spontaneously rose up to protest their hardships. The proletariat was not inspired by ideas of their “natural rights;” they were starving. When the ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers filtered down to them, these modern ideas were rejected by the lower classes, who felt threatened by modernity and its attack on a traditional way of life. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, it was the well-educated aristocrats in France and England supported the Revolution, acting from a moral and philosophical point of view, never thinking they would be in danger. Those of the upper class who were wealthy and prospering from new economic opportunities had everything to gain from establishing a constitutional monarchy along the lines of the arrangement in England. Although the heroes of the American Revolution, Washington and Lafayette, were greatly admired in France, the ultimate model for the French Revolutionaries was Britain, which had a constitutional monarchy and an established aristocracy. America was too democratic for French needs.

By 1788, France was in a crisis of confidence concerning the incompetent rulers, King Louis XVI and his Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette. As if the bloodline of French royalty and thinned into this indifferent couple which was positively incontinent when it came to spending money. But it was not the extravagant Marie Antoinette and her famous diamond necklace which bankrupted France. The French monarch actually cost the French people half of what the British monarchy cost the English. Ironically, the nation’s financial troubles stemmed from its alliance with the American colonies in the War of Independence. The saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” could have been applied to the unhappy French royal family after America became independent. Not that the French were supporting democracy; the French were fighting England for continental and international dominance. The French had gone into debt to finance the Seven Years’ War with England and the desire for revenge had propelled them into another war, using America as their pawn. All the French wanted to do was to slow the dominance of the British Empire but the law of unintended consequences came into effect: as a result of supporting the American cause and humiliating the British, the nation was bankrupt and there were severe food shortages with no money to pay for imported food.

The war fought for American independence, told from the French perspective, is unrecognizable to an American: the powerful and competent French won the war for the incompetent and stalemated Americans, but great cost financially. The difficulty of recovering from a costly war is a also modern problem, and, even today, recovering from the expense of a war can easily take a decade. For example, it took America some twenty years to recover from the expense of the Vietnam War, hence the prosperity of the 1990s. But France was reeling from the impact of climate change, and the nation was a largely feudal nation faced with the coming of modern capitalism but still lacking the modern financial instruments to solve their problems. Then, as now, no one wanted to be taxed to pay for the war, even a war that was so full of celebrated and adored heroes, such as Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Layfayette. The war had to be paid for and the King was persuaded to call representatives of the people together to work out a workable tax system to pay for the war.

The philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau had taken such a hold on the imagination of the ruling class that the King was forced to bend to the logic of “natural law” and “natural rights.” An amateur watch maker, Louis XVI seemed to genuinely want to be the kind of good ruler demanded by the Enlightenment and he made he mistake of calling together the Estates General, a representative body with a medieval ancestry. The Estates General, which had not been called since 1616, consisted of the First Estate, the nobles, the Second Estate, the clergy, and the Third Estate, the middle class. The representatives were supposed to solve the problems of France by raising taxes on the people, but the men who gathered together began to imagine a new system of government entirely. The problem was that the three estates had equal votes and the first and second estates aligned themselves against the third estate. After six weeks of contention, the Third Estate pulled out and declared themselves the National Assembly, meeting on a tennis court, jeu de paume, to take an oath to stay together until, like the Americans, they wrote a Constitution. In the end, rather than helping the King solve the problems of the nation, this distaff group eventually deposed the monarchy. Once painter the the aristocrats, Jacques Louis David, depicted the dramatic moment of the oath taking, showing the excitement of runaway emotion and demonstrating his flexibility in the face of a changing client base.

Jacques-Louis David. The Tennis Court Oath (1791)

The word of the hour was “citizen,” which also meant patriot or someone who served the patrie or nation, not the King. Originally intended to be an inclusive term, it would later be an excluding term. While the aristocrats limited their revolutionary gestures to divesting themselves of their titles (not their lands or wealth) and privileges, the sans coulottes (who did not wear breeches and hose but the long trousers of the working class male) desperately needed help. It is one thing to be unhappy with your rulers; it is another thing entirely to be hungry with no prospects for change. The French Revolution began in 1789, the same year the Americans were writing a Constitution, opening dramatically on July 14 with the storming of the Bastille, an infamous but largely empty prison. From the start, the Revolution was an unstable entity, driven by mob anger, which led to the Terror of 1793-94. The transfer of power from the aristocrats to the middle class ended with the execution of the King and Queen and the annihilation of a large portion of the aristocratic class. Thousands of people, the wealthy, the well-born, and their servants died under the new invention, the guillotine, at the hands of a blood thirsty mob. Indeed, many of those titled men who had so passionately supported the Revolution lost their heads to a new invention, the guillotine, because, as aristocrats, they could never be “citizens.”

As though the regicide of the King loosened something in the French people, the year of the execution of Louis XVI opened the Reign of Terror under the auspices of the Revolutionary Tribunal over 30, 000 people perished under the blade of the guillotine. The instrument of Terror was the Committee of Safety, where the major leaders of the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton, and Sainte-Juste, took away all of the rights won by the early years of the Revolution and reinstalled all of the oppressive practices of the monarchy. The reasons for setting up this deadly tribunal were, according to Sophie Wahnich, was to turn the attentions of the French people from unruly vengeance to the task of defending the Revolution against the European powers threatening to invade France and end the Revolution. But there were enemies within as well who much be purged so that the people could see that the leaders were preventing “injustice.” As Wahnich wrote in 2012 In Defense of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution,

The Terror presupposed quick action so as to defeat the enemies before they destroyed the Revolution so that the people would not be disgusted by injustice, and wold not have to take up unheeding injury in their exercise of the sovereign exception, and to effectively restrain this founding sovereignty. The exercise of Terror was thus a race against time. It was undoubtedly here that the project became impossible:to give the expected justice a form that was at the same time controlled–and do so at lightening speed.

The French were unfortunate in their leaders, or rather, their lack of real leadership or moral or ethical guidance. This revolution thrust up rabble-rousers and demagogues, ambitious and unscrupulous men, all determined to ride the wave of revolution into greater power. In the end, they all wound up victims of the very rage they had stirred up. Although the notorious Committee of Safety was in charge, no one was in control. There were only those who aroused the mod, like Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, Georges Jacques Danton, and Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Juste. The result was that the Revolution ran wild as the lower classes vented their anger on the aristocrats and ordinary people, during the years known as the Terror from 1793 to 1795. As Robespierre thundered, “Softness to traitors will destroy us all.” Actually Robespierre was involved in an internal struggle among the revolutionaries over who would control the Revolution and he attempted to ride the tiger he set loose. As every demagogue finds out, it is dangerous to unleash the passions of the mod, because the same crowd that lifted him up can cast him down. Marat was assassinated, Robespierre and Saint-Juste, “the archangel of the Revolution,” were executed in the Thermidorian Reaction, Danton created the Committee of Public Safety and then warned that the Revolution was spiraling out of control, only to be executed by the Committee he founded.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon. Louis Antoine de Saint-Juste (1793)

The French Revolution degenerated into horror. Added to surveillance, spying and denunciation were massacres, mass executions and near genocide of a single class. In the end the leaders of the mob all went to that instrument of a human and “democratic” death, the guillotine. The question is when did the French Revolution end? Unlike the American Revolution, there was no moment of victory or surrender but a slow and disorderly internal struggle with in the new “government” formed in 1795, the Directory, to retain power among themselves and to keep the “mod,” still hungry and still angry and still powerless, under control. The “official” end, if there was one, was the Coup of Brumaire in 1799. Under the leadership of Director Emmanuel Joseph Sieyés, who installed an undefeated general, named Napoléon Bonaparte, he though was controllable and Pierre-Roger Ducos, who had supported him in the Coup. The three formed the Consulate and the military took control.

The rest, as they say, is history. The power vacuum left behind by the killing of the king was to be filled by a new leader, who could bring order out of chaos by protecting the French from the European armies, which were advancing towards the country to put an end to the savage rebellion and restore the monarchy. Napoléon Bonaparte waited politely for three years before he removed his fellow counsels and reinstalled the idea of total power being held by one man, ending the goals and the ideals of a Revolution gone wrong.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
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The Political Revolution in America

AMERICAN REVOLUTION as ENLIGHTENMENT

Social and Political Change

Supported by the revolution in industrialized production, which enriched a new class of entrepreneurs, several important political revolutions cemented the middle class into power. Made by “new men,” new money created new forms of power for the newly educated and newly educated professionals and businessmen who began to chafe under the old-fashioned notion of “the divine right of kings.” Looking back, it is clear that the aristocratic class—an anachronistic class that produced nothing—was doomed to extinction in a new age in which production had become a new value. In some nations, the dinosaur elite faded gently into the good night, but, in other countries, a revolution was necessary to dislodge the ancien régime. The economic revolution of the rise of industrial manufacturing gave impetus to a social revolution which would inevitably be followed by political revolutions, first in America and then in France, and finally in England. While the idea of political revolution differed from nation to nation, the idea of social freedom and political change spread from America to the Old World, the European continent. The purging of the ruling classes continued for over one hundred years, culminating, perhaps, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. All of these revolutions were products of the promise of the Enlightenment.

It is worth noting, however, that these so-called “revolutions” did not include women, people of color, or the poor. Only white men with a certain amount of property and income were eligible for the enormous cultural changes that marked the beginning of the nineteenth century. One of the more profound questions of history is how to judge the founders of America who excluded women and “counted” slaves, for political purposes, as three-fifths of a human being. On one hand these Forefathers were men of their own time, on the other hand they were supposedly “enlightened,” but they failed the nation and refused to face up the meaning and promise of the word “equality.” Allowing women full citizenship could be easily avoided but for the founders of America, slavery was an unsolvable problem. Many of the signers of the Constitution were slave owners who assumed (incorrectly) in an astonishing display of dissembling, that slavery would wither away on its own. That said, those pioneering revolutionaries in Philadelphia set up an “experiment” in democracy, an experiment that is still being tested. As audacious as it was, the first of these political revolutions–power to the people–was in America and had a limited effect at first, perhaps because America was such a great distance from Europe. At first, the American Revolution was an improbable escape from the clutches of the British Empire in its early days of understanding how to manage far away colonial possessions. Later, the revolution of middle class people throwing off the yoke of inherited power was seen as a beacon for other rebellious peoples seeking to determine their own independent fates. The French Revolution of 1789, which was inspired by the War of Independence in America, was far more impactful upon European politics and society. Inspired, by the actuality of the French events–a climate shift that produced bad harvests and starvation for the lower classes and by ideas of natural rights and equality, the French Revolution upended the divine right of kings in a continent full of kings, queens and emperors.

In 1776, the American colonies presented a “Declaration of Independence” from the Mother Country, England, and followed the demand for more autonomy with a successful Revolutionary War. With financial and military help from England’s greatest rival, France, the American Colonies freed themselves from the hereditary monarchy and established an experiment in self-governance called “democracy.” Inspired byEnlightenment ideas of “natural rights” and “the social contract,” the American politicians, from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Hamilton, were well born, well educated, and well bred. However, even wealthy planters such as George Washington, were not European aristocrats and were inherently subservient to their English rulers. As “colonists,” they, like all Americans, were subjects of a King and, as such, could never be the nobility. Because the colonists could be only two classes, middle or lower, regardless of social prominence or income, a certain rough social equality (with the exception of slaves) was established among them. Like the philosophers of England and France, American leaders were socially ambitious middle class (white) men who were sensitive to the winds of change. Influenced by the British Philosopher, John Locke, and the French philosophers, (François-Marie Arouet) Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Americans began to question their subservient roles and to challenge the British right to rule them. Britain was the strongest maritime power in the world, well on its way to becoming a huge colonial empire, but England was far away, the lines of command were impossibly long, and the Americans had become accustomed to taking care of themselves and running their own affairs. The resulting revolution was predictable and inevitable, even if the end, America victorious, was remarkable.

In comparison to the later horrors of the French Revolution, the American Revolution was a civilized affair. Based upon philosophical ideals that, by the end of the eighteenth century, were widely accepted, the Americans fought for their “natural right” to freely determine their own “social contract.” The role of the state was to ensure the happiness of the inhabitants, and, according to Rousseau, had a rather limited role as protector of the people’s rights. The concept of “natural rights,” put forward since the seventeenth century, clashed with the imperial and mercantile desires of the British Empire and this clash between the inalienable and economic imperatives was a bellwether of things to come. Writing in 1776, while Thomas Jefferson was penning the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and saw capitalism as a juggernaut that cared much for economic imperatives and little for “natural law.” Writing words that could be written today, Smith remarked,

Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.

The British, naturally, felt that the American colonies must play their proscribed role as captive consumers in the mechanism of imperialism. The Americans had other ideas: freedom, independence and the pursuit of happiness through self-governance. The conflict was between philosopphy–Rousseau and the inevitable economic imperatives—Smith. Inspired less by the noble ideas put forward by the beleaguered colonists and more by the opportunity to avenge their failure in the Seven Year’s War, the French lept to the defense of their American ally. Baffled by the unreasonable demands of their restive subjects, the British found themselves in a new kind of war, an unequal war, that any occupying power must confront: insurgency and guerilla (“little war”), complicated by long supply lines across the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the colonial adoptions of Native American style fighting, the Revolutionary War itself was fought according to the traditional rules of warfare and the British were outflanked and outsmarted by the combination of a stubborn native army and its determined French partner. The defeated British withdrew to establish their Empire elsewhere but invaded once more in 1812, attacking America, now an ally of Napoléon, but the young nation held firm against the former masters, even when the new home of the President, the White House burned.

To the astonishment of Europeans, many of whom shuddered at the though of “democracy,”seen as mob rule, the upstart American colonies had not only won their freedom but had also written a very serviceable Constitution by 1789. To the amazement of Europeans who dreamed of equality but seemed unable to achieve it, the “American Experiment” worked. Because the American Revolution was so unique, it was difficult to appreciate how extraordinary the victory of the Thirteen Colonies was. The Thirteen Colonies were fortunate in their leaders and their philosophy. Despite their major faults and moral and ethical failures, their inability to transcend their own narrow interests, the leader so the American Revolution were intellectuals who wrote a thoughtful set of rules based in universal values for the new and fragile nation. The men who composed the Declaration of Independence (re-writing Thomas Jefferson’s original draft) and the Constitution wanted to create an entirely new Social Contract, based upon principles of equality, democracy, and a balance of powers within the government.

trumbull-large1

John Trumbull. Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 (1811)

In contrast to the democratic system devised by the Americans to distribute power as evenly as possible among the inhabitants, most revolutions are fought to replace one power source with another, for a revolution is essentially a “revolving” of power, not a change in the way in which power is distributed. Americans accepted self-governance with equanimity. Although about one third of the population did not care who ruled America and one third were loyal to the English, there was no civil war and no social disorder, only a need to establish a firm legal foundation for the new nation, where all factions, different and indifferent, came together as “Americans.” Using the rational thinking of the Enlightenment, wise and articulate men like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin guided the nation to the concept of a government by consensus and based that agreement upon enduring documents, from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution to the Bill of Rights. Only when the American Revolution is contrasted to other upheavals in power can one appreciate the value of a George Washington, who refused to be King and agreed to be President reluctantly and only temporarily. Power was to be handed off after an election of a legitimately elected successor, a custom that has been followed faithfully to this day.

Rarely in history does a group of good people come together with good intentions and create a good thing. A far-flung colony somehow managed to produce a large number of astute political thinkers guided by Enlightenment philosophy, Christian religion, and something the expatriate Englishman and revolutionary upstart, Thomas Paine, called “Common Sense.” As Paine wrote in December 23, 1776 for his series The American Crisis,

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

The American democracy was far from perfect and was, indeed, incomplete. The rights of democracy—government by the people and for the people—were extended in a limited fashion. The contradictions of eighteenth century America are obvious today, but the conflict between demanding democracy for the few while limiting democracy for the many were not unknown to the Founders. The rights of women and slaves were debated in Europe and America, and yet, despite the existence of the discourse on human rights, the writers of the Constitution decided, deliberately, to leave women out and to postpone the problem of slavery for the next generation to solve. The result was a delayed democracy for women and people of color. But even this limited democracy was a source of wonder for all outsiders who observed the United States with amazement. A social revolution had become a political revolution.

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Reason” and “The Enlightenment and Society” and “The Enlightenment and the Art Public” and “The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
[email protected]