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.
[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

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.

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 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.

 

 

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

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.

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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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]

Podcast Episode 3: Jacques-Louis David

THE NEOCLASSICISM OF JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID (1748-1825)

Jacques-Louis David, the most prominent Neoclassical painter in France, shifted his artistic allegiances from a king to a revolution against that king to an emperor. Was the artist a man without principles or was he a man of his own time, caught up in the tides of history, taking opportunity as he found it? The major works of art by David will be discussed within the context of his turbulent historical times. David developed a heroic and masculine style of Neoclassicism that proved to be well-suited to an era of war and revolution. Through his sheer talent (or effrontery) David managed to move with adroitness through political waters but with the fall of his final master, Napoléon, the luck of the painter ran out and he died in exile in Belgium.

 

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

Thank you.
[email protected]

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Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

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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 Enlightenment and the Art Public

ART AND THE MODERN PUBLIC

The Birth of Modern Patronage

Spanning the seventeenth and eighteenth Centuries, the Enlightenment produced greater philosophical thinking than it did great works in the fine arts. In other words, new ideas and “progress” did not prevail in an art world dominated by aristocratic patronage and clientele. That said, the Enlightenment was crucial for a new way of thinking about art and art making. For Europe and the fledgling nation of America, “art” was a practice established in France. All other nations follow suit and followed French styles. In the beginning of this period of change and development of new kinds of individuals, newly free and newly equal, the production of visual art was under the protection and sponsorship of the State, under the censorious auspices of the Royal Academy, established in 1648 by the French King Louis XIV. This Academy of arts and letters was a model of central control followed by other major nations, all of which were aware of the need to monopolize the arts and to harness them to the needs of the government. Because the people of France paid for the education of artists, the French government, the major sponsor of art, held Salons, or public exhibitions of state-sponsored art from the eighteenth century. Set up outside on the grounds of the Palais Royale the new home of the Duc d’Orleans, who had an appetite for beauty and pleasure and the visual arts, the Academy showed off the achievements of the leading artists. But after the first show in 1704, this site of balls and fêtes proved unsuitable for large public exhibitions and the later salons were held at the Palace of the Louvre.

Here in the Palace the works of art could be protected from the weather and were displayed to their best advantage, albeit hung from floor to ceiling and packed chock a block on tables crowded in limited floor space. The Salons were held every year or every other year after 1737 on August 25th in the Salon carré of the Louvre. These highly popular events ran ten days to four weeks, attracting the art public and the art critic, both new social entities, which according to Thomas Crow’s Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth Century Paris (1987), where feared and hated by the artists. The Salons were Parisian events that were considered public entertainment on one hand and a display of the will of the state on the other, demonstrating, through works of art, lessons that every good subject should be taught. These exhibitions, which preceded the establishment of museums, were forms of disciplining the people and shaped their behavior in public places, establishing modes of “civilized” behavior. What was less anticipated by the government or the artists, much less by the Academy itself, was the enthusiasm with which the public embraced these events. Suddenly otherwise uneducated people developed opinions and some were bold enough to state their reactions to the art in what rapidly became a two-way conversation between the servants of the State and the public.

salon-1

The concept of a “public” for art was new as was the idea of publicaly exhibiting art, and inevitably, someone from the undifferentiated “public” would emerge with a desire to preserve and publish his or her opinion about art. This opinionated member of the public who dared to speak and write an to publish views about selected works, much to the dismay of the artists, was the “art critic.” By exposing the artists to the public, these annual Salons opened the artists to public scrutiny and public criticism and made the artists vulnerable to this new species, the art critic, who, astonishingly, demanded that the artist be accountable to the public. Artists, previously answerable only to elite groups of collectors and fellow artists, now needed public approval to succeed. The public, then as now, encompassed all levels of social and economic classes and all levels of education and constituted a community of interest, breaking social hierarchies down into the new notion of a “public,” as explored by Crow, who remarked that “the ‘public’ is both everywhere and nowhere in particular.” The creation and existence of this public brought with it new problems for the artist: what to represent in terms of subject matter; how to represent in terms of style; and who should be allowed to represent and who was allowed to speak to and for the public?

Also new was the expanding group of private art collectors who became the chief patrons of modern artists. Patronage was split between the aristocrats, such as Madame de Pompadour, and the newly rich middle class which preferred genre painting, that is, scenes of everyday middle class life, over the more prestigious and aristocratic history painting, depicting noble heroes of the distant past. As Rochelle Ziskin pointed out in Sheltering Art: Collecting and Social Identity in Early Eighteenth-century Paris (2012), art collecting became a sign of wealth and taste, a site of political and social rivalries and a means of constructing a public image. During this period of art collecting, several important large collections came on the market, such as the works owned by Queen Christina of Sweden, acquired by the French banker and art connoisseur, Pierre Crozet. Through these expanding collections, contemporary French artists were exposed to a historical spectrum of Western art and had a wide range of artistic possibilities to choose from when considering their mode of expression.

Despite the presence in France of the classical Baroque styles, the Baroque was systematically toned down in its dark dramas and was softened into pastel colors for the civilized and essentially domestic style of “Rococo” for an elegant French audience. Although much of Rococo art was produced for the aristocrats and rulers of Europe, the style was paradoxically involved with the concept of the “natural,” a reaction against the formality of aristocratic society and its artificial and unnatural mores and manners. Designed for the interior decoration of the new Parisian hôtels, the pale colors and gentle brushwork of the Rococo artists and the romantic themes made the paintings ideal for the domestic interiors of those who could afford them. But during the same period, the public taste for middle class scenes made genre artists, such as Jean-Baptiste-Simone Chardin (1669-1779) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1806), famous for their depictions of everyday life within the newly aspirational middle class in France. By the middle of the Eighteenth Century, a privilege visitor could peruse private art collections and enter the nascent art shops, selling supplies and pictures, and see, with perfect foresight a painted battleground of class and class aspirations.

Fragonard. The Progress of Love (1771–72)

Now in the Frick Collection, the panels of “Love’s Progress” or “The Progress of Love” executed by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) on behalf of Madame du Barry for her chateau at Louveciennes delightfully demonstrated the non-productive pastimes of the privileged. The privilege of leisure time allowed the upper classes to pursue their erotic desires in elaborate ways. It goes without saying that, for the lower classes, such spare time did not exist, linking the idea of romantic love to the upper classes, and thus attaching love to wealth. Sadly, Madame du Berry chose another artist, Joseph-Marie Vien, to do the same theme in the new Neo-Classical style, and the “Progress” was never installed. Thus we do not know its order but the four paintings are lined up as The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, and The Love Letters.

Greuze. Broken Eggs (1756)

The middle class, growing in numbers and in social prominence, did not stress love and courtship, and indeed, there were didactic scenes aimed towards sober industrious people preaching the perils of indiscriminate delights. One of the most theatrical of lecturers was Jean-Baptiste Greuze whose small paintings of domestic tableaux demonstrated the dangers of bad behavior. Less theatrical and more absorbed, to borrow the lagrange of Michael Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1976) the small quiet interior studies of bourgeoisie life by Chardin were beloved by the Salon crowd and acquired by sophisticated collectors. Eschewing Greuze’s heavy handed didacticism, Chardin scarcely intended to convey a morality tale but the contrast between The Prayer Before the Meal (1740) and Fragonard’s provocative The Swing (1767) could hardly have been clearer. The two paintings, one public and one private, foretold the class conflicts to come and the revolution that would unfold in the next decades. One class was frivolous and irresponsible, the other class was moral and rational. Who deserved to be in power?

Fragonard. The Swing (1767) Chardin. Prayer Before the Meal (1740)

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

The Enlightenment and Society

THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND SOCIETY

The Moral Order, Part Three

The question faced by the Enlightenment was how to create new world without God? What would be the basis of this new life? Spirituality was replaced with technology; religious laws were replaced by rational virtues, ethics, and morality.“Bon sens”, extolled by René Descartes, could be determined by logical deduction, based upon observation of human psychology and conduct. The Enlightenment sought empirical and pragmatic foundations for society for the material era. The expectation was that peace and harmony would come into being through the minimum use of laws, instead of the heavy-handed tyranny of kings. In the past, the law was the will of the sovereign, in an Age of Reason, law was based upon the will of the people who voluntarily came together under the light hand of the state. The Enlightenment was characterized by this strong sense of humanity and by a belief that all humans are basically good and are deserving of basic rights and freedoms. Humans could come together and rule themselves according to rational principles that all can come to know and live by.

These challenges to the authority of religion and of kings and of a sort of “natural” social contract as a new form of governance were directly related to the rise of nationhood. As early as 1534, Henry VII broke the power of the Catholic Church in England by the Act of Supremacy and made himself the head of the Church of England. Without refuting religion, the King asserted the primacy of a nation to order its own affairs, even to found a new religion under the auspices of the State, not a universal (catholic) religion. The rising tide of the Protestant Reformation allowed European princes to likewise breakaway from the interference of the Vatican and to assert themselves as independent principalities, shaking off the power of a single religion. From the time that MartinLuther nailed his 95 Theses in 1517 to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, the novel idea that the individual human could act independently in his or her own spiritual matters spread quickly. The established Church has discredited itself and was weakened by its own malpractices and internal weaknesses and indulgences. The Protestant idea that each person has a direct line to God and therefore could worship as s/he pleased led to not only a split between the Catholics and the Protestants but also among the Protestants themselves.

The result was the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), which ended in 1648. In no small part the long period of warfare about religious doctrines was a worldly power struggle for nationhood. When the exhausted combatants finally laid down their arms and agreed to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Newly independent nations were established, Austria and the Netherlands, and the power of the Roman Catholic Church was broken, no longer universal. After three decades of conflict, it was clear that religious ideology could never be allowed to disrupt the order of society and the power of religion as a dominant force was at an end. It is perhaps no coincidence that René Descartes who died in 1650 decided that the only point of certainty was the self: “I think, therefore I am.” But Descartes was concerned as to the ground of his thinking—how did he know he wasn’t hallucinating or deluded? For a sure and certain answer, he reverted to his faith in God, that God would be the guarantor of the validity of his thinking. In his appeal to God, Decartes would be the last of his kind. Indeed, one hundred years later, Diderot would assert that “…the philosopher teaches the priest what the gods are.”

The philosophers substituted “natural religion,” called Deism, a kind of watered-down theism and reconstructed religion in line with modern science standing in for the mysticism of traditional “superstition.” The abolition of God was also the abolition of social and political hierarchies, and the social theory of the Enlightenment stressed the discussion of social problems from the standpoint of the individual–the “true person,” not from the perspective of the state, which was only an artificial machine. The philosophes were the intellectual (and spiritual) leaders of Europe. Natural Law was at the center of Enlightenment thinking and would be the instrument that severed morality from religion and would establish new bases for morality and ethics. If God was to be found anywhere, it was in “natural law.” Philosophers thought deductively about the origins of human society. In Two Treatises on Government, 1680-90, John Locke projected his mind back in time and imagined a race of humans who were free and equal, their “natural” state” or State of Nature.” The question that bothered Locke was why people had given up their freedom to come together into society, which so clearly curtailed their natural freedoms. He reasoned that the state was the entity that gave surety to these rights and used the words “social compact” or agreement that people made with their government to come together under “natural law.” What made Locke so attractive to the budding American revolutionaries was his stress on the individual making a free decision to live within a state that, in turn, had the obligation to protect “natural rights.”

In his book, The Social Contract, 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau also went back to nature and considered the question of why humans would give up their natural freedoms enjoyed in their natural state. His philosophical deductions led him to also consider the consequences of their decision to create a “Social Contract.” Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind, 1754, asserted that the original human equality had ended due to the creation of private property. The first person, who asserted “this is mine” ended the natural paradise of equality, according to Rousseau, who established the idea that private property was to the root of the Fall of Humanity. The origin of the Fall would be reiterated by Friedrich Engels in 1884, and, indeed, Rousseau made a suggestion that the problem of inequality of wealth could be remedied by the redistribution of wealth. Once again, a logical outcome of an inquiry led to an uncomfortable conclusion and even today the idea of “redistribution” is controversial in some quarters.

But beyond equalizing wealth, there is a general will of the people, which ultimately overrules private interests. In other words, presumably, in some future time, the will of the people will demand equality. On one hand, we can see that this sequence of event has played itself out in the West through the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement, suggesting, on the other hand, that “redistribution” moves in unexpected ways. Those formally oppressed or locked out of a system push their way in, demanding their inalienable rights. In so doing, they eventually gain access to economic and social opportunities and wealth is, if not redistributed, spread out among more people. Clearly, this process is logical and reasonable. Once the mere idea of being equal is introduced–a major achievement of the Enlightenment–all people want to be equal. It is only natural. Equality is natural law and natural law is based upon reason. Rousseau understood the state as a function of the will of the people who look to the state to preserve and respect their “inalienable rights.” Even as Rousseau was writing, Adam Smith was rethinking the role of government, recasting the activities of society, not in terms of “natural rights,” but in terms of the new economic realities of mercantile society.

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An eighteenth century coffee house

In 1776, Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, proposed that the sole purpose of a state was not to protect the rights of citizens but to safeguard the protect economic activities and property. Like Locke and Rousseau, Smith was being perfectly rational. Starting with a founding assumption that wealth was served the greater good, he gave priority to commerce, assuming that the wealthier the population, the wealthier the nation. In separating the state from the economy and giving the economy free rein so that the “invisible hand” could enrich everyone, Smith also released the state from its moral obligation to protect people and gave voice to a new kind of political economy based upon the interest of capitalism. Writing in Glasgow, one of the largest slave ports in Europe, Smith produced ideas that were eminently reasonable and rational, but his writings also give pride of place to impersonal forces—science, technology, and industry—that will change the face of Western society and reorder how people would interact with one another. Smith himself was sympathetic to the plight of the poor and concerned over how the factory system dehumanized people but the logic of the “invisible hand” of capitalism gave rise to a ruthless exploitation of human capital in the name of economic prosperity of the nation. As sad as slavery might be, as exploitive as lower class labor could be, the profits were too sweet to allow for moral judgments to intervene with the joy of making money.

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