Watteau's The Storm and Delacroix's The Sea of Galilee. Which of these paintings represents more of a Romantic work and which one more of a Neo-Classical work? How the differences between the paintings reflect differences in the Neo-Classical and Romantic styles?
Both depicting a storm, Watteau’s The Storm and Delacroix’s The Sea of Galilee may share a common subject but also display significant differences that are based not only on the different approach each artist had, but also on the specific style they chose to follow. Watteau’s work dates from the second half of the 18th century, while Delacroix’s was created in 1854 (“Christ on the Sea of Galilee”). Although separated by a number of years, both belong to a period where two styles dominated art: neoclassicism and romanticism.
Between the two artists, Delacroix is the most famous. Born in 1798 in Charenton-Saint-Maurice in France he became one of the most recognized French artists of the first half of the 19th century influencing with his technique later generations like the Impressionists (Pioch, 2003). He became a student of Guerin in 1815 and thus began a prolific career during which he created hundreds of paintings (Pioch, 2003). His subjects were often contemporary or historical events like the 1824 painting the Massacre of Chios, the 1830 Liberty Guiding the People, inspired by the the revolution of that year in France and the Sea of Galilee which will be examined in this essay (Pioch, 2003). He travelled to England and later in Morocco during his lifetime and both of these trips influenced his art. He died in Paris in 1863 (Pioch, 2003).
Less is known about the life of Louis Joseph Watteau. He was also French, born in 1731 in Valenciennes and was the nephew of the famous Rococo painter Antoine Watteau (Kren and Marx). His son was also a painter and the two are known as the “Watteau de Lille” as they mainly lived and work in that French city (Kren and Marx). Louis Joseph died in Lille in 1798, coincidentally the date Delacroix was born.
Neoclassicism is probably earlier than romanticism although the two styles coexisted for a significant period of time. Neoclassicism is considered to be a reaction to the frivolous Rococo style that began around the mid of the 18th century (“Neoclassicism and Romanticism”). The style found inspiration in the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome and this was further enhanced by the rise of archaeology as a new science, its findings and writings like these from the German philosopher Winckelmann who claimed that the art of Classical Greece was the supreme form of art (Gontar, 2003). For the Neoclassicists, art had an educational purpose and thus moral ideas should be depicted (“Neoclassicism and Romanticism”). Classical themes were often used to serve as examples (Gontar, 2003). Town or cultivated landscapes were depicted in the foreground or the background, the paintings displayed rules, order, logic and reason while society was presented as more important than the individual (“Neoclassicism and Romanticism”). It was the period of the enlightenment and neoclassicism was part of it, promoting knowledge and reason but also placing human nature in the center of their work (“Neoclassicism and Romanticism”).
Romanticism on the contrary was a response to the Enlightenment and, to a certain extent, neoclassicism as well, although it was initially a product of artists who had worked in the neoclassical style (Gallitz, 2004). Reason and order are not considered important for paintings by the Romantic artists (Gallitz, 2004). Emotions prevail along with spontaneity, imagination and passion (“Neoclassicism and Romanticism”). Nature and its dual role as life giver and unpredictable, uncontrollable force that could destroy and kill, inspired the romantic artists who often explored themes of nature and natural disasters (Gallitz, 2004). In a world that was experiencing the French Revolution of 1789 and its aftermath, freedom, experimentation and originality were considered important characteristics both in life and art (“Neoclassicism and Romanticism”).
Watteau’s painting depicts a storm approaching as a number of people engage in agricultural works. Some of them seem to be aware of the sudden change of weather while others seem to be preoccupied with their work. The picture is ordered, divided neatly into two parts by one tree in the middle: one part is dominated by the approaching storm and the other by the activities of the community. Only a man with his flock seems to stand in the middle, although he too leads his sheep towards the rest of the group. The landscape both in the foreground and the background is organized. It might be part of the country but it is obviously cultivated and not wild. On the left, there even seems to be a building or group of buildings lying in the background. The people depicted also act in an ordered and reasonable manner. As the storm approaches they try to complete speedily their works, gather their flock or their family -as the group in the foreground suggests- and move safely into their houses. Nature in this respect is not an enemy and does not seem to intimidate the people. Their expressions and reactions seem calm as they seem to know how to protect themselves from its force.
The scenery is completely different in the second painting by Delacroix. A boat is almost lost in the waves caused by a powerful storm. Those on board struggle to keep the sails and this effort can be seen on their postures and bodies. One person is calm lying serenely and seeming asleep. This is a scene from the Bible representing a storm that threatened Christ and his disciples while crossing the Sea of Galilee (“Christ on the Sea of Galilee”). The sleeping man is Christ himself who will soon pacify the storm and allow the trip to continue safely (“Christ on the Sea of Galilee”). Delacroix however depicts the story before Christ’s intervention. The storm is in full swing. The waves are huge, and seem ready to devour the boat, while the disciples seem almost helpless, unable to control the wrath of nature or even the sails of the boat. Even the colors used for the sea and the sky give a sense of threat and imminent doom. Only a small ray of light indicated by a yellow line among the clouds gives the viewer some indication that there is hope. There is definitely a dramatic, even theatrical sense in the painting and Delacroix manages to portray successfully the wrath of nature during a storm that at the time could have even more catastrophic results than it can have today.
It is reasonable therefore to conclude that the two paintings and their differences reflect in the most evident manner the differences between Neoclassicism and Romanticism, two artistic styles that dominated the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th.
Christ on the Sea of Galilee. The Walters Art Museum. Retrieved on 3/7/13 at: http://art.thewalters.org/detail/40613/christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee/
Galitz, Kathryn Calley. (October 2004). "Romanticism". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved on 3/7/13 at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/roma/hd_roma.htm
Gontar, Cybele. (October 2003). "Neoclassicism". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved on 3/6/13 at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/neoc_1/hd_neoc_1.htm
Kren, E. and Marx, D. “Watteau, Louis-Joseph”. In Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved on 3/6/13 at: http://www.wga.hu/html_m/w/watteau/louis/thestorm.html
Neoclassicism and Romanticism 1740-1850. Berklee College of Music. Retrieved on 3/7/13 at: http://classes.berklee.edu/llanday/spring02/tech/r&c.htm
Pioch, N. (2003). Delacroix, Eugéne. Paris: Web Museum. Retrieved on 3/11/13 at: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/delacroix/