The aim of this paper is to see how paintings techniques and world description changed through styles concentrating on a single theme of female body. The three chosen works for analysis are Jacques-Louis David's Madame Recamier (1800) for Neoclassicism, Goya's The Nude Maya (1800) as an example of Romanticism, and Renoir's Young Girl Combing Her Hair (1894) for Impressionism.
Key words: Impressionism, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, female body, paintings.
Jacques-Louis David's Madame Recamier (1800)
Francisco Goya's The Nude Maya (1800)
Renoir's Young Girl Combing Her Hair (1894)
Looking on the background of all studied materials, the three chosen works for analysis are Jacques-Louis David's Madame Recamier (1800) for Neoclassicism as part of the Enlightenment and Francisco Goya's The Nude Maya (1800) as an example of Romanticism and Renoir's Young Girl Combing Her Hair (1894) for Impressionism. The main aim of this research is to see how paintings techniques and ways of world description changed through various styles and techniques all characteristic for the epoch of Enlightenment concentrating on one common theme for all chosen paintings - description of female body.
Jacques-Louis David's Madame Recamier shows the image of a woman in a traditional Greek/Roman long tunica lying on the sofa. Her whole appearance, from clothes to hair style and ancient lamp to enlighten the room reminds of classic Antiquity (Carrier, 2003). The figure is central to the whole composition and is described in a slight idealised manner of the Renaissance - round forms and brightness of the face and decorum (Carrier, 2003). On the other hand, the main emphasis of the painting, meaning the woman's figure is achieved through the playing with light and darkness - the front of the painting is light and the female figure seems to be the source of that light, since behind her back the background was dark and plain (The Fine Art Diner, 2012). This work belongs to the Neoclassicism first of all, because of historical context of description, meaning Greek details, certain degree realism in female body description unlike Rococo, simplicity in composition, use of light and darkness as main means of attention manipulation instead of colours of Rococo and Renaissance (The Fine Art Diner, 2012).
Francisco Goya's The Nude Maya describes a naked female body on the bed. In this work Goya follows his traditional technique of a dreamy perception of reality, which is achieved through a "looser, more spontaneous technique" (HaeLim Lee, 2011). This was giving an impression of softness and emotionality of the image. Unlike previous two works, this one described female body in a more detail, and also concentrated on the face and diversity of colours in it (Tips and Techniques, 2010). The depth of colour in details like pillows and bed cloths contributes to certain surrealism of the image and depth of imagination. The whole composition is mainly light and emotional in its nature. This work belongs to Romanticism because of soft techniques and general emotional posture of the naked woman's body (Tips and Techniques, 2010).
Renoir's Young Girl Combing Her Hair (1894) shows the image of a young girl in a very ordinary action - combing her hair. The whole image is characterised by motion and is full of life. The girl is shown set and from the angle, not facing the audience entirely. Such position of the body corresponds to the described action, but also gives the viewer an opportunity to appreciate the long red hair of the girl (Kang, 2011). The general composition of the painting is quite simple - the girl in the white gown, showing her bare shoulders, is centred with no actual background, just a slightly lighter colour of red and brown, corresponding to the colour of her hair (Kang, 2011). Therefore, it is the girl and her beauty that is the main aim of the whole composition; the context and the world do not matter in respect to the moment of her beauty. The main reason why this work corresponds to Impressionism is that the whole composition is full of colour, but unlike in Renaissance, it is used to express realism in human appearance. Although Renoir did not use exactly the same visual small brush strokes as Monet, Renoir makes them even smaller, and probably less visible, but they create an impression of duration and certain aura around the main subject (Kang, 2011). In this case, the delicacy of the girl is emphasised through the use of larger brush strokes for the background.
Each of the painters had his own philosophy for creating this or that painting or being an artist in general. Jacques-Louis David's philosophy was in creation of works of art in the name of freedom and it did not matter whether that freedom was in terms of French Revolution or personal freedom of describing what history can teach (Carrier, 2003). Goya believed that personal impressions and emotions should be the leading forces of artist's creativity (Tips and Techniques, 2010). Renoir's philosophy was that beauty of life is in simplicity and can be expressed easily though colour (Artble, 2013).
Each of the works fitted perfectly well to their time specifics. Madame Recamier reflected the simplicity and beauty of the French Revolution, its spirit of freedom and irrelevance of social stratification - she was simple, gracious and beautiful ('The Fine Art Diner', 2012). Maya reflected the sensuality and sexuality of female body which was yet to be accepted in the European society, which was still largely dominated by Victorian perception of women (HaeLim Lee, 2011). Renoir's girl showed that even with further development of the Industrial revolution, the natural human beauty remains the same irrespective of time, class or social prejudices; the art still prevailed (Artble, 2013).
As it was shown already, all three works depict female body and subsequent embodiment of femininity. In terms of forms, all three paintings are naturalistic and concentrated on one subject - the described female. No composition or presence of the third parties is shown in any of paintings. In all three works, female figures are centred since they are the aim and the purpose for each painting. In all three cases, the play of light and shadow is used to show that central role of the described subjects - female figures are lighter, more colourful, than their surrounding background, which is often either dark shadow as in cases of the first two works or of a darker colour, as in the case of Renoir. The technique is also different, while the first two works uses a brush in a conventional way; Renoir follows the small strokes technique, which makes his girl look more divine and radiant since not only her outlines become a bit blurry and limpid, but her very appearance of a fairy-tale, yet real beauty. Therefore, the message in each painting is different - David shows female beauty as an enduring and stable glimpse in the moment of time while Goya represents a female in her dreamy sexuality, but it is Renoir who gives the most emotions and strengths to one's impression of young girl's beauty in its fragility of the captured moment.
Taking into consideration all mentioned above, it can be argued that complexity of content was the most important for David, a bit less for Goya, and was entirely simplified by Renoir. This difference was again largely conditioned by the message each painter wanted to send. For David, as a representative of Neo-Classicism, the context of the main subject was crucial for sending a certain message, which in this case was endurance of female beauty and also universal values of freedom through time. This was shown by paying attention to the details of Ancient decorum and subsequent facilitation of the chosen subject into the fashion and style of Ancient Rome (Carrier, 2003). For Goya, content and attention for details served the aim of creating the romantic atmosphere of a painting, which was achieved through facilitation of a female body on the bed with lace pillows and velvet cover (HaeLim Lee, 2011). This again served the purpose of showing fragility of femininity. For Renoir, simplicity was the answer to content. He concentrated on the subject of female beauty and showed it in it full, through placing her on the close-up, unlike the first two works.
Referring to the aesthetic qualities of all three paintings, each has its benefits and meaning. David's work is triggers thoughts about time and how each epoch changes the perception on crucial values, like female beauty, family, and freedom. In this context, he frames female femininity in social and contextual restraints; she is far from freedom, rather is a woman of duty and responsibilities (Carrier, 2003). Although Goya shows aesthetic beauty of female nude body, and expresses female sexuality on a very direct manner, his woman is still not entirely free in her appearance and self-realisation, mainly because of the social belonging to the upper classes of society, shown through her duty towards that belonging (HaeLim, 2011). Finally, Renoir shows a complete freedom of femininity in its simplicity and natural appearance irrespective of time and social conditions (Artble, 2013). Therefore, these three works show the evolution of female femininity with its complete freedom.
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