The period from the 18th to the late 20th centuries has been characterized by a diversity of artistic styles. Four of the most prominent are Neoclassicism from the 18th century, Impressionism from the 19th, Fauvism from the early 20th and Abstract Expressionism from the second part of the 20th century.
The Oath of the Horatii (picture 1) is a work by the French painter Jacques Louis David. The artist created the work in 1784 and the medium is oil on canvas (Facos, 2011, p. 39). Cornelia Pointing her Children as her Treasures (picture 2) was painted by Angelica Kauffmann is 1785 and its medium is also oil on canvas (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 925). Both paintings belong to the Neoclassical style which developed in the second half of the 18th century. The style was a result of the ideas of the Enlightenment, the archaeological finds from the Classical antiquity in the South of Europe and a renewed interest in the classical art, and because of these became very popular. It was also, at the same time, a rejection of the earlier Baroque and Rococo styles (Tarabra, 2008, p. 109).
Picture. 1. Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784, oil on canvas
Neoclassical artists preferred stories from the classical past that had a moral lesson, like the ones depicted in the paintings of David and Kauffmann (Facos, 2011, p.28). They used mostly sober colors, clear lines and very few decoration elements and displayed a sense of solemnity. David’s work was created a few years before the French Revolution, and although originally a royal commission, it soon became a symbol of the revolutionary ideas, mainly because of its subject that came from the Roman Republic and emphasized loyalty to one’s country (Facos, 2011, p. 39-40). Kauffmann’s painting on the other hand, is historically significant because she is one of the few women in the pre-20th century world to have become famous.
Picture 2. Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing her Children as her Treasures, 1785, oil on canvas
Pierre Auguste Renoir, a 19th century French artist created Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (picture 3) in 1876, and the work was painted with oil colors on canvas (Facos, 2011, p. 318). Claude Monet, who lived in the same period as Renoir and exhibited his works with him, painted Boulevard des Capucines (picture 4) a few years earlier, in 1873-74 and he used the same materials as Renoir (Facos, 2011, p. 311). The works belong to the Impressionist style that emerged in the later part of the 19th century. The Impressionists were initially rejected by critics, but the style became later one of the most popular ever to have ever existed. This is mainly due to the fact that Impressionism is the first style to be associated with modernity (Samu, 2004). The Impressionists changed art in many ways. To begin with, they chose subject matter that had to do with their everyday urban reality. They chose to paint their works mostly outdoors and not in studios, while they paid particular attention to light. They used bright colors and sketchy brushstrokes that give a sense of spontaneity (Samu, 2004).
Picture 3. Pierre Auguste Renoir, Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876, oil on canvas
Monet is one of the most famous Impressionists, following the ideas of the movement for the whole of his career (Pioch, 2002). Because of this, any work he created is historically important as an integral part of the Impressionist movement. Furthermore, this is a rare glimpse in the life of late 19th century Paris, a blooming urban center in the century of the Industrial revolution (Facos, 2011, p. 310), and this makes this particular painting even more historically significant.
Picture 4. Claude Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1873-74, oil on canvas
Equally, Renoir’s work gives the viewer another glimpse of Parisian life. Renoir depicted a place of leisure inside the city and chose to show his subjects enjoying their free time (Facos, 2011, p. 319).
Henri Matisse created the Red Room (Harmony in Red) (picture 5) using oil on canvas in 1908-9 (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p.1035). Andre Derain, another French artist, painted his own work, London Bridge (picture 6) in 1906, and he used the same materials as Matisse –oil on canvas (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p. 1034). Both works of art belong to the Fauvist movement, a short lived style that had nevertheless a great impact in the art of the 20th century (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p. 1033). Although initially not appreciated by critics –as was the case with the Impressionists a few decades earlier- who called this group of artists les fauves (wild beasts), the movement proved an inspiration for many subsequent styles (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p.1033).
Color was the most important element in the work of the Fauves and they chose to decorate their canvases with a number of vivid colors, like green, blue, yellow, orange and red. At the same time, the Fauves chose to depict their subjects through simple designs, large brushstrokes and bold patterns (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p. 1033-1034). Their designs were influenced by cultures outside the western tradition (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p. 1033).
Matisse’s Red Room displays all of the major characteristics of the Fauvist style, and he himself was the leader of the short-lived movement (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p. 1034). As such, it is one of the most recognizable works of the style and thus a historically significant piece in the long and often diverse career of the artist.
Picture 5. Henri Matisse, Red Room (Harmony in Red), 1908, oil on canvas
Derain’s work also displays the characteristics of the Fauvist style and tries to display the emotional reaction of the artist to his subject through the dramatic use of color (Tansey and Kleiner, 1996, p. 1034). His subject is still recognizable, but is distorted and not naturalistic, closer to the art the 20th century would be accustomed to see.
Picture 6. Andre Derain. London Bridge, 1906, oil on canvas
Jackson Pollock’s Number 28 (picture 7) from 1950 has been created with the technique of enamel on canvas. Mark Rothko’s 1958 No. 13 (White, Red, on Yellow) (picture 8) is a combination of oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas (Paul, 2004).
The Abstract Expressionists, to which both Pollock and Rothko belonged, did not share an identical style, but instead, some common ideas about their work and some common characteristics, the primary of which is abstraction (Paul, 2004). They also paid particular attention to the process of creating their works, which they believed reflected their own souls. Because of this, spontaneity and improvisation were considered important in the creation of a work of art (Paul, 2004). The way Abstract Expressionists –who established themselves in the 1940’s- approached art is revolutionary both in terms of technique and subject matter and this is one of the reasons the style soon became popular.
The historical significance of Jackson Pollock’s work is not limited in the fame that surrounds the artist. Instead, it was created on the floor with Pollock experimenting with a variety of techniques that resulted in a work of art totally abstract but yet surprisingly harmonious (Paul, 2004).
Picture 7. Jackson Pollock. Number 28, 1950, enamel on canvas
Mark Rothko’s work is certainly different as the artist has applied different colors in almost geometric forms. For Rothko, this was his way of expressing strong feelings in large canvases, making them an intimate experience unlike traditional large canvases of the past (Paul, 2004).
Picture 8. Mark Rothko. No. 13 (White, Red, on Yellow), 1958, oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas
Having examined four different styles from the 18th until the middle of the 20th century and having seen works from eight different artists, I came to the conclusion that for me the most interesting style is Impressionism. In a period of great change, shortly before the tumultuous 20th century, the Impressionists put the basis for modern art, breaking away with tradition with bravery and determination. Their works are still among the most popular of Western art and they are both technically perfect and aesthetically pleasing.
Facos, M. (2011) An Introduction to Ninetheenth-Century Art. New York and London: Routledge.
Samu, M. (2004) “Impressionism: Art and Modernity”, in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm
Paul, S. (2004) “Abstract Expressionism”, in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/abex/hd_abex.htm
Pioch, N. (2002) “Monet, Claude”. Web Museum. Retrieved from: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/monet/
Stokstad, M. and Cothren, M.W. (2011) Art History, Vol. II, 4th Edition. Boston: Prentice Hall.
Tansey, R. G. and Kleiner, F.S. (1996) Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Tarabra, D. (2008) European Art of the Eighteenth Century (Trans. R.M.G. Frongia). Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum.
David, J.L. (1784) The Oath of the Horatii. Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/his/CoreArt/art/neocl_dav_oath.html
Derain, A. (1906) London Bridge. Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: http://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/andre-derain-london-bridge-1906
Kauffmann, A. (1785) Cornelia Pointing her Children as her Treasures. Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/kauffmanns-cornelia-presenting-her-children-as-her-treasures.html
Matisse, H. (1908) Red Room (Harmony in Red). Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/08/hm88_0_2_70_0.html
Monet, C. (1873-74) Boulevard des Capucines. Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: www.nga.gov.au/monetjapan/Detail.cfm?WorkID=W293&ZoomID=3
Pollock, J. (1950) Number 28. Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/490217
Renoir, P.A. (1876) Dance at the Moulin de la Galette. Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting.html?no_cache=1&S=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=4038
Rothko, M. (1958) No. 13 (White, Red, on Yellow.) Retrieved June, 16 2014 from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1985.63.5