Seismic Shifts in Subject and Style:

19th-Century French Painting and Philosophy

by Dianne L. Durante

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Seismic Shifts

About the book

What caused the seismic shifts in subject and style over the course of the 19th century – from Madame Recamier, by Jacques-Louis David (1800), to Luxe, Calme, et Volupte, by Matisse (1904)? Dominant artistic trends are not the result of a collective consciousness working its will. They are simply the styles that the majority of artists choose to embrace - and each of those artists makes his own choice of style. This 30,000-word essay seeks the reasons for the changes in a combination of art analysis and philosophical detection.

During the 19th century, France was the epicenter for artistic change. We survey the works of 18 French artists: Neoclassicists David, Ingres, and Corot; Romantics Gros, Gericault, and Delacroix; Naturalists Millet and Courbet; Manet; Impressionists Monet, Renoir, and Degas; Post-Impressionists Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin; Pointillist Seurat; Symbolist Moreau; and Academic Bouguereau.

In the philosophical-detection sections of the essay, we read what these artists plus a few influential art critics (Baudelaire, Ruskin, Zola) had to say about four issues crucial for artists: the role of training; the role of reason vs. emotion in creating art; the importance of style vs. subject; and qualifications for judging art.  Then we see how these statements relate to the subject and style of these artists’ works, and to the philosophical context of the time, particularly the ideas of Immanuel Kant.

Originally published as "19th-Century French Painting and Philosophy,"The Objective Standard, A Journal of Culture and Politics, vol. 1, no. 3 (Fall 2006). The article isavailable from The Objective Standard in print.

Table of contents

1. Introduction

1.1 Enlightenment Ideas and the Philosophy of Kant

1.2 Writings of 19th-Century French Painters

2. Prelude: The Academy and the Salon

3. Neoclassicism

3.1 Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825): paintings

3.1.1 David on Training

3.1.2 David on Reason, Emotions, and Art

3.1.3 David on Style and Subject

3.1.4 David on Judging Art

3.1.5 Final Words on David

3.1.6 References

3.2 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867): paintings

3.2.1 Ingres on Training

3.2.2 Ingres on Reason, Emotions, and Art

3.3.3 Ingres on Judging Art

3.2.4 References

3.3 Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875): paintings

3.3.1 Corot on Reason, Emotions, and Art

3.3.2 Final Words on Corot

3.3.3 References

3.4 Summary of Neoclassicism

4. Romanticism: What it is

4.1 Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835): paintings

4.2 Théodore Géricault (1791-1824): paintings

4.2.1 Géricault on Training

4.2.2 Géricault on Reason, Emotions, and Art

4.2.3 References

4.3 Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863): paintings

4.3.1 Delacroix on Reason, Emotions, and Art

4.3.2 References

4.4 Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867), art critic

4.4.1 References

4.5 Summary of Romanticism

4.5.1 Subjects of Romantic paintings

4.5.2 Style of Romantic paintings

4.5.3 Romantic vs. Neoclassical

5. Naturalism

5.1 Introduction: what it is

5.1.1 A side note on Naturalism: Ayn Rand’s definition

5.1.2 19th-c. Naturalism

5.1.3 References

5.2 Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875): paintings

5.2.1 Millet on Reason, Emotions, and Art

5.2.2 Millet on Judging Art

5.2.3. References

5.3 Gustave Courbet (1819-1877): paintings

5.3.1 Courbet on Training

5.3.2 Courbet on Reason, Emotions, and Art

5.3.3 Courbet on Style and Subject

5.3.4 Courbet on Judging Art

5.3.5 References

5.4 John Ruskin (1819-1900), art critic

5.4.1 Ruskin on Training

5.4.2 Ruskin on Style and Subject

5.4.3 Ruskin on Judging Art

5.4.4 References

6. Summary of Artists on Art to the 1860s

6.1 Training

6.2 Reason and emotions

6.3 Style and subject

6.4 Judging art

7. Transition

7.1 Edouard Manet (1832-1883): paintings

7.1.1 Manet on Training

7.1.2 Manet on Style and Subject

7.1.3 Manet on Judging Art

7.1.4 References

7.2 Emile Zola (1840-1902): Manet’s Promoter

7.2.1 Zola on Reason, Emotions, and Art

7.2.2 Zola on Style and Subject

7.2.3 References

8. Impressionism

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Claude Monet (1840-1926): paintings

8.2.1 Monet on Style and Subject

8.2.2 References

8.3 Edgar Degas (1834-1917): paintings

8.3.1 Degas on Training

8.3.2 Degas on Reason, Emotions, and Art

8.3.3 References

8.4 Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919): paintings

8.4.1 Renoir on Reason, Emotions, and Art

8.4.2 References

8.5 Summary of Manet and Impressionism

8.5.1 Training

8.5.2 Reason vs. emotions

8.5.3 Style and subject

8.5.4 Judging art

9. Post-Impressionism

9.1 Paul Cézanne (1839-1906): paintings

9.1.1 Cézanne on Training

9.1.2 Cézanne on Reason, Emotions, and Art

9.1.3 Cézanne on Style and Subject

9.1.4 Cézanne on Judging Art

9.1.5 Cézanne’s Influence

9.1.6 References

9.2 Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890): paintings

9.2.1 Van Gogh on Reason, Emotions, and Art

9.2.2 References

9.3 Paul Gauguin (1848-1903): paintings

9.3.1 Gauguin on Reason, Emotions, and Art

9.3.2 References

10. Pointillism

10.1 Georges Seurat (1859-1891): paintings

10.1. 2 Seurat on Style and Subject

10.1.3 Seurat on Art

10.1.4 References

11. Symbolism

11.1 Gustave Moreau (1826-1898): paintings

11.1.1 Moreau on Reason, Emotions, and Art

11.1.2 Moreau on Judging Art

11.1.3 References

12. Academic Painters

12.1 Introduction

12.2 William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905): paintings

12.2.1 Bouguereau on Training

12.2.2 Bouguereau on Judging Art

12.2.3 References

13. Conclusion: Art and Philosophy

13.1 The Proper Definition of Art, and Art’s Purpose

13.1.1 References

13.2 An Artist’s Training

13.2.2 References

13.3 Reason, Emotions, and Art

13.4 Style and Subject

13.5 Judging Art

13.5.1 References

13.6 Hope for the Future

14. Illustrations

15. About the Author, Dianne L. Durante

16. Changes from the version published in The Objective Standard (2006)