Neoclassicism | Art Movement

Neoclassicism began in Europe in the late 1700's and lasted until the early 1800's. The movement revived ancient Greek and Roman stylization in European art. Neoclassical art emphasized courage, sacrifice, nationalism, and tradition. Neoclassicism spread throughout Europe, but France and England were the countries that used neoclassical art the most.

There are many reasons for the start of neoclassicism. The discovery of ancient artefacts at the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii was a big inspiration to neoclassicism. German art historian Johann J. Winckelmann may have also helped develop the movement when he stated that the most important aspects of classical art were "noble simplicity and calm grandeur." Neoclassicism was also created to replace the ostentatious baroque and rococo art styles.

Neoclassicism was very important in France. The movement started as a rebellion against the rococo style, which symbolised French aristocracy. After the French Revolution, France became a democracy, putting an end to aristocratic rule. The new leaders of France wished to model the government on the high virtues and moral principles of classical Rome. Therefore, neoclassical artists were commissioned to create paintings and sculptures that depicted inspirational scenes from Roman history. Even architecture and interior design began to reflect the neoclassical period.

One of the leading neoclassical painters was Jacques Louis David of France. He painted The Oath of the Haratti five years before the French Revolution began, but it illustrated the artistic ideals of neoclassicism. His painting showed two brothers swearing to fight for the Roman Republic, even though it caused sadness for their families. This picture, as with David's later paintings, expressed patriotism, self-sacrifice, and public duty.

David's neoclassical paintings were message-oriented, and he omitted distracting details and painterly effects. David painted simple, solid figures in vibrant colours. His style influenced many other neoclassical artists of his time, such as Antonio Canova, Joseph Marie Vien, Robert Adam, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, and Josiah Wedgwood.

When Napoleon rose into power in France in the 1790's, he influenced the direction of neoclassicism. Napoleon instructed French artists to shift neoclassical subject from ancient Roman to modern history. Napoleon commissioned many neoclassical artists to paint him as a national hero.

With Napoleon in power, many artists began to abandon the simplicity characterized in David's work. They started to include more important historical figures in their paintings and made the action look more complicated. However, they continued painting solid figures in bright colours.

Then in 1820, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres of France changed the face of neoclassicism by abandoning solid figures, bright colours, and patriotic messages. Instead Ingres painted graceful, uncluttered paintings that emphasized the element of line. One of his most famous paintings is Comtesse d'Haussonville, which is a perfectly balanced portrait of a young lady.

Around 1830, the neoclassicism movement was replaced by Romanticism.

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