"Can Jupiter survive the lightning rod?" asked Karl Marx, not long
after the middle of the century. The question, implying that the ancient
god of thunder and lightning was now in jeopardy through science, sums
up the dilemma we felt in the sculptor Carpeaux's The Dance (fig.
The French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire was
addressing himself to the same problem when, in
1846, he called for paintings that expressed "the
heroism of modern life."
At that time only one painter was willing
to make an artistic creed of this demand: Baudelaire's friend
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).
under the impact of the revolutionary upheavals then
sweeping over Europe, he had come to believe that the Romantic emphasis
on feeling and imagination was merely an escape from the realities of
the time. The modern artist must rely on direct experience"I
cannot paint an angel because I have never seen one," he saidthey
must be Realists. As a descriptive term, "realism" is not very precise.
For Courbet, it meant something akin to the "naturalism"
of Caravaggio (fig.
As an admirer of Louis Le Nain and Rembrandt he
had, in fact, strong links with the Caravaggesque tradition, and his
work, like Caravaggio's, was denounced for its supposed vulgarity and
lack of spiritual content. What ultimately defines Courbet's Realism,
however, and distinguishes it from Romanticism is his allegiance to
radical politics. His Socialist views colored his entire outlook, and
although it did not determine the specific content or appearance of his
pictures, it does help to account for his choice of subject matter and
style, which went against the grain of tradition.
COURBET AND REALISM.
Courbet was born in Ornans, a village near the French-Swiss border, and
remained proud of his rural background. He had begun as a Neo-Baroque
Romantic in the early 1840s. But by
The storm broke in 1849,
when Courbet exhibited The Stone Breakers (fig.
945), the first canvas
fully embodying his programmatic Realism. Here, for the first time, was
a picture that treated an apparent genre scene with the same seriousness
and monumentality as a history painting, in disregard of the academic
hierarchy, and with a heavy impasto that violated accepted standards of
finish. Courbet had seen two men working on a road, and had asked them
to pose for him in his studio. He painted them lifesize, solidly and
matter-of-factly. The picture is very much larger than anything by
Millet, and with none of his overt pathos or sentiment (compare fig.
897). The young man's face
is averted, the old one's half hidden by a hat. Yet he cannot have
picked them casually. Their contrast in age is significant: one is too
old for such heavy work, the other too young. Endowed with the dignity
of their symbolic status, they do not turn to us for sympathy. Courbet's
friend, the Socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, likened them to a parable
from the Gospels.
Gustave Courbet. The Stone Breakers.
Formerly Gemaldegaierie, Dresden
During the 1855 Paris
Exposition, where works by Ingres and Delacroix were prominently
displayed, Courbet brought his pictures to attention by organizing a
private exhibition in a large shed and by distributing a "manifesto of
Realism." The show centered on a huge canvas, the most ambitious of his
career, entitled Studio of a Painter: A Real Allegory Summarizing My
Seven Years of Life as an Artist (fig.
"Real allegory" is something of a teaser.
Allegories, after all, are unreal by definition. Courbet meant either an
allegory couched in the terms of his particular Realism, or one that did
not conflict with the "real" identity of the figures or objects
The framework is familiar: Courbet's composition clearly belongs to
the type of Velazquez' The Maids of Honor and Goya's The
Family of Charles IV (see figs. 774
But now the artist has moved to the center, and the visitors here are
his guests, not royal patrons who enter whenever they wish.
He has invited them specially for a purpose that becomes evident only
upon thoughtful reflection. The picture does not yield its full meaning
unless we take the title seriously and inquire into Courbet's relation
to this assembly.
There are two main groups. On the left are "the people." They are
types rather than individuals, drawn largely from the artist's home
environment at Ornans: hunters, peasants, workers, a Jew, a priest, a
young mother with her baby. On the right, in contrast, we see groups of
portraits representing the Parisian side of Courbet's life: clients,
critics, intellectuals. (The man reading is Baudelaire.) All of these
people are strangely passive, as if they were waiting for we know not
what. Some are quietly conversing among themselves, others seem immersed
in thought. Yet hardly anybody looks at Courbet. They are not his
audience, but a representative sampling of his social environment.
Only two people watch the artist at work: a small
boy, intended to suggest "the innocent eye," and the nude model.
is her role? In a more conventional picture, we would identity her as
Inspiration, or Courbet's Muse, but she is no less "real" than the
others here. Courbet probably meant her to be Nature, or that
undisguised Truth which he proclaimed to be the guiding principle of his
art. (Note the emphasis on the clothing she has just taken off.)
Significantly enough, the center group is
illuminated by clear, sharp daylight, but the background and the lateral
figures are veiled in semidarkness, to underline the contrast between
the artistthe active
creator and the world
around him that waits to be brought to life.
Studio of a Painter. 185455. Oil on canvas.
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
MANET AND THE "REVOLUTION OF THE COLOR PATCH."
Courbet's Studio helps us to understand a picture that shocked
the public even more: Luncheon on the Grass, showing a nude model
accompanied by two gentlemen in frock coats, by
(1832-1883). Manet was the first
to grasp Courbet's full importance; his Luncheon, among other
things, is a tribute to the older artist. He particularly offended
contemporary morality by juxtaposing the nude and nattily attired
figures in an outdoor setting, the more so since the noncommittal title
offered no "higher" significance. Yet the group has so formal a pose
that Manet certainly did not intend to depict an actual event.
Perhaps the meaning of the canvas lies in this denial of plausibility,
for the scene fits neither the plane of everyday experience nor that of
The Luncheon, as a visual manifesto of artistic freedom, is
much more revolutionary than Courbet's. It asserts the painter's
privilege to combine whatever elements he pleases for aesthetic effect
alone. The nudity of the model is "explained" by the contrast between
her warm, creamy flesh tones and the cool black-and-gray of the men's
attire. Or, to put it another way, the world of painting has "natural
laws" that are distinct from those of familiar reality, and the
painter's first loyalty is to his canvas, not to the outside world. Here
begins an attitude that was later summed up in the doctrine of Art for
Art's Sake and became a bone of contention between progressives and
conservatives for the rest of the century. Manet himself disdained
such controversies, but his work attests to his lifelong devotion to
"pure painting": to the belief that brushstrokes and color patches
themselvesnot what they
stand forare the artist's
primary reality. Among painters of the past, he found that Hals,
Velazquez, and Goya had come closest to this ideal. He admired their
broad, open technique, their preoccupation with light and color values.
Many of his canvases are, in fact, "pictures of pictures": they
translate into modern terms those older works that particularly
challenged him. Yet he always took care to filter out the expressive or
symbolic content of his models, lest the beholder's attention be
distracted from the pictorial structure itself. His paintings,
regardless of subject, have an emotional reticence that can easily be
mistaken for emptiness unless we understand its purpose.
Courbet is said to have remarked that Manet's pictures were as flat
as playing cards. Looking at The Fifer (fig.
we can see what he meant.
Done three years after the Luncheon, it is a painting with very
little modeling, no depth, and hardly any shadows. (There are a few,
actually, but it takes a real effort to find them.) The figure looks
three-dimensional only because its contour renders the forms in realistic
foreshortening. Otherwise, Manet eschews all the methods devised since
Giotto's time for transforming a flat surface into a pictorial space.
The undifferentiated light-gray background seems as near to us as the
figure, and just as solid. II the fifer stepped out of the picture, he
would leave a hole, like the cutout shape of a stencil.
Here, then, the canvas itself has been
redefined. It is no longer a "window,"
but a screen made up of flat patches of color. How
radical a step this was can be readily seen if we match The lifer
against Delacroix's The Massacre at Chios (fig.
888), and a Cubist work such as
Picasso's Three Dancers of 1925
The structure of Manet's painting obviously resembles
that of Picasso's, whereas Delacroix'sor
even Courbet sstill
follows the "window "
tradition of the Renaissance. In retrospect, we realize that the
revolutionary qualities of Manet's art could already be seen in the
Luncheon, even if they were not yet so obvious. The three figures
lifted from Raphael's group of river-gods form a unit nearly as
shadowless and stencillike as 'The Fifer They would be more at
home on a flat screen, for the chiaroscuro of their present setting,
which is inspired by the landscapes of Courbet, no longer fits them.
947. EDOUARD MANET. The Fifer.
1866. Musee d'Orsav, Paris
MONET AND IMPRESSIONISM.
What brought about this "revolution of the color patch"? We do not know,
and Manet himself surely did not reason it out beforehand. It is
tempting to think that he was impelled to create the new style by the
challenge of photography. The "pencil of nature,'
then known for a quarter-century, had
demonstrated the objective truth of Renaissance perspective, but it
established a standard of representational accuracy that no handmade
image could hope to rival. Painting needed to be rescued from
competition with the camera. This Manet accomplished by insisting that a painted canvas is,
above all, a material surface covered with pigmentsthat
we must look at it, not through it. Unlike Courbet, he
gave no name to the style he had created. When his followers began
calling themselves Impressionists, he refused to adopt the term for his
own work. His aim was to be accepted as a Salon painter, a goal that
eluded him until late in life.
The word Impressionism had been coined in
1874, after a hostile critic had looked at a
picture entitled Impression: Sunrise by
(1840-1926), and it certainly
fits Monet better than it does Manet. Monet had adopted Manet's concept
of painting and applied it to landscapes done outdoors. Monet's The
River of 1868 (fig.
948) is flooded with
sunlight so bright that conservative critics claimed it made their eyes
smart. In this flickering network of color patches, shaped like mosaic
tesserae, the reflections on the water are as "real" as the banks of the
Seine. Even more than The Fifer, Monet's painting is a
"playing card." Were it not for the woman and the boat in the
foreground, the picture would be just as effective upside-down. The
mirror image here serves a purpose contrary to that of earlier mirror
images (compare fig. 555).
Instead of adding to the illusion of real space, it
strengthens the unity of the actual painted surface. This inner
coherence sets The River apart from Romantic "impressions" such
as Constable's Hampstead Heath (see fig.
902) or Corot's View of Rome (see
894), even though all
three share the same on-the-spot immediacy and fresh perception.
In the late 1860s and early 1870s Monet and his friend
together to develop Impressionism into a fully mature style, one that
proved ideally suited to painting outdoors. Monet's Red Boats,
(fig. 949) captures to
perfection the intense sunlight of Argenteuil along the Seine near
Paris, where the artist was spending his summers. Now the flat
brushstrokes have become flecks of paint, which convey an extraordinary
range of visual effects. The amazingly free brush weaves a tapestry of
rich color inspired by the late paintings of Delacroix. Despite its
spontaneity, Monet's technique retains an underlying logic in which each
color and brushstroke has its place. As an aesthetic, then.
Impressionism was hardly the straightforward realism it first seems. It
nevertheless remained an intuitive approach, even in its color, although
the Impressionists were familiar with many of the optical theories that
were to provide the basis for Seurat's Divisionism.
Claude Monet. The River). 1868. The Art
Institute of Chicago. Potter Palmer Collection
Claude Monet. Red Boats,
Argenteuil. 1875. Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The method that Monet and Renoir evolved was soon adopted by
other members of the group. The landscapes of
(1830-1903) have an unaffected
naturalism that places him close to the Barbizon School, and a firm,
almost classical structure that was shared only by his friend Paul
We see these qualities in The Cote des Boeufs at
l'Hermitage, near Pontoise (fig.
More than any other Impressionist, Pissarro was
concerned with rural existence and scenery, and the painting has a real
feel for that way of life. The artist makes no attempt to beautify the
overgrown landscape, yet the stately procession of trees and blocklike
buildings lend the picture a timeless dignity. The surprisingly abstract
composition establishes a complex rhythm across the picture plane. This
structure lends order to the tangled network of forms embedded in the
dense surface texture, which evokes the rebirth of life in early
The Cote des Boeufs at
l'Hermitage, near Pontoise.
The National Gallery, London
halls, cafes, concerts, the theater
were favorite subjects for them. These carefree
vignettes of bourgeois pleasure are flights from the cares of daily
Auguste Renoir filled his work with the joie de vivre of a
singularly happy temperament. The flirting couples in Le Moulin de la Galette (fig.
dappled with sunlight and shadow, radiate a human warmth that is utterly
entrancing, even though the artist permits us no more than a fleeting
glance at any of them. Our role is that of the casual stroller, who
takes in this slice of life in passing.
The Impressionist painters answered Baudelaire's call to
artists to capture the "heroism of modern life" by depicting its dress
and its pastimes. Scenes from the world of entertainment
under Monet's influence. Manet nevertheless remained the
finest painter of all the Impressionists. His last major picture, A
Bar at the Folies-Bergere, of 188182
is an unequaled tour de
force. The canvas shows a single figure as calm and as firmly set within
the rectangle of the canvas as the filer, but the background is no
longer neutral. A huge shimmering mirror image now fills four-fifths of
the picture. The mirror, close behind the barmaid, shows the whole
interior of the nightclub, but deprives it of three-dimensionality, in
part by taking liberties with the scene. (Note how the barmaid's
reflection is shown off to one side, something that is impossible in reality.) The serving girl's attitude, detached
and touched with melancholy, contrasts poignantly with the gaiety of her
setting, which she is not permitted to share. For all its urbanity, the
mood of the canvas reminds us oddly of Daumier's The Third-Class
Carriage (see fig.
Auguste Renoir. Le Moulin de
la Galette. 1876. Musee d'Orsay, Paris
MANET AND IMPRESSIONISM.
Such spontaneity came less easily to the austere, deliberate
Edouard Manet; it
appears in his work only after about
too, had a profound sense of human character that lends weight even to
seemingly casual scenes such as that in The Glass of Absinthe
(fig. 953). He makes us
look steadily at the disenchanted pair in his cafe scene, but out of the
corner of our eye, so to speak. The design of this picture at first
seems as unstudied as a snapshotDegas
a longer look shows us that everything here dovetails precisely. The
zigzag of empty tables between us and the luckless couple reinforces
their brooding loneliness, for example. Compositions as boldly
calculated as this set Degas apart from other Impressionists.
Edouard Manet. A Bar at the
Courtauld Institute Galleries, Home House Trustees, London
A wealthy aristocrat by birth, he had been trained in the tradition
of Ingres, whom he greatly admired. When he joined the Impressionists,
Degas did not abandon his early allegiance to draftsmanship. His finest works were often done in pastels
(powdered pigments molded into sticks), which had a strong appeal for
him since they yielded effects of line, tone, and color simultaneously.
Prima Ballerina (fig. 954)
well demonstrates this flexible medium. The oblique view
of the stage, from a box near the proscenium arch, has been shaped into
another deliberately off-center composition. The dancer floats above the
steeply tilted floor like a butterfly caught in the glare of the
Edgar Degas. The Glass of
Absinthe. 1876. Musee d'Orsay,
Edgar Degas. Prima Ballerina,
ρ. 1876. Musee
A decade later, The Tub (fig.
is again an oblique view, but now severe, almost
geometric in design. The tub and the crouching woman, both vigorously
outlined, form a circle within a square, and the rest of the rectangular
format is filled by a shelf so sharply tilted that it almost shares the
plane of the picture. Yet on this shelf Degas has placed two pitchers
that are hardly foreshortened at all. (Note how the curve of the small
one fits the handle of the other.) Here the tension between "two-D
" and "three-D
" surface and depth comes close
to the breaking point. The Tub is Impressionist only in its
shimmering, luminous colors. Its other qualities are more characteristic of the 1880s, the first Post-Impressionist decade,
when many artists showed a renewed concern with problems of form.
Edgar Degas. The Tub.
(1841 1895), a member of the group from its
inception, was the world she knew: the domestic life of the French upper
middle class, which she depicted with sympathetic understanding.
Morisot's early paintings, centering on her mother and her sister Edma,
were influenced at first by Manet, whose brother she later married, but
they have a subtle sense of alienation distinctive to her. Her mature
work is altogether different in character. The birth of her daughter
Julie in 1878 signaled a
change in her art, which reached its height during the following decade.
Her painting of a little girl reading in a room overlooking the artist's
garden (fig. 956) shows a
light-filled style of her own making. Morisot applied her virtuoso
brushwork with a
sketchlike brevity that omits non-essential details yet conveys a
complete impression of the scene. The figure is fully integrated within
the formal design, whose appeal is enhanced by the pastel hues she
favored. Morisot's painting radiates an air of contentment free of the
sentimentality that often affects genre paintings of the period.
The Impressionists' ranks included several women of great
ability. The subject matter of
Berthe Morisot. La
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Surprisingly, Americans were the first patrons of the
Impressionists, responding to the new style sooner than
Europeans did. At a time when no French museum would have
them, Impressionist works entered public collections in the
United States, and American painters such as Whistler and
(1845-1926) were among the
earliest followers of Manet and his circle. Cassatt joined the
Impressionists in 1877,
becoming a tireless champion of their work. She had received a standard
academic training in her native Philadelphia, but had to straggle to
overcome traditional barriers. Like Morisot, she was able to pursue her
career as an artist, an occupation regarded as unsuitable for women,
because she was independently wealthy. Cassatt was instrumental in
gaining early acceptance of Impressionist paintings in the United States through her social
contacts with wealthy private collectors. Although she never married,
maternity provided the thematic and formal focus of most of her work.
Cassatt developed a highly accomplished individual style, seen at its
best in The Bath (fig.
which is characteristic of her mature work around
1890. The oblique view,
simplified color forms, and flat composition show the impact of her
mentor Degas, as well as her study of Japanese prints. Despite the
complexity of its design, the painting has a directness that lends
simple dignity to motherhood.
Mary Cassatt. The Bath.
The Art Institute of Chicago
MONET'S LATER WORKS.
By the mid-1880s Impressionism became widely
accepted, its technique imitated by conservative painters and practiced
as a fusion style by a growing number of artists worldwide. Ironically,
the movement now underwent a deep crisis. Manet died in
1883. Renoir, already beset by
doubts, moved toward a more classical style. Racked by internal
dissension, the group held its last show in 1886.
At that time Pissarro abandoned Impressionism
altogether in favor of Seurat's Divisionism for several years.
Among the major figures of the movement,
Monet alone remained faithful to the Impressionist view of nature.
Nevertheless, his work became more subjective over time, although he
never ventured into fantasy, nor did he forsake the basic approach of
his earlier landscapes.
Claude Monet began to paint pictures in series, showing
the same subject under various conditions of light and atmosphere. These
tended increasingly to resemble Turner's "airy visions, painted with
tinted steam" as Monet concentrated on effects of colored light. (He had
visited London and knew Turner's work.) His Water Lilies, Giverny (fig.
958) is a fascinating
sequel to The River (fig. 948)
across a span of almost 40
years. The surface of the pond now takes up the entire
canvas, so that the effect of a weightless screen is stronger than ever.
The artist's brushwork, too, has greater variety and a more individual
rhythm. While the scene is still based on nature, this is no ordinary
landscape but one entirely of his making. On the estate at Giverny given
to him late in life by the French government, the artist created a
self-contained world for purely personal and artistic purposes. The
subjects he painted there are as much reflections of his imagination as
they are of reality. They convey a very different sense of time as well.
Instead of the single moment captured in The River, his Water
Lilies, Giverny summarizes a shifting impression of the pond in
response to the changing water as the breezes play across it.
958. CLAUDE MONET. Water Lilies,
1907. Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art,
Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture
when Courbet launched his revolutionary doctrine of
Realism, a concern with "the heroism of modern life
asserted itself quite independently in
English painting as well, although the movement lacked a leader of
Courbet's stature and assertiveness.
By the time Monet came to admire his work, Turner's
reputation was at a low ebb in his own country. In
Perhaps the best-known example of English Realism is The Last of
(1821-1893), a picture that
enjoyed enormous popularity throughout the latter half of the century in
the English-speaking world. The subjecta
group of emigrants as they set out on their long overseas journeymay
be less obvious today than it once was; nor does it carry the same
emotional charge. Nonetheless, there can be no question that the artist
has treated an important theme taken from modern experience, and that he
has done so with touching seriousness.
Brown. The Last
Art Gallery, Birmingham, England
The painting is intended to dramatize the conditions that made the
emigrants decide to leave England. The pathos of the scene may strike us
as a bit theatrical: note the contrast between the brooding young family
in the foreground (Brown used himself, his wife, and daughter as the
models) and the "good riddance" gesture of the man at the upper left. We
recognize its source in the "dumb shows" of Hogarth, whom Brown revered
style, however, has nothing in common with Hogarth's. Its extreme
precision of detail strikes us as almost photographic. No hint of
subjective "handwriting" is permitted to intervene between us and the
scene depicted. Brown had acquired this painstaking technique some years
earlier, after he met the Nazarenes, the group of German painters in
Rome who practiced what they regarded as a "medieval" style. He in turn
transmitted it to his three pupils who together in
1848 helped to found an artists'
society called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood:
Everett Millais (1829-1896),
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
THE PRE-RAPHAELITES. . . .
from nature," an objective inspired by the writings of
John Ruskin. As the name of the Brotherhood proclaims, its members took
their inspiration from the "primitive" masters of the fifteenth century.
To that extent, they belong to the Gothic revival, which had long been
an important aspect of the Romantic movement. What set the
Pre-Raphaelites apart from Romantics like the Nazarenes was an urge to
reform the ills of modern civilization through their art. In this they
were aroused by Chartism, the democratic working-class movement that
reached its peak in the revolutionary year 1848.
Brown himself never actually joined the
Pre-Raphaelites, but he shared their basic aims: to do battle against
the frivolous art of the day by having "genuine ideas to express" and by
producing "pure transcripts
The Awakening Conscience (fig. 960)
Holman Hunt, the artist who remained truest
to the Brotherhood's ideals, stands as perhaps the quintessential
Pre-Raphaelite statement. It, too, is a morality play in the tradition
of Hogarth. Inspired by an episode in Charles Dickens' David
Copperfield, the picture shows a young woman stirred to the
realization by the music she sings that she has been living in sin. The
scene is presented in obsessive detail, which is laden with symbolic
meaning: the print above the piano, for example, shows Christ and the
Woman Taken into Adultery, while the light reflected in the mirror is
that of religious revelation. Here the artist looked to the example of
Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (fig.
547), which had recently been acquired by the
National Gallery in London. Although he treated it as a personal moral
crisis, The Awakening Conscience addresses a very real social
problem of the time.
961), created as a memorial to
Siddal, imposes her features on a friend of his namesake, the Italian poet Dante, whose account of her death inspired the painting.
Rossetti explained the program in considerable detail: "The picture
illustrates the 'Vita Nuova,' embodying symbolically the death of
Beatrice as treated in that work. The picture is not intended at all to
represent death, but to render it under the semblance of a trance.
... I have introduced
. . . the figures of Dante
and Love passing through the street and gazing ominously on one another,
conscious of the event; while the bird, a messenger of death, drops the
poppy between the hands of Beatrice. She, through her shut lids, is
conscious of a new world." In this version, the artist has expressed the
hope of seeing his beloved Elizabeth again by adding a second panel
showing Dante and Beatrice meeting in Paradise and inscribing the dates
of their deaths on the frame. For all its apparent spirituality, the
painting radiates an aura of repressed eroticism that is the hallmark of
Rossetti's work and exerted a powerful influence on other
The Awakening Conscience.
1853. The Tate Gallery, London
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, unlike Hunt, was not concerned with social issues. He
thought of himself, rather, as a reformer of aesthetic sensibility. The
vast majority of his work consists of water-colors or pastels showing
women taken from literary sources who bear a striking resemblance to his
wife, Elizabeth Siddal. Beata Beatrix (fig.
who, although he was too young to have been a member,
came to be identified most completely with the Brotherhood in the
public's mind. The Wheel of fortune (fig.
962) was initially planned as part of a
large pseudo-triptych devoted to the story of Troy. Although the project
was never realized, its content was allegorical, rather than
illustrative, in character. Based on a poem by William Morris that
likewise remained unfinished, it was divided into four sections
representing Fortune, Fame. Oblivion, and Love. The figures chained to
the wheel of fortune, from which they cannot escape, include a slave, a
king, and a poet. The composition was inspired by an altarpiece by Mantegna, while the figures show the impact of the sibyls
and nudes that populate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (see
fig. 651), which the artist studied in
detail during a visit to Rome, as well as Michelangelo's "Captives"
(compare figs. 647 and
648). Dame Fortune also
reflects his admiration for Botticelli's figures, such as those in
figure 623. The artist's
principal interest lies in the decorative design, inspired by Early
Renaissance paintings, which has the flatness and luxuriance of a
tapestry. Even more than Whistler's, Burne-Jones' work represents an escape from
reality into a dreamlike world of heightened beauty and attenuated
Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
1872. The Art Institute of Chicago
We can sense it again in the work of Rossetti's pupil
(1834-1903) came to Paris from America in
1855 to study painting; four
years later he moved to London, where he spent the rest of his life, but
he visited France during the 1860s and was in close touch with the
rising Impressionist movement. His best-known picture. Arrangement in
Ψΰεκ, and Gray: The
Artist's Mother (fig.
963), reflects the influence of Manet in its
emphasis on flat areas, and the likeness has the austere precision of
Degas. Its tame as a symbol of our latter-day "mother cult" is a paradox
of popular psychology that would have dismayed Whistler, who wanted the
canvas to be appreciated for its formal qualities alone.
The Wheel of Fortune.
1877-83. Musee d'Orsay, Paris
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
A witty, sharp-tongued advocate of Art for Art's Sake, he thought of
his pictures as analogous to pieces of music, calling
them "symphonies" or "nocturnes." The boldest example, painted about
1874, is Nocturne in Black and
Cold: The Falling Rocket (fig. 964).
Without an explanatory subtitle, we would have real
difficulty making it out. No French painter had yet dared to produce a
picture so "non-representational," so reminiscent of Cozens' "blotscapes"
and Turner's "tinted steam" (see figs.
It was this canvas, more than any other, that prompted John Ruskin to
accuse Whistler of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."
(Since the same critic had highly praised Turner's The Slave Ship,
we must conclude that what Ruskin admired was not the tinted steam
itself but the Romantic sentiment behind it.)
During Whistler's subsequent suit for libel, he offered a definition
of his aims that seems to be particularly applicable to The Tailing
Rocket: "I have perhaps meant rather to indicate an artistic
interest alone in my work, divesting the picture from any outside sort
of interest. ... It is an
arrangement of line, form, and color, first, and I make use of any
incident of it which shall bring about a symmetrical result." The last
phrase has special significance, since Whistler acknowledges that in
utilizing chance effects, he does not look for resemblances but for a
purely formal harmony. While he rarely practiced what he preached to
quite the same extent as he did in The Falling Rocket, his
statement reads like a prophecy of American abstract painting (see fig.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Arrangement in Black and Gray: The Artist's Mother.
1871. Musce d'Orsay, Paris
James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.
ρ. 1874. The Detroit Institute of Arts.
The loss of
the twin Romantic visions of the virgin wilderness and a pastoral Eden
left nature as little more than a sentimental vestige to be preserved in
parks. Since landscape ceased to be a teacher of moral truths as well,
the viewer was left only with a personal reaction to a total impression
of the scenery at hand. Through this resonance, the mystery of nature
retained its spiritual significance but required an alternative mode of
expression. The American Barbizon painters answered the need for a new
form of landscape: they responded to the transformation of America by
turning inward. Their canvases embody the altered mentality of the
United States by evoking a poetic state of mind with ever-increasing
THE AMERICAN BARBIZON SCHOOL.
After the Civil War, the United States
underwent unprecedented industrial growth, immigration, and westward
expansion. These changes led to not only a new range of social and
economic problems but a different outlook and taste. As the United
States became more like the Old World, Americans traveled abroad in
growing numbers, seeking their cultural models in Europe, particularly
France, which promoted a new cosmopolitanism in art. There was an
equally dramatic shift in the attitude toward nature. The uneasy balance
between civilization and nature shitted irrevocably in favor of progress by the end of the Centennial Celebration
who had been deeply impressed by the work of
Theodore Rousseau and his followers during a visit to France. The
Rainbow (fig. 965)
shows one of the storm scenes so characteristic of this artist. The
contrast of nature's beneficence with the tumultuous sweep of cosmic
forces is reminiscent of Cole's Schroon Mountain (see fig.
913), but instead of depicting
the wilderness, this former member of the Hudson River School has
followed a rustic scene by Millet. Inness imbued his landscape with a
sense of divine presence by freely rearranging nature according to
formulas that act as indexes of personal feelings. Deeply religious, he
had converted to the spiritualism of Emanuel Swedenborg, who believed in
an immaterial but light-filled realm inhabited by departed souls that is
visually similar and parallel to our own. Although only a few of his
landscapes have a specific symbolic content, rainbows had spiritual
significance for Inness. Swedenborg's ideas confirmed and intensified
his approach, which relied increasingly on light and color to impart his
vision of a deeper reality lying hidden from people's eyes but not their
The leader of the American Barbizon School was
(1836-1910) was a pictorial reporter throughout
the Civil War and continued as a magazine illustrator until
1875. He went to Paris in
1866, but though he left too soon to receive
its lull impact, French art did have an important effect on his work.
Snap the Whip (fig. 966)
conveys a nostalgia tor the simpler era of America
before the Civil War (see fig. 914).
The sunlit scene might be called "pre-Impressionist."
Its fresh delicacy lies halfway between Corot and Monet (compare figs.
948). The air of youthful
innocence relies equally on the composition, which was undoubtedly
inspired by the bacchanals then popular in French art (compare fig.
922). The sophisticated
design shows the same subtle understanding of motion as Bruegel's The
the Blind (see fig. 731),
which also terminates in a
Museum of Art. Gift of George E. Hume
The far more gifted
Winslow Homer. Snap
1872. The Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, Ohio
(1844-1916) arrived in Paris from
Philadelphia about the same time as Homer. He went home tour years
later, after receiving a conventional academic training but with
decisive impressions of Velazquez and Courbet. Elements from both these
artists are combined in William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure
of the Schuylkill River (fig.
967; compare figs.
946). Eakins had encountered stiff opposition for
advocating traditional life studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts. To him. Rush was a hero for basing his
1809 statue for the Philadelphia
Water Works on the nude model, though the figure itself was draped in a
classical robe. Eakins no doubt knew contemporary European paintings of sculptors carving from the nude; these were related to
the theme of Pygmalion and Galatea popular at the time among academic
artists. Conservative critics nevertheless denounced William Rush
Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River for its
nudity, despite the presence of the chaperon knitting quietly to the
right. To us the painting's declaration of unvarnished truth seems a
courageous fulfillment of Baudelaire's demand for pictures that express
the heroism of modern life.
the first important black painter, studied with
Eakins in the early 1880s. Tanner's masterpiece. The Banjo Lesson
(fig. 968), painted after
he moved permanently to Paris, bears Eakins' unmistakable impress.
Avoiding the mawkishness of similar subjects by other American
painters, the scene is rendered with the same direct realism as
William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River.
William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River.
1877. The Philadelphia
Museum of Art
Thanks in large part to Eakins' enlightened attitude,
Philadelphia became the leading center of minority artists in the United
States. Eakins encouraged women and blacks to study art seriously at a
time when professional careers were closed to them. African-Americans
had no chance to enter the arts before Emancipation, and alter the Civil
War the situation improved only gradually. Henry O
968. Henry O.
Tanner. The Banjo
Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia