SCULPTURE IN THE THIRD QUARTER OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
THE title of an account of sculpture from about 1850 to 1880 might be: 'Sculpture in the shadow of fully painterly painting', at least if we think of the more progressive sculpture and of its close connexion with Realism and Impressionism in painting. Such sculpture was painterly from its very foundations. Painterly sculpture had existed before -- there was nothing basically new in it -- but the painterly effects were now achieved with greater intensity and more consciously. Naturally, when we are confronted with truly powerful individual achievements -- and, it may be added, such achievements were not very numerous during this period -- all this is almost irrelevant. But from the historical point of view even they lead us to criteria which are primarily those of painting. Hence their role in the art of their time was doomed to be a minor one.
One of the characteristic qualities of 'painterly sculpture' after the middle of the nineteenth century is a new feeling for surface. After the end of Classicism there had been many changes in the treatment of the surface of stone, metal, or clay. For orthodox Classicist sculpture the surface had been something immaterial, possessing a positive value only on account of its unreal, even smoothness. Such, as has already been mentioned, was its moralistic-aesthetic function within the idea of a world of superhuman types. However, the delight in technical perfection, and above all the ostentation which the art of working in marble offered, could add a sense of pleasure in the surface. Such material charm enhanced the ideal spirit of the surface. This material, sensuous charm of the surface could be of two different kinds. On the one hand it could stress the characteristics of the raw material of which the piece is made. In this way, the sculpture of Michelangelo had achieved the highest synthesis between material and form: the nature of stone and the essence of the form hewn out of the stone are spiritually one. But Classicist sculpture neither knew nor cared about such a synthesis. It is true that it was much concerned with the beauty of the material; but not with its primary, but its secondary beauty, not with the beauty of the stone, but with that of the smooth, softly gleaming surface.
The other, fundamentally different, though also independent and sensuous, value of the surface is its illusionistic possibilities. Here it was not so much a question of extracting the best from the raw material of which the sculpture consisted, whether stone or metal,1 as of concentrating on the character of the material imitated -- flesh, hair, silk, etc. In actual fact, both values invariably co-operate, producing manifold reciprocal relationships. This had already been the case in the illusionistic sculpture of earlier times, during the High and Late Baroque, but now illusionism was exploited to an extreme extent.
In principle, illusionism of the surface has the same double meaning in sculpture as in
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Publication information: Book title: Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1780 to 1880. Contributors: Fritz Novotny - Author. Publisher: Penguin Books. Place of publication: Baltimore, MD. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 229.
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