History of Modern Painting

By Rosamund Frost; Gaston Diehl et al. | Go to book overview
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IT may be said that no period in art is as varied and complex and, at the same time, as rich in popular appeal as that which extends from the year 1785 when David exhibited The Oath of the Horatii to 1926 when Claude Monet, the father of Impressionism, closed his eyes on his terrestrial lily-pools. It was an era of profound and radical changes whose revolutionary surge swelled on the ocean of philosophical and political thought at a time when the idea paramount in men's minds was liberty.

The French Revolution fired the imagination of Jacques-Louis David whose fame, at the age of 49, was already well established. David was the first to realize that contemporaneous events may be a fitting subject for a great painting. His various functions in the government of the new Republic were admirably suited to his passionate temperament and gave him a first-hand knowledge of the events he so strikingly depicted. His style is epic but he achieves grace. The immense canvases painted during his Napoleonic period to the glory of the Emperor show as keen a sense of form and composition as his delicate portraits of Madame Sériziat or of the youthful Madame Récamier.

David's search for beauty of form, style and decorative arrangement excluded color and movement. Most of his followers stiffened under his tyrannic rule. Gérard and Guérin, the master of Géricault and Delacroix, carried the pseudo-classical style to the highest degree of severity. Some reacted against it, and the pathetic loyalty of Gros who, torn between the lure of Romanticism and the stern demands of David's classicism thought himself a failure and committed suicide, shows the power of the master's influence on the men of his day.

The greatest of David's direct pupils, Ingres, was primarily a draughtsman for whom the musical effect of line, the purity of contour and the grace of arabesque were an innate necessity; he was almost as gifted a musician as he was a painter. His favorite saying was, "Drawing is the integrity of art." He held with David that color was subordinated to line and composition, but he differed from his master in his general conception of art, going back still farther into the past, as far as Raphael, choosing classical themes instead of modern subjects.

The teaching of Ingres and his mastery, particularly in depicting the nude,


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