Editorial
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Mar 18, 2019

The History of painting (Final)

England

In the 18th century the English, for the first time, developed a distinct school of painting. It consisted mainly of portrait painters who were influenced by Venetian Renaissance artists. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) are the best-known. Reynolds, who had traveled in Italy, was devoted to reviving the Renaissance ideals of painting. His portraits, although charming and touching, are not particularly interesting in color or texture. Gainsborough, on the other hand, had a talent for brilliant brushwork. The surfaces of his paintings glow with shining color.

19th-Century Painting

The 19th century is sometimes regarded as the period during which modern art began to take shape. One important reason for the so-called revolution in the arts at this time was the invention of the camera, which forced artists to re-examine the purpose of painting.

A more important development resulted partly from the widespread use of manufactured paints. Before the 19th century, most artists or their assistants made their own paints by grinding pigment. Early commercial paints were inferior to handmade paints. Artists late in the 19th century found that the dark blues and browns of earlier paintings were turning black or gray within a few years. They began to use pure colors again. These artists used pure colors in order to preserve their work and sometimes because they were trying to capture the effects of sunlight in outdoor scenes more accurately.

England

Although France was the great center of art in the 1800's, the English landscapists John Constable (1776-1837) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) made valuable contributions to 19th-century painting. Both were interested in painting light and air, two aspects of nature that 19th-century artists explored fully. Constable used a method known as divisionism, or broken color. He put contrasting colors side by side in thick, short strokes or dots over a basic background color. He often used a palette knife to apply the color thickly. The Hay Wain made him famous when it was shown in Paris in 1824. It is a simple rural scene of a hay wagon (wain) crossing a river. Clouds drift over meadows dappled with patches of sunlight. Turner's paintings are more dramatic than Constable's. He painted the majestic sights of nature--storms, seascapes, glowing sunsets, high mountains. Often a golden haze partially conceals the objects in his pictures, making them appear to float in unlimited space.

Spain: Goya

Francisco Goya (1746-1828) was the first great Spanish painter to appear since the 17th century. As the favorite painter of the Spanish court, he made many portraits of the royal family. The royal personages are outfitted in elegant clothes and fine jewels, but in some of their faces all that is reflected is vanity and greed. Besides portraits, Goya painted dramatic scenes such as The Third of May, 1808. This picture shows the execution of a group of Spanish rebels by French soldiers. Bold contrasts of light and dark, and somber colors pierced by splashes of red, bring out the grim horror of the spectacle.

France

The period of Napoleon's reign and the French Revolution saw the rise of two opposing tendencies in French art--classicism and romanticism. Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) were inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art and the Renaissance. They emphasized drawing and used color mainly to aid in creating solid forms. As the favorite artist of the revolutionary government, David often painted historical events of the period. In his portraits, such as that of Madame Récamier, he aimed at achieving classical simplicity.

Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) and the romanticist Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) revolted against David's style. For Delacroix, color was the most important element in painting, and he had no patience for imitating classical statues. Instead, he admired Rubens and the Venetians. He chose colorful, exotic themes for his pictures, which sparkle with light and are full of movement.

The Barbizon painters were also part of the general romantic movement that lasted from about 1820 to 1850. They worked near the village of Barbizon on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest. They sketched out-of-doors and completed the paintings in their studios.

Other artists experimented with everyday, ordinary subject matter. The landscapes of Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875) reflect his love of nature, and his figure studies show a kind of balanced calm. Gustave Courbet (1819-77) called himself a realist because he painted the world as he saw it--even its harsh, unpleasant side. He limited his palette to just a few somber colors, which he sometimes put on with a palette knife. Édouard Manet (1832-83) also took his subject matter from the world around him. People were shocked by his colorful contrasts and unusual techniques. The surfaces of his pictures often have a flat, patternlike texture of brushstrokes. Manet's techniques and methods of recording the effects of light on form influenced younger painters, especially the impressionists.

Working in the 1870's and 1880's, the group of artists known as the impressionists wanted to paint nature exactly as it was. They went much further than Constable, Turner, and Manet in studying the effects of light in color. Some of them worked out scientific theories of color. Claude Monet (1840-1926) often painted the same view at different times of day to show how its appearance changed under different conditions of light. Whatever the subject matter, his scenes are made up of hundreds of tiny brushstrokes laid side by side, often in contrasting colors. From a distance the strokes blend to give the impression of solid forms. Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) used the impressionist techniques to capture the festivity of Parisian life. In his Dance at the Moulin de la Galette people in vividly colored clothes mingle and dance gaily. Renoir painted the entire picture with small, even brushstrokes. The dots and dashes of paint create a texture on the surface of the painting that lends it a special kind of unity. The crowds of people seem to dissolve in sunlight and shimmering color.

20th-Century Painting

A number of artists soon became dissatisfied with impressionism. Artists such as Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) felt that impressionism did not describe the solidity of forms in nature. Cézanne liked to paint still lifes because they allowed him to concentrate on the shapes of fruits or other objects and their arrangements. Objects in his still lifes look solid because he reduced their forms to simple geometric shapes. His technique of placing patches of paint and short brushstrokes of rich color side by side shows that he learned much from the impressionists.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) reacted against the realism of the impressionists. Unlike the impressionists, who said that they were viewing nature objectively, Van Gogh cared little for accurate drawing. He frequently distorted objects in order to express his ideas more imaginatively. He used the impressionist device of putting contrasting colors next to each other. Sometimes he squeezed paint from the tubes right onto the canvas in thick ribbons, as in Field of Yellow Corn.

Gauguin did not care for the spotty color of the impressionists. He applied color smoothly in large flat areas, which he separated from one another by lines or dark edges. The colorful civilizations of the tropics provided much of his subject matter.

Cézanne's method of building up arrangements in space with simple geometric forms was further developed by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Georges Braque (1882-1963), and others. Their style became known as cubism. The cubists painted objects as if they could be seen from several angles at once, or as if they had been taken apart and reassembled on a flat canvas. Often the objects barely resemble anything in nature. Sometimes the cubists cut out shapes from cloth, cardboard, wallpaper, or other materials and pasted them on the canvas to make a collage. Textures were also varied by adding sand or other substances to the paint. Since Manet, the trend has been to put less emphasis on subject and more emphasis on composition and technique.

Painting in the United States

American painting before the 20th century had mainly consisted of portraits and landscapes based on European styles. Many American artists, such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), lived abroad and were influenced by European art. There was, however, an important group of American genre painters, the best of whom were Winslow Homer (1836-1910) and Thomas Eakins (1844-1916).

In the 1890's a group of young painters known as The Eight, led by Robert Henri (1865-1929), tried to create an art that was distinctly American. John Sloan (1871-1951) and George W. Bellows (1882-1925) painted life in the alleys, backyards, harbors, and slums. Members of The Eight helped organize the 1913 Armory Show of New York City. This exhibition, held in an armory, brought together modern art from the United States and Europe. At this show Americans saw the daring art of the cubists and other modern Europeans for the first time.

By the beginning of World War I, United States artists were aware of everything that was going on in modern European painting. But they did not make use of the new ideas until years later. Many painters in the 1930's were regional artists like Grant Wood (1891-1942), who painted realistic scenes of life in the Middle West.

After World War II, the United States became the world center of painting. Arshile Gorky (1904-48) and Jackson Pollock (1912-56) were among the leaders who helped to create a new style called action painting or abstract expressionism. Instead of trying to represent specific objects, they were interested mainly in color, design, rhythm, and new ways of applying paint. Pollock experimented with flinging and dripping color on his canvases from sticks dipped into buckets of paint. Such a bold technique is just one example of the 20th-century artist's search for originality and freedom of expression.

Early in the 1960's a group of artists in the United States reacted against abstract expressionism. These artists went to the other extreme. In trying to produce an art that expresses the spirit of today, they began to paint realistic pictures of everyday things. Their subjects included dart boards, light bulbs, comic strips, and street signs. The innovators in this movement included Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) and Jasper Johns (1930-). Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97), Claes Oldenburg (1929-), and Andy Warhol (1928-87) were some of its leaders. Sometimes called "pop" (for popular) art, it represented a phase through which art passed. To many people, however, pop art presented an invitation to take a good look at the objects all around them. The design on a soup can or a bottle of cola might never have been noticed otherwise. Abstract expressionism opened people's minds; pop art opened their eyes.

In the mid-1960's, other types of art emerged. "Op," or optical art, was one. In op art, the tricks our eyesight can play become part of the artist's style. In Vaacov Agam's Double Metamorphosis II, the specially arranged patterns of line and color seem almost to vibrate.

Some abstract artists, such as Frank Stella (1936-) and Ellsworth Kelly (1923-), sometimes shape the canvas itself into circles, triangles, and other forms. Using bright colors, they often apply paint in hard-edged geometric shapes that conform to the shape of the canvas. So, it may be difficult to distinguish between painting and sculpture today, but we appreciate purity of color and relationships of shapes.