Louisville Arts and Arts History

Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Academism and Realism

Neoclassical art was characterised by an emphasis on simplicity, order and idealism. It was inspired by different classical themes.

Throughout the 18th century, a counter movement opposing the Rococo sprang up in different parts of Europe, commonly known as Neoclassicism. It despised the perceived superficiality and frivolity of Rococo art, and desired for a return to the simplicity, order and ‘purism’ of classical antiquity, especially ancient Greece and Rome. The movement was in part also influenced by the Renaissance, which itself was strongly influenced by classical art. Neoclassicism was the artistic component of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment; the Enlightenment was idealistic, and put its emphasis on objectivity, reason and empirical truth. Neoclassicism had become widespread in Europe throughout the 18th century, especially in the United Kingdom, which saw great works of Neoclassical architecture spring up during this period; Neoclassicism’s fascination with classical antiquity can be seen in the popularity of the Grand Tour during this decade, where wealthy aristocrats travelled to the ancient ruins of Italy and Greece. Nevertheless, a defining moment for Neoclassicism came during the French Revolution in the late 18th century; in France, Rococo art was replaced with the preferred Neoclassical art, which was seen as more serious than the former movement. In many ways, Neoclassicism can be seen as a political movement as well as an artistic and cultural one.[22] Neoclassical art places an emphasis on order, symmetry and classical simplicity; common themes in Neoclassical art include courage and war, as were commonly explored in ancient Greek and Roman art. Ingres, Canova, and Jacques-Louis David are among the best-known neoclassicists.[23]

Just as Mannerism rejected Classicism, so did Romanticism reject the ideas of the Enlightenment and the aesthetic of the Neoclassicists. Romanticism rejected the highly objective and ordered nature of Neoclassicism, and opted for a more individual and emotional approach to the arts.[24] Romanticism placed an emphasis on nature, especially when aiming to portray the power and beauty of the natural world, and emotions, and sought a highly personal approach to art. Romantic art was about individual feelings, not common themes, such as in Neoclassicism; in such a way, Romantic art often used colours in order to express feelings and emotion.[24] Similarly to Neoclassicism, Romantic art took much of its inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman art and mythology, yet, unlike Neoclassical, this inspiration was primarily used as a way to create symbolism and imagery. Romantic art also takes much of its aesthetic qualities from medievalism and Gothicism, as well as mythology and folklore. Among the greatest Romantic artists were Eugène Delacroix, Francisco Goya, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, Caspar David Friedrich, Thomas Cole, and William Blake.[23]

Most artists attempted to take a centrist approach which adopted different features of Neoclassicist and Romanticist styles, in order to synthesize them. The different attempts took place within the French Academy, and collectively are called Academic art. Adolphe William Bouguereau is considered a chief example of this stream of art.

In the early 19th century the face of Europe, however, became radically altered by industrialization. Poverty, squalor, and desperation were to be the fate of the new working class created by the “revolution”. In response to these changes going on in society, the movement of Realism emerged. Realism sought to accurately portray the conditions and hardships of the poor in the hopes of changing society. In contrast with Romanticism, which was essentially optimistic about mankind, Realism offered a stark vision of poverty and despair. Similarly, while Romanticism glorified nature, Realism portrayed life in the depths of an urban wasteland. Like Romanticism, Realism was a literary as well as an artistic movement. The great Realist painters include Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Camille Corot, Honoré Daumier, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas (both considered as Impressionists), and Thomas Eakins, among others.

The response of architecture to industrialisation, in stark contrast to the other arts, was to veer towards historicism. Although the railway stations built during this period are often considered the truest reflections of its spirit – they are sometimes called “the cathedrals of the age” – the main movements in architecture during the Industrial Age were revivals of styles from the distant past, such as the Gothic Revival. Related movements were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who attempted to return art to its state of “purity” prior to Raphael, and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which reacted against the impersonality of mass-produced goods and advocated a return to medieval craftsmanship.

Time Period:

Modern art

Impressionism was known for its usage of light and movement in its paintings.

Out of the naturalist ethic of Realism grew a major artistic movement, Impressionism. The Impressionists pioneered the use of light in painting as they attempted to capture light as seen from the human eye. Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were all involved in the Impressionist movement. As a direct outgrowth of Impressionism came the development of Post-Impressionism. Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat are the best known Post-Impressionists.

Following the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists came Fauvism, often considered the first “modern” genre of art. Just as the Impressionists revolutionized light, so did the fauvists rethink color, painting their canvases in bright, wild hues. After the Fauvists, modern art began to develop in all its forms, ranging from Expressionism, concerned with evoking emotion through objective works of art, to Cubism, the art of transposing a three-dimensional reality onto a flat canvas, to Abstract art. These new art forms pushed the limits of traditional notions of “art” and corresponded to the similar rapid changes that were taking place in human society, technology, and thought.

Surrealism is often classified as a form of Modern Art. However, the Surrealists themselves have objected to the study of surrealism as an era in art history, claiming that it oversimplifies the complexity of the movement (which they say is not an artistic movement), misrepresents the relationship of surrealism to aesthetics, and falsely characterizes ongoing surrealism as a finished, historically encapsulated era. Other forms of Modern art (some of which border on Contemporary art) include:

Time Period: First half of the 20th century

Contemporary art and Postmodern art

Main articles: Contemporary art and Postmodern art

Modern art foreshadowed several characteristics of what would later be definied as postmodern art; as a matter of fact, several modern art movements can often be classified as both modern and postmodern, such as pop art. Postmodern art, for instance, places a strong emphasis on irony, parody and humour in general; modern art started to develop a more ironic approach to art which would later advance in a postmodern context. Postmodern art sees the blurring between the high and fine arts with low-end and commercial art; modern art started to experiment with this blurring.[24] Recent developments in art have been characterised by a significant expansion of what can now deemed to be art, in terms of materials, media, activity and concept. Conceptual art in particular has had a wide influence. This started literally as the replacement of concept for a made object, one of the intentions of which was to refute the commodification of art. However, it now usually refers to an artwork where there is an object, but the main claim for the work is made for the thought process that has informed it. The aspect of commercialism has returned to the work.

There has also been an increase in art referring to previous movements and artists, and gaining validity from that reference.

Postmodernism in art, which has grown since the 1960s, differs from Modernism in as much as Modern art movements were primarily focused on their own activities and values, while Postmodernism uses the whole range of previous movements as a reference point. This has by definition generated a relativistic outlook, accompanied by irony and a certain disbelief in values, as each can be seen to be replaced by another. Another result of this has been the growth of commercialism and celebrity. Postmodern art has questioned common rules and guidelines of what is regarded as ‘fine art‘, merging low art with the fine arts until none is fully distinguishable.[25][26] Before the advent of postmodernism, the fine arts were characterised by a form of aesthetic quality, elegance, craftsmanship, finesse and intellectual stimulation which was intended to appeal to the upper or educated classes; this distinguished high art from low art, which, in turn, was seen as tacky, kitsch, easily made and lacking in much or any intellectual stimulation, art which was intended to appeal to the masses. Postmodern art blurred these distinctions, bringing a strong element of kitsch, commercialism and campness into contemporary fine art;[24] what is nowadays seen as fine art may have been seen as low art before postmodernism revolutionised the concept of what high or fine art truly is.[24] On addition, the postmodern nature of contemporary art leaves a lot of space for individualism within the art scene; for instance, postmodern art often takes inspiration from past artistic movements, such as Gothic or Baroque art, and both juxtaposes and recycles styles from these past periods in a different context.[24]

Some surrealists in particular Joan Miró, who called for the “murder of painting” (In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods and his desire to “kill”, “murder”, or “rape” them in favor of more contemporary means of expression).[27] have denounced or attempted to “supersede” painting, and there have also been other anti-painting trends among artistic movements, such as that of Dada and conceptual art. The trend away from painting in the late 20th century has been countered by various movements, for example the continuation of Minimal Art, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop Art, Op Art, New Realism, Photorealism, Neo Geo, Neo-expressionism, and Stuckism and various other important and influential painterly directions.

See also


  1. Oosterbeek, Luíz. “European Prehistoric Art”. Europeart. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  2. Banister Fletcher excluded nearly all Baroque buildings from his mammoth tome A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method. The publishers eventually rectified this.
  3. “Art of Europe”. Saint Louis Art Museum. Slam. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  4. Oosterbeek, Luíz. “European Prehistoric Art”. Europeart. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  5. Sandars, 8-16, 29-31
  6. Hahn, Joachim, “Prehistoric Europe, §II: Palaeolithic 3. Portable art” in Oxford Art Online, accessed August 24, 2012; Sandars, 37-40
  7. Sandars, 75-80
  8. Sandars, 253-257, 183-185
  9. Kwong, Matt. “Oldest cave-man art in Europe dates back 40,800 years”. CBC News. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  10. “Romanian Cave May Boast Central Europe’s Oldest Cave Art | Science/AAAS | News”. News.sciencemag.org. 2010-06-21. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  11. Gunther, Michael. “Art of Prehistoric Europe”. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  12. Chaniotis, Angelos. “Ancient Crete”. Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  13. “Minoan art”. Greek art. Ancient-Greece.org. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  14. “Roman Painting”. Art-and-archaeology.com. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  15. “Roman Painting”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  16. http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/leonardo.html
  17. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/leonardo/gallery/vitruvian.shtml
  18. http://www.hektoeninternational.org/Durers_praying_hands.html
  19. “Baroque Art”. Arthistory-famousartists-paintings.com. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  20. “Ancien Regime Rococo”. Bc.edu. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  21. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/chinoiserie.aspx#3-1E1:chinoise-full
  22. “Art in Neoclassicism”. Artsz.org. 2008-02-26. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  23. James J. Sheehan, “Art and Its Publics, c. 1800,” United and Diversity in European Culture c. 1800, ed. Tim Blanning and Hagen Schulze (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 5-18.
  24. “General Introduction to Postmodernism”. Cla.purdue.edu. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  25. Ideas About Art, Desmond, Kathleen K. [1] John Wiley & Sons, 2011, p.148
  26. International postmodernism: theory and literary practice, Bertens, Hans [2], Routledge, 1997, p.236
  27. M. Rowell, Joan Mirό: Selected Writings and Interviews (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987) pp. 114–116.


  • Sandars, Nancy K., Prehistoric Art in Europe, Penguin (Pelican, now Yale, History of Art), 1968 (nb 1st edn.; early datings now superseded)

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