Revolutionary Works of Art in the Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism
An artistic revolution always entails a veering away from previous norms. But this change can never be fully realized without the instigation of revolutionaries whose leadership and vision project them to the level of icons. For this paper, we will look into the works of three of these revolutionary artists heralding from the influential periods of the Age of Enlightenment and The Romantic Period and discuss how they have come to inspire the style and sensibility of these eras.
One the most influential architectures to have ever been produced by the French Enlightenment, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s building designs served as the best examples of French Neo-Classical architecture during the height of his career in the 1770s. One of his most important works of this era were the 60 barriére that surrounded the perimeter of the French capital. The Étoile Customs House or the Barriére de l’Étoile, was one the sections of this most imposing (physically and socially) structure. Destroyed during the French Revolution, it showed the extent of Ledoux’s penchant for Classical Greek architecture and its emotional resonance (Braham 193-194). But, for this project, instead of employing the typical Doric or Ionic columns he created a new style, one that “modernizes” this Greek standard. The columns were made up of alternating cubical and cylindrical parts that was unlike any the architectural world had seen before. His work was severely criticized to the point that he was called by some as a “terrible architect” (Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, n.d.). But, despite this he still went on with his plans. As a revolutionary, he maintained his artistic integrity by not following the norms and pursuing his own artistic vision no matter the criticisms from the community.
Ledoux, having been affiliated with the nobility, had to postpone his career else face the guillotine during the French Revolution. But, this significant incident in our history served as inspiration for a new breed of artists that would revolutionize how art is perceived. Two of these famous names are Spanish Francisco Goya and Englishman John Constable.
Though a well-regarded painter during his earlier career, it was only after the French occupation, that Goya, aggrieved by the current political situation in Spain, began to paint in dark tonalities that would be reminiscent of his later period (Voorhies, online). One of the first paintings of this period was the politically-addressed work entitled The Third of May 1808 that depicted the execution of the captured Spaniards by French troops. The painting’s revolutionary qualities stems from not just the exceptional technique that ushered in a new style but also its subject and intent. It was Goya’s way of opposing the current oppressive monarchy and dissolving any of his affiliations with the previous French-helmed Spanish throne (Voorhies). Aesthetically, the work defied the current conventions—his constantly playing of light and dark, the inventive composition—boiling down to Goya ushering in a new generation of artists to follow his technique.
During the English Romanticism, on the other hand, the genre of Naturalism was abound and was greatly reflected in the many landscape paintings popular during that time. It was a time when John Constable rose to fame, albeit late in his career. His most famous painting, a six-foot landscape painting named The Hay Wain that depicted the meadows and plains that surrounded his home is a perfect example of this genre (Barker, online). But what makes this particular work stand out is the play of light and dark that is pictured vividly in this painting and even more so in his latter ones. Others also regard Constable as a frontrunner to Impressionism as his paintings show the genre’s distinctive style that marred the difference between oil and watercolour. This painting clearly showed this aside from Constable’s belief in chiaroscuro or the differentiation of light and dark. On one side one can see the dark tones of the hay wain and the stables compared to the brightness of the Essex landscape further in the background. With this and his meticulousness in depicting his subjects, Constable distinguishes himself from more traditional landscape forms heralding him as one of England’s greatest landscape painters.
Michael Kimmel defines the revolutionary figure as one with the daring and vision to make change happen when present frustrations have reached its apex (Kimmel 70). These three figures define this moment when society reels for a reform propelling them from mere artists to the visionaries of their time.
Barker, Elizabeth E. “John Constable (1776–1837)”.Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000: New York, USA, 2004. Retrieved from <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jcns/hd_jcns.htm>
Braham, Allan. The Architecture of the French Enlightenment. Thomas and Hudson, Ltd.: London, 1980
Voorhies, James. “Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) and the Spanish Enlightenment”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000: New York, USA, 2003. Retrieved from <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/goya/hd_goya.htm>