Celebrities as Neoclassical Paintings

The advent of revolutionary movements in France and America, based on classical ideals such as the democracy of ancient Athens and Rome, made Neoclassical art even more appealing. Those ideals were a major force behind the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence from the British Empire (1776) and the overthrow of the French monarchy (1789). As they rejected and revolted against the contemporary unjust governments, they found values and inspiration in the Greco-Roman past. Concepts related to the republic and senate, of the ancient ruling system of Rome, provided the revolutionaries with a vision for the emerging American and French republics. The basic reasons behind the French Revolution were poverty and famine, which provoked the rising of the impoverished society that included peasants, laborers and merchants against both the aristocracy and clergy. Frustration with the monarchy and the Church turned violent and hundreds of priests were killed by mobs throughout the revolution, as happened in the September Massacres of Paris in 1792. Eventually, the French government replaced the quasi-state religion of Christianity with anti-clerical Secularism. With religion marginalized, it’s no surprise that they looked towards an alternative source of morals and values from antiquity. That hostility to religion explains why on the path to the revolution, Neoclassical artists portrayed themes of civic duty and allegiance to the state rather than to church (or family). Paintings showed virtues glorified by the Romans and Greeks, like fighting for one’s country, bravery and loyalty. They promoted ideals such as patriotism, courage and sacrifice. The anti-clerical sentiment is evident in the radical approach of depicting civic virtues that were idealized by pagan Romans and Greeks, instead of biblical virtues and Christian saints. It’s not an art style where you’d find a moral message through a painting of a Christian martyr, but rather a dying pagan philosopher (e.g. The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David). Modern-day fallen patriots and revolutionaries were mythologized and portrayed as heroes bravely meeting their demise in scenes that resemble religious martyrdom (e.g. Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David). One of the best known examples of neoclassical paintings was The Oath of the Horatii painted five years before the outbreak of the revolution. It was painted by French artist Jacques-Louis David whose artwork anticipated the revolution. Three-quarters of the French were illiterate which created an opportunity for art to become a political tool to arouse revolutionary fervor.

Celebrities as Neoclassical Paintings

 Celebrities as Neoclassical Paintings

Celebrities as Neoclassical Paintings

Picasso and Rivera both traveled to Italy (in 1917 and 1920, respectively) and, following the war, embraced a revalorization of the classical tradition. Return to Order and Indigenismo addresses the post-WWI desire for order and stability that permeated the Parisian avant-garde. Picasso and Rivera’s monumental paintings of the 1920s capture their reinterpretations of antiquity, be it Greco-Roman for Picasso, or ancient Mesoamerican for Rivera. Picasso’s first monumental neoclassical painting, Three Women at the Spring (1921)—an exceptional loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA)—recasts the classical group of three women, usually appearing as Graces and Fates, into sculptural forms and on a monumental scale. Meanwhile, in Flower Day (Día de Flores) (1925), Rivera transforms figures of Mexico’s indigenous peoples into icons inspired by Chalchiuhtlicue, the Aztec water goddess. This gallery also includes portions of Rivera’s personal holdings of ancient Pre-Columbian ceramic and stone sculptures, a collection that has never previously traveled outside of Mexico. This will be the first time that Flower Day will be shown alongside the ancient Chalchiuhtlicue sculptures that Rivera often used for his compositions.

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It is hard to recapture the radical and exciting nature of early Neoclassical painting for contemporary audiences; it now strikes even those writers favourably inclined to it as "insipid" and "almost entirely uninteresting to us"—some of 's comments on ' ambitious at the , by the artist who his friend Winckelmann described as "the greatest artist of his own, and perhaps of later times". The drawings, subsequently turned into , of used very simple line drawing (thought to be the purest classical medium) and figures mostly in profile to depict and other subjects, and once "fired the artistic youth of Europe" but are now "neglected", while the of , mainly a portraitist, are described as having "an unctuous softness and tediousness" by . Rococo frivolity and Baroque movement had been stripped away but many artists struggled to put anything in their place, and in the absence of ancient examples for history painting, other than the used by Flaxman, tended to be used as a substitute model, as Winckelmann recommended.

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Neoclassicism in painting gained a new sense of direction with the sensational success of 's at the . Despite its evocation of republican virtues, this was a commission by the royal government, which David insisted on painting in Rome. David managed to combine an idealist style with drama and forcefulness. The central perspective is perpendicular to the picture plane, made more emphatic by the dim arcade behind, against which the heroic figures are disposed as in a , with a hint of the artificial lighting and staging of , and the classical colouring of . David rapidly became the leader of French art, and after the became a politician with control of much government patronage in art. He managed to retain his influence in the period, turning to frankly propagandistic works, but had to leave France for exile in Brussels at the .

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Celebrities as Neoclassical Paintings

The high tide of neoclassicism in painting is exemplified in early paintings by and ' entire career. 's was painted in Rome and made a splash at the Paris Salon of 1785. Its central perspective is perpendicular to the picture plane, made more emphatic by the dim arcade behind, against which the heroic figures are disposed as in a frieze, with a hint of the artificial lighting and staging of opera, and the classical coloring of . In sculpture, the most familiar representatives are the Italian Antonio Canova, the Englishman John Flaxman and the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen. The European neoclassical manner also took hold in the United States, where its prominence peaked somewhat later and is exemplified in the sculptures of William Henry Rinehart (1825-1874).

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If Neoclassical painting suffered from a lack of ancient models, Neoclassical sculpture tended to suffer from an excess of them, although examples of actual Greek sculpture of the "classical period" beginning in about 500 BC were then very few; the most highly regarded works were mostly Roman copies. The leading Neoclassical sculptors enjoyed huge reputations in their own day, but are now less regarded, with the exception of , whose work was mainly portraits, very often as busts, which do not sacrifice a strong impression of the sitter's personality to idealism. His style became more classical as his long career continued, and represents a rather smooth progression from Rococo charm to classical dignity. Unlike some Neoclassical sculptors he did not insist on his sitters wearing Roman dress, or being unclothed. He portrayed most of the great figures of the Enlightenment, and travelled to America to produce a , as well as busts of , and other luminaries of the new republic.