In the pursuit of Realism: Rococo, Neo-classicism and Romanticism

In the 18th century, art styles are the response to differing social climates of the time.

The art style, Rococo is overwhelmingly at nature and is not shy for having characters in paintings represented in a relaxed and informal state (such as being in casual clothing, or being outside, creating a peaceful and comfortable utopia), with flowing fabrics with generous amounts of colour: “all too flexible and fluid, and all too playful with charming colours and tones” (The social history of art, p132). “The Swing”(1766) by Fragonard(1732-1806) is a beautiful and colourful Rococo piece, which is made up of rough and quickly applied brushstrokes to make up the surrounding vegetation, which also includes the figures, creating a blurry, dream-like fantasy that’s full of life(similar to Impressionism). The viewer is drawn towards the main figure in contrasting pinks against the green vegetation, who swings playfully on a swing in a sensual fashion, between two male figures.

Rococo artwork also shows members of different classes together in a painting, and was popular with the majority of the public. A reaction to Rococo artwork was neo-classicism, where some artists rejected the ideas of Rococo art and were inspired by the uniformed and perfected ideals of Roman and Greek art: “sparse group of amateurs hardly big enough to make any difference in the art market” (The social history of art, p131) Neo-classical artists tried to bring back the past, and also brought back masculine bodies which was typical of Roman art.

“The Death of Marat”(c.1793) by Jacques-Louis David(1748-1825) is to move on from the Rococo style and to reflect the Political climate of the time- The French Revolution. The figure of Marat is too clean and appears stiff and appears almost sculptural, and even though the figure has been stabbed, there is an unconvincing amount of gore. The painting would not be to praise his death, so the blood is minimal. There is also the  minimalism effect with there being a large empty space at the top of the painting, forcing the viewer’s eyes to remain fixated on the lower half of the painting, where the body is, which is full of soft detail and dark shadows, creating a grim atmosphere.

“The Death of Marat”(c.1793) by Jacques-Louis David

Romanticism emerged around half way through the 18th century, a reaction from the comeback of a classical approach to artwork. Romanticism presents emotion, especially that between man and nature. Figures that are seen appear feminine and are posed in  sensual positions, to portray erotic charm or love . Romanticism also introduced portraiture of figures facing entirely away from the viewer, and with their backs turned, creating an unwelcome or even an approachable atmosphere to the painting, as the viewer is not addressed or is just simply observing from a distance, creating an emotional response to the viewer.

Théodore Géricault(1791-1824) enjoyed to enhance his paintings by playing with strong colour and lighting, for painting which subject matters were typically horrifying. In “The Raft of the Medusa” (c.1818/19), Géricault acquired several corpses of criminals for the figures in this piece to appear realistic, as the painting is based on a real event: “he obtained body parts of executed men in order to study the changes in color that take place at various stages of decay”(Painting of the Romantic Era, p98), which I believe was effective as it emotionally achieved a sense of human suffering and vulnerability, which was the case for the survivors of the Medusa.



Hauser, Arnold (1951) The Social History of Art Volume 3: Rococo, Classicism and Romanticism. Great Britain: Routledge

Wolf, Norbert (1999) Painting of the Romantic Era. Taschen


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