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Neoclassicism and Romanticism

Neoclassicism and Romanticism are the styles of art, which emerged in the middle of XVIII century. Their core values and ideas alter greatly and they aim to convey different impressions.  These artistic styles imply diverse approaches, methods and techniques.

Neoclassicism evolved originally as a rejection of the Baroque and Rocco styles. It applied educational approach and was designed to spread enlightenment and knowledge through evoking such feelings as those of patriotism, justice and honor together with conveying serious moral ideas. Neoclassicists narrowed the definition of nature, viewed it in terms of human nature only, and believed that society was of more value than a separate individual was. They respected traditions, rules and order in art, and used mechanical form, which was imposed from outside. Neoclassicist artists valued reason, logic, constraint and conformity; they attempted objectivity in their works, depicting social and formal scenes of town, or cultivated landscape (Nelson, 1997).

The followers of Romanticism valued wildness and expression. They directed their works at communicating beauty and stimulating vast diapason of emotions and feelings. Their aim was to promote a wide and creative outlook and minimize esthetic limitations. Hence, they perceived no fixed laws or properties related to beauty, accepting it to a full degree of its many-sided nature. Romanticists valued individual more than societal, they encouraged originality, freedom and experimentation both in art and in life. In Romanticism, nature was defined as a varying natural environment, in which artists were seeking to depict organic forms, growing from inside. The subjectivity was a broadly accepted technique; imagination, emotion, spontaneity, independence and rebellion were core values.  Romanticist artists mostly depicted country and untouched nature with its primitivism at a focus (Nelson, 1997).

Louis-Joseph Watteau was a French painter from Lille. One of his most famous paintings is The Storm. It is oil on canvas work depicting cultivated landscape just before the great storm. Considering the theme of the painting, the artistic manner and the general effect brought to its onlookers, The Storm may be described as a Neoclassicist work. The painting does not present an actual storm; it only signifies the threat of it. Watteau painted a scene of harvest time rural landscape and peasants working hard to make all the necessary preparations and protect their land from the storm. An emphasis in this painting is not the color, but on linear structures. Furthermore, light and the atmosphere also form the fundamentals of Neoclassicist painting. The fact that Watteau did not use any bright or deep colors, choosing those of a neutral range, creates an impression of a tense calm before the late summer storm.

The central object of The Storm is a young tree shaken by the wind. The painting also depicts a shepherd, who is almost blown away, and a group of peasant anxious to get their work done before the rain and hail come down. Watteau designed the people and the landscape with an apparent simplicity, which is a distinctive feature for the works of Neoclassicist painters. Such simplicity is predetermined by their adherence to the ideals of Greek and Roman and thus leads to a distinct rendering of their subject matter. Furthermore, artists tried to be as historically accurate as possible in the depiction of setting and costumes, which is also obvious in Watteau’s painting. Although, he portrays persons in The Storm rather archetypically, thus supplying the scene with a certain scent of timelessness.

The Sea of Galilee is a painting by another French artist, Eugène Delacroix. This painting typifies the characteristics of a Romantic painting and the moods of the Romantic Movement. Unlike Watteau, Delacroix focuses on a raging might of a storm. The storm is at the sea, which highlights the power of nature in its wilderness and primitivism. The painting depicts a small boat in the surging sea. Its sail breaks free, the boat practically overturns, and the seafarers are desperate to stay afloat. There seems to be no hope for them to avoid the storm in its fury. This expressive scene is a manifestation of one of the main principles of the Romantic Movement: profound and perplexing inner emotion as principal stimulus for creativity (Mora, 2000). Thus, the painting conveys two messages: human helplessness confronted with wild powers of nature, and the beauty of nature conveyed through the vivacity combined with intensity and eloquence of color, which can be created by a storm in its disastrous might.

The two paintings by French artists of the same era exhibit explicit characteristics of the two periods: Romanticism and Neoclassicism. Watteau and Delacroix use two distinctive approaches to depicting nature. The storm in Watteau’s interpretation is tame and calm, the effect of light is not very refined, and the overall atmosphere is rather harmonious than grim. The presentation of this storm is stereotypical, clear, simplified, and performed in an austere manner. Unlike Delacroix 's storm, which presents a powerful and impressive display of forces. It simultaneously threatens the lives of the seafarers, attacks them violently, and surrounds them in the pictorial composition. In his painting, Delacroix used the play of light and darkness, along with various visual effects. He clearly followed the line of Romanticism. Meanwhile, Watteau chose to emphasize rationality and tradition by depicting a typical scene of the peasants’ life. The scene he depicted also displays a social aspect of peasants’ life, which is yet another characteristic feature of Neoclassicism. However, it is also obvious that toward the end of the Neo-Classical period, Watteau’s painting to a certain extent foretells Romanticism.

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