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French art

The Nineteenth Century

After neoclassicism, no single style predominated in the early part of the century. Rather, individual artists gave definition to a variety of movements. J. A. D. Ingres succeeded David as leading academician and favored an essentially linear and meticulously finished style, in part inspired by a new enthusiasm for the art of the Italian Renaissance. Opposed to the academic discipline manifest in yearly Salon exhibitions were the romantic painters led by Delacroix and Géricault. At the same time that romanticism championed subjective emotion, the artist's independence from social purpose, and the taste for exotic subject matter, various currents of realism had notable exponents in Honoré Daumier, J. B. C. Corot, and Gustave Courbet. Revived interest in landscape painting was revealed in the works of the Barbizon school.

After the middle of the 19th cent. interest in rendering purely visual effects and in expressing transient and accidental aspects of nature resulted in the emergence of impressionism, an enormously influential movement that was formally launched with the exposition of 1874. This movement drew allegiance from a variety of highly individual artists including Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Pissarro. Cézanne drew inspiration from the impressionist group, but he rejected their emphasis on transient effects and evolved an independent approach based on the expression of the fundamental characteristics of shapes and spatial effects. Toward the end of the 19th cent. a postimpressionist reaction arose in the work of Seurat, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Gauguin.

In comparison with painting, 19th-century sculpture on the whole maintained more conservative trends. In the first half of the century, François Rude infused his works with an animation that marked a break with the neoclassic conventions. A. L. Barye, notable for his animal sculptures, and J. B. Carpeaux, the leading sculptor of the Second Empire, exemplify tendencies toward naturalism and an interest in rendering effects of movement that reached their culmination in the second half of the century in the powerful sculpture of Auguste Rodin.

The break with the 18th-century tradition effected by the Revolution, combined with increasing substitution of machine for hand labor, resulted in a marked decline in quality of design and craftsmanship in the decorative arts of 19th-century France. On the whole a heavy-handed eclecticism prevailed. Various elements from the styles of the Louis XIV and Louis XV periods were combined with surviving neoclassic forms.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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