Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A little about classicism and romanticism

Raphael, La Belle Jardiniere

Yesterday one of the comments said that Ingres seemed souless next to Holbein or Clouet. I didn't really spend any time on that, and I was again asked the same thing. I love it when readers pose questions as it gives me a springboard for another post. They asked:
Not to beat a dead horse (well, okay, to beat a dead horse) but Ingres IS cold, and what I was hoping you'd speak to is, why? Why is Holbein warm and Ingres cold? What is the difference in the drawing? I think Ingres is great because he is cold, the passion is suppressed, but there, shimmering in the line (or in the silk in his painting).

Okay, I guess I will address that. In painting or most anything else in life there seem to be opposing schools of thought or method. Yesterday we discussed the linear and the mass approaches to drawing. There is another deeper aspect to this . Each of these approaches to drawing are actually manifestations of a larger philosophical divide in the history of painting. That is the between classicism and romanticism.

Classicism is a little foreign to us today. In the late 19th century there was a triumph over classicism by romanticism. Romanticism is so dominant today as to have pretty much eclipsed classicism. To most people today the ideals of romanticism are seen as the goals of all art and they are pretty much unaware of the other philosophical pole.

The Raphael at the top of the page is an example of classicism here is another;

This is an Ingres, La Source. Below is a romantic painting by Delacroix.

Romanticism is about expression. It is full of feeling, naturalistic and often exciting. Its designs are dynamic and it attempts to arouse and stir the emotions. Many of you are thinking,"so what? doesn't ALL art attempt to do that?"

No, classicism is exactly the opposite in its intentions. Classicism was deliberately non emotional, it was formal and balanced. Its designs were measured and often symmetrical. The idea was that it appealed at the highest possible level of intellect rather than sentiment. It was not "sentimental" but deliberately "cool". Classical art often has a stillness or eternal look, as opposed to the romantic which has an instant long glance at a scene that is transpiring in passing time.

Classical restraint marks the art of Raphael and has its roots in the art of ancient Greece. Today we don't pay a lot of attention to the Greeks, but the renaissance was driven by the rediscovery of that marvelous art, particularly the sculpture of the ancient world.

Much of the classical art of our culture was made for the church or for emperors or at least for the state. These patrons have pretty much disappeared and been replaced by private individuals who prefer the warmth and emotion of romantic art. Here is another example of that by Gustave Moreau;

Here is another seriously romantic piece;

This is a Turner of course. Strictly speaking all landscape painting is romantic, but I guess some is less so, here is an example of a more classical landscape, by Claude Lorrain.

One of the few places where we do have a degree of classicism in our modern world is oddly enough in the"international" style of architecture. Particularly at its most minimal in the 1950's and 60's, the stripped down, simplified and spare office towers and glass and steel boxes built as expensive homes during that era are classical more than they are romantic. ( now all of the architects reading this are going to be sniping at me).

I have wondered many times if the default setting of our art will always remain the romantic as that is the only mode of which most people are aware, or whether this is a cycle or fashion and there will be a resurgence of the classical. I think it would be nice to have both the classical and the romantic. Some of today's young realist painters might move in that direction.

There is a wonderful book explaining classicism by the American mural painter Kenyon Cox. It is an excellent read. however like most of the books I recommend it is not a quick easy read. It will however open your eyes to an entirely different way of thinking about painting. Cox has had an influence on my thinking. If you want to fill in what is probably a major hole in your understanding of our cultures historic art, this book will do that.

Incidentally Cox lived in Essex, Massachusetts and his estate on the marshes there is open to the public. I have painted it many times, and I posted a painting of an apple tree done there this spring. His son Allyn Cox was also a mural painter and did murals in the halls of the capitol building in Washington, D.C. He lived until 1982, here is of all things, a mural of Americas first moon landing from our National Capitol building, painted in1969. How strange is that?

Soon I intend to begin a series of real "how-to" pasts on the different ways of "sorting" light and shadow. That's real root level stuff.

Images on this posts kindly provided by, The worlds
largest online museum. Here is a link to Amazon for the book.


Richard J. Luschek II said...

I have never been a fan of the term Classical Realism. Not really sure what a better term is, but it would be nice of todays painters that work realistically could come up with something better. It is a term that I think fosters and attitude of being cold and calculated- of course I have other thoughts as to why I think contemporary Boston school work can feel that way- secret thoughts. I am pretty sure when I was digging through the files at Ingbretson studios I found a letter by Gammell about how he did not like the term either- but then I was never able to find it again. I may have been dreaming it.
I have found that those painters today that push towards the classical are usually not as interesting for a few reasons. One is I think our cultural attitude, the other is that it is just not done as well anymore- usually the problem is weak design.

The books of Keynon Cox -from the Cincinnati area by the way, should be hunted down by anyone that wants to be a painter and read cover to cover.
It is not an easy read but I think it flows pretty well. It is not as difficult as reading Reynolds Discourses. To get through that I practically had to submerge myself in a sensory deprivation tank.

We could use a bit of romance in todays work. I think modern movie makers are doing it with their work much better than painters. I am not sure that is a fair comparison, but I think we should look to those doing successful 'art' in film and learn from them. Well, I suppose we could look at painters too, like the examples you listed.
Great topic as usual.
You will be happy to know that due to your crazy amounts of posts with amazing information, I have stopped painting so I have more time to read them. I have stopped eating and sleeping so I can ponder them. I have ended the relationship with my wife so I can rest from reading and pondering these posts. It is all about priorities.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The term classical realism never crossed my mind when I wrote this post, perhaps I should amend it. The painting to which you refer is not particularly classical and I never use the phrase. I certainly don't think of my self as that. I use the phrase traditional oil painting for my own work.
As for crazy amount of posts, I am trying to post everything an aspiring painter needs to know,that I know in an abbreviated form. There is a wall out there, where I will have posted everything I know about painting, or at least everything that I feel qualified to discuss. This blog is my way of setting a daily writing discipline for myself. Then my job in this blog will be finished and I will collate it, and add a substantial amount of obscure yet invaluable information imparted to me alone by a secret society of sorcero-limners and publish that as a book.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Yes, I was kind of riffing off your post in my own self absorbed way.
It is a great post.
I also did not mean to make light of this blog. Please note that it is the best one on the web for painters. I am just very impressed that your ability to post surpassed my ability to read and process the information.
Please keep it up and put me on the list for ordering your book- which I am sure will be reasonably priced.

Jesse said...

What adjective is used to describe a painter is pretty subjective.

One could say that Ingres is cold and soulless.

One could also say that Bouguereau's work would look great on a Hallmark card, and has the substance of cotton candy.

To me it is a total waste of time to debate that sort of thing. There are individual artists that I personally like in almost all movements. Just as I don't try to convince the Mormons who knock on my door that they are delusional, I wouldn't try to convince anyone that an artist is soulless.

deepbluehue said...

I was wondering if you could talk about composition, and how it is used differently by Classical and Romantic artists. I know that the subject matter has changed from Classical art, but how has composition changed? Romantic art, particularly modern Romantic art looks and feels very different from Classical art. I can tell that the color palette choices are different, and lighting is less dramatic.

Unknown said...

I love Kenyon Cox, but it seems really hard to find reproductions of his drawings - do you have an idea where to find them?

kev ferrara said...

Another great blog post.

I know what you mean about reading up on pre-WWI aesthetics. Not only do you need to concentrate like mad, but you also need to read what they were reading to get the references. German Idealism, Platonism, Goethe, Baudelaire, Mallarme... Swedenborg sometimes... great fun but enormously taxing. I have yet to read Cox, but now I will seek it out.

I am glad you were bequeathed the secrets of the ages by sorcero-limners. Regarding their identities, I wonder if you might impart the lineage, if not the names. Who does this knowledge trace back to? Pyle? Delacroix? DaVinci? :)

Have you ever noticed: It seems the romantics understood the classicist methods fairly thoroughly, but the classicists thought the romantics were crazy, (talking of illusions, symbols, and magicks and things unseen...) Regardless, both philosophies have claims on platonic timelessness that seem correct to me.


Unknown said...

Both yesterday and today have been very interesting discussions. Thanks Stape and everyone for comments.
Vanderpoel's book arrived in the mail today, so I'll be pouring over that tonight I'm sure. A quick glance has certainly whet my appetite to try copying some of those drawings. Now I'll have to go look for Cox's book too. Who knew this blog could be so expensive?

"ciessyno" falling asleep while trying to copy Italian paintings.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for the endorsement.
I did not feel you were making light of the blog. I am in fact flattered that I have so many serious full time painters following it.I would recommend Richards blog

Stapleton Kearns said...

The person who made that comment is very fond of Ingres and was I think attempting to draw me out. They are from a painting family and have actually built classical educational programs for the public schools,in reaction to a perceived need.

Stapleton Kearns said...

To members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day Saints,and to whomever else, it may in the future concern.

This blog has no useful opinion on religion or politics, although I am myself both religious and political. Any opinion expressed in a comment on either one is that of its maker, and does not reflect that of the blog itself. The object of this blog is to be an art tutorial and I want everyone who reads it to feel welcomed and valued regardless of their religion, politics, ethnicity or artistic preferences. I am aware that this blog now has a large and surprisingly varied,worldwide readership.I am glad all of you are here.I am used, therefore I am useful

Stapleton Kearns said...


I intend to do a series of posts on design(composition) in the future, but I want to make it all of a piece as it will go on for a long time, and I don't want to go at it piecemeal. I will see if I can answer that question when I do that.
I am getting my new computer equipment on line and will soon be operational in photoshop again, which I will need to talk effectively about design. In fact the posts of the last few days as well as tonight's are adaptations to not having that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will dig some and get back to you on that. I do have a great picture of Kenyon Cox from when he was studying in France. Remind me, I will do a Kenyon Cox post, perhaps he will have to share the stage with Edwin Blashfield though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are making my head spin. Remember, I left high school early to more fully participate in the 1960s.
The secret society of sorcero-limners trace their history back to the caves at Lascaux, where they squatted in the guano and muttered about the light,they left their fingerprints on the red figured ware amphorae of the Attic period and toiled unrecognized in the modern workshops of the Hummell masters. More than this, I must save for my book. tentatively titled "Down country roads with Stapleton Kearns"

Stapleton Kearns said...

The cox book is presented as being of interest, the Vanderpoel is essential. Read the Cox book sometime down the road when you can. Besides the $7.00 cost of the Vanderpoel makes it a great buy. Same with the Carlson.

ciessyno: noncommittal answer given by recalcitrant Etruscan maidens to aging but artistically talented suitors.

willek said...

Boy, Stape, the comments are really getting good. You are turning some heads, But recalcitrant... something to do with the metabolism of vitamin D as I recall.
Seriously, we are talking about whether we might bend a picture towards Classicism or Romantic, where in this spectrum does story telling come in. Where do you stand on having a painting communicate a story.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't care if a painting tells a story or not. I get way to hung up in what the paintings actually look like.If the painting looks good and it tells a story,fine. If it doesn't look good, no story matters enough to save it.