The Connection Between Art and the French Revolution
University of the People Student
University of the People
The French Revolution signified a major shift in power for the country of France. Beginning in 1789, the aristocratic leaders were overthrown by the peasant class and the old order of feudalism was abolished (“French Revolution”, n.d.). Much of the principles of the French Revolution were inspired by thinkers of the Enlightenment who questioned the traditional ways and embraced rational thought and individual autonomy (“Enlightenment,” n.d.). Similarly, the artists of the time were also moved by this new way of thinking and begin to produce pieces that reflected this. Many artists supported the revolution and used their artwork to inspire the public to embrace the rebellion and depose the current government.
The Influence of Art
Around the time of the French Revolution, a distinct artistic style had developed, Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was characterized by an appreciation for classical artwork from ancient Greece and Rome, clean, strong lines, and a timeless, serious subject matter (Gersh-Nesic, n.d.). One artist that expresses the neoclassical style is Jacque-Louis David. Paintings such as the Oath of Horatti, showed a classic Roman story of three brothers and their oath to defend Rome (McCoy, n.d.). While the tale was familiar to the French people, David, a revolutionary sympathizer, created the painting not to retell this story, but to help inspire people to support the revolutionaries and their cause (McCoy, n.d.).
After the revolution, the influences of the new political order remained evident in David’s work. David was the personal artist for one of the most famous French leaders ever known, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon served in the military during the Revolution and later became associated with the Jacobians, a “pro-democracy political group” (“Napoleon Bonaparte”, n.d.). He came to power through a coup d’état in 1799 and later declared himself emperor of France in 1804 (“Napoleon Bonaparte,” n.d.). While hundreds paintings and sketches of Napoleon exist, it was Jacque-Louis David who painted many of the works we are familiar with today such as Napoleon Crossing the Alps and The Coronation of Napoleon (Pollitt, n.d.). Both these paintings depict the new leader Napoleon as a brave and magnificent hero to the people with strong use of symbolism and a great deal of exaggeration and flattery.
At the same time that Neoclassicism was being used by artists like David, a complementary and sometimes contrary style of art was developing, Romanticism. Unlike Neoclassicism, Romanticism created art that was intended to evoke intense emotion in the viewer and would sacrifice form over function. However, like Neoclassicism, Romanticism was also connected to the French Revolution. Sculptures like La Marseillaise by François Rude commemorate the Battle of Valmy when the French Army fought back the Austro-Prussian troops (Pollitt, n.d.) In the piece, Rude symbolically carved France as Lady Liberty brilliantly leading the people to victory (Pollitt, n.d.).
The French people continued to fight in revolutions for several decades after the famous French Revolution of 1789 and artists continued to use their craft as a way to record the history and garner public sympathies for the cause. Jacque-Louis David, François Rude, and many others, influenced by Enlightenment ideals, new ways of thinking, great discoveries in science and technology, and a belief in a more equal society helped create a new France in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Enlightenment. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2017, from http://www.history.com/topics/enlightenment
French Revolution. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution
Gersh-Nesic, B. (n.d.). Neoclassicism, an introduction. Retrieved December 20, 2017, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/neo-classicism/a/neoclassicism-an-introduction
McCoy, C. (n.d.). David, Oath of the Horatii. Retrieved December 20, 2017, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/neo-classicism/a/david-oath-of-the-horatii
Napoleon Bonaparte. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2017, from http://www.history.com/topics/napoleon
Pollitt, B. (n.d.). David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps. Retrieved December 20, 2017, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/neo-classicism/a/david-napoleon-crossing-the-alps
Pollitt, B. (n.d.). Rude, La Marseillaise. Retrieved December 20, 2017, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/romanticism/modal/a/rude-la-marseillaise