Painting in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

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Painting in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the ideal of self-determination

fostered by the French Revolution and spread by Napoleon helped spawn a revolutionary

spirit across Europe. This spirit of rebellion also infected artists of the period. Painters

began to challenge the philosophy and the aesthetic principles of the academies, looking

outside these conservative institutions for their training, subject matter, style, and

purpose. While many artists and critics promoted the status quo, others sought change,

seeing validity in new themes and new approaches. To many artists, the histories and

mythologies still promoted by the academies offered no inspiration, and so they turned

elsewhere for their subject matter. Some looked to nature, others to daily life, and still

others to themes of the worker, the poor, and the oppressed. As they sought alternatives,

many artists gathered in groups based on common interests.

Outside the established

mainstream of their own time, the Realists, the Impressionists, and the Post-

Impressionists broadened the horizons of Western art.

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), a self declared Realist, rejected the inherent

sentimentality of work by the Romantics. Courbet's interest in portraying things as they

really appear, together with his nonacademic orientation, placed him in the front rank of

the quest for realism, the premise for much of the artistic activity of the period. Michael

Wood quotes Courbet as saying: "It was not my intention of attaining the trivial goal of

art for art's sake. My aim is to translate the customs, the ideas, and the appearance of my

own epoch as I see them." According to Janson "The storm broke in 1849, when he

exhibited The Stone breakers, the first canvas fully embodying his programmatic

Realism" (dcv). Courbet was inspired by the complete expression of human misery he...