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Martin Bright lecture (15 Nov 2002)
"Classical and Romantic Periods in Art"

Notes by Sam Dauncey

Comments as Webmaster: The Brights seem to be jinxed. No-one apparently had a camera at either of Sandra Bright's Workshops (July and October) so there are no photos here on the web site. Also, the newsletter write-up never got to me, so nothing is here about the fascinating watercolour/wax resist/pastel and, later, oil pastel (etc.) techniques she had us all using to represent our fruit, flowers and dead leaves.

Martin had so many well-chosen slides to illustrate his talk that it would have been pointless trying to give examples here - all you'll get is text.

Classical (from Greek and Roman Art): very stylised, with a purpose, and ruled by symmetry.
Renaissance (15th Century rebirth of Classical after the Dark Ages): geometry still ruled.
Neo-Classical (from mid-18th Century, "Age of Reason"): introduced more historical and uplifing subjects.
Romantic (named after romance languages): with more parallels to troubadours' tales of heroic support for the oppressed.

Martiin switched between Neo-classical and Romantic slides, to illustrate differences and overlaps, but I'll try to pull the conclusions together.

Neo-classical artists retained much of the Renaissance symmetry and tended to illustrate, for example, citizens' obligations to society. Their work was somewhat idealistic, showing neither spots nor pimples nor even brush strokes. They were very much professionals - "no contract, no painting".

It was good for educational (propaganda) purposes. Neo-classical, corinthian pillar, architecture was, still is, frequently used to give an impression of trustworthyness to banks and political buildings.

Many artists (Turner, for example, and Ingres) developed from earlier neo-classical to later romantic types of work or even switched between them

Romantic artists tended to be against the "party line", republican and to be more true to life - death, for example, being gory rather than heroic. Gothick (sic) art showed for the first time (Hogarth excepted) that there are dark forces - e.g. "nightmare" scenes. Paintings illustrating man's insignificance (e.g. Samuel Palmer's Avalanche) were popular.

British romantic artists were individualistic, less likely to be involved in groups, particularly political ones, than their European contemporaries. They painted what they wanted (or what they thought potential clients would want). Goya, the later Turner and even Constable all showed proletarian attitudes but their lack of sympathy for the rules of "The Establishment" also led them to be personally rather reactionary - poor family men.

The emergence of Romantic Art could be considered to mark the emergence of British painting (including, for example, Gainsborough in the 1770's) as a strong international player in the artistic world.

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