Revolution and Art

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John trumbull

Surrender of General Burgoyne by American artist John Trumbull in 1822

The American Revolution. A time of bloody war that led to liberation, freedom, and our nation as we know today. This revolution caused the subjects of american painters’ artworks to center predominately around the war and it’s prominent figures. Here, John Trumbull painted General Baron Reidesel,  Colonel William Prescott, General Gates, and Colonel Morgan and their part in the surrender of General Burgoyne at the battle of Saratoga.

But the American Revolution not only affected America as we know it today, nay, it also affected the world as we know it. It drove nations to separate from their “overlords”, caused revolutions around the world, and brought about an era of liberation. The people who were, arguably, most affected were the French. They modeled their revolution almost entirely after the American Revolution; The Declaration of Rights and Man echoing the sounds of the Declaration of Independence, and the Enlightenment itself drawing it’s inspiration from the Declaration of Independence. Of the French aspects affected by the American Revolution, a major part was the art produced by the French. It not only affected the style of art that was produced, but changed the subject.

The Enlightenment era featured two distinct styles of art, rococo and neoclassical. Rococo began the era and was the embodiment of upper class. It was bold, curvy.

Les Charmes de la vie (The Delights of Life) by French rococo artist Antoine Watteau in 1718

Les Charmes de la vie (The Delights of Life) by French rococo artist Antoine Watteau in 1718

Rococo, much like the “finer” French class emphasized pleasure and light heartedness. Rococo was bold and colorful, kept the subject matter lavish and light, and was the reflection of the aristocratic tastes.

Here, in Watteau’s Les Charmes de la Vie, you can see the classic rococo features. Bold colors, beautiful backdrops, and scenes depicting pleasure and joy. The people here look like they haven’t a care in the world. Like they are fun and light, airy in nature. There is company in the background, entertaining themselves with the scenery. The upper class of France of this time (Lets be honest, at almost all times in history) were big on social gatherings and parties. They fancied showing off their royal estates, and thought not of the woes of those around them. Here is a quaint video show just what I mean


Napolean in His Study by French artist Jacque-Louis David in 1812.

Napolean in His Study by French artist Jacques-Louis David in 1812.

Consequently, when the lower class French citizens were inspired by revolution and were fed up with their horrendous treatment, rococo also became the embodiment of the perceived moral decline of the upper class. The Pussinista’s of the French academy began an anti-rococo trend on the coat-tails of this unrest. Classified as “neoclassical”, this art style put an emphasis on moral virtue, good deeds, and patriotic self-sacrifice (I couldn’t possible figure out why *sarcasm*). Due to its revolutionary nature, the subjects featured turned towards those seen as figures of importance and inspiration to the movement.

Here, in Jacques-Louis David portrays Napoleon, a highly influential man in the circles of revolutionaries, in his study. Notice the deep colors, this is what separates neoclassical from classical artwork. And to put it apart from rococo, this neoclassical painting boasts intense detail, even down to the wall moldings on the upper left hand corner. Each yellow box represents a different facet of intense detail. As you could see from the Les Charmes de la Vie, rococo was fixated on color and bold lines and less on fine details.

 The revolutions in the Enlightenment era spawned a whole new breed of artwork, along with a whole new attitude. This shows just how influential an artist’s surroundings and period can be. With social unrest at their feet, the French artists took that energy and molded it into a brand new class of art. Neoclassical art, birthed from a distaste of what rococo represented (the plush and morally unmentionable upper society of France).


To Read More Amount Revolutions and Art

Jacques-Louis David, Initials. N.p.. Web. 12 Mar 2014. <;.

John Trumbull, . N.p.. Web. 12 Mar 2014. <;.

Pioch, N.. N.p.. Web. 12 Mar 2014. <;.

(The imformation about the rococo and neoclassical styles of artwork came from the recordings and audio teachings of Professor Lisa Kljaich’s ART/MUS/THTR 200 class)


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