Friday, December 5, 2014

Academicism vs. Realism

The production and display of Cot’s The Storm comes in the middle of the Realist movement in French art where artists focused on showing “a truthful and objective vision of contemporary life.” Realism combined direct observation with parallels to naturalist literature; the movement elevated the middle class as they were exposed to art and literature. However, Cot’s paintings in nineteenth century France reflect his continuation of academicism despite the emergence of realism. Artists such as Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, and Vincent Van Gogh came to be classified as realist artists. The Realists aimed to reflect everyday life and to use color more expressively rather than descriptively. This curation exhibition aims to show the contrast between Cot’s paintings and realist paintings. All the paintings included utilize the materials of oil on canvas and come from nineteenth century France. Springtime and The Storm, both of which are Cot’s most popular paintings, symbolize the past academic paintings and should be compared to various realist paintings. This exhibition aims to answer the question of how do Cot’s paintings compare to those of his contemporaries and to open discussion as to why Cot favored academic painting. Cot’s The Storm in 1880 presents a great example of French academicism, where he alludes to two different stories: Paul et Virginie and Daphnis and Chloë in his reflection of the taste/style of the late nineteenth century France; therefore showing little concern for the emerging Realism movement.

Pierre-Auguste Cot, The Storm, 1880

Oil on Canvas, MET, 87.15.134

(Original Piece) 

Gustave Courbet, Young Ladies of the Village, 1851-1852

Oil on Canvas, MET, 40.175

This painting captures the essence of the realist movement because the work portrays everyday subject matter of young women walking through a valley near their village. The figures have more naturalistic features then those seen in Cot’s The Storm. Courbet portrays the everyday lives of his sisters in order to connect art to the middle class while Cot portrays idealized, mythological figures. Young Ladies of the Village is included in this exhibition because of its realist characteristics as well as representing style and subject matter of artists before Cot creates his most popular paintings.     

Edgar Degas, Sulking, 1870 

Oil on Canvas, MET, 29.100.43

This painting affirms the evolving characteristics of the realist movement. This painting shows figures in nicer clothing yet the woman is maintaining an interesting posture that could reflect a familial or intimate relationship. Sulking and The Storm both encompass intriguing female protagonists along with male figures who have gentler expressions. Both works also show the figures close together possibly reflecting an intimate relationship. These paintings, although being different in style, still relate in their subject matter. Cot and Degas echo similar concepts but employ academic and realist characteristics. 

Pierre-Auguste Cot, Springtime, 1873 

Oil on Canvas, MET, 2012.575

Springtime is another of Cot’s well-known paintings where the same figures of The Storm are seen but in a different scene. This painting serves to display another academic painting for comparison with the other realist paintings. Cot further expresses the idealized figures and their intimate relationship in Springtime, the figures are even in the same clothing. The background suggests the figures were together in this place before being forced to flee as shown in The Storm. The classicizing dress and use of light reveals Cot’s dedication to academic painting and was praised for such character. 

Edouard Manet, Madame Manet, 1880

Oil on Canvas, MET, 1997.391.4

Manet’s painting strongly contrasts from Cot’s academic painting because Manet uses visible brush strokes and color to express his emotion towards his wife. The painting does not reflect linearity but uses the changing colors to outline the figure and the background. This is different from the use of light and line exploited in Cot’s painting. Manet additionally evolves the features of realism as he uses color for expression instead of just description. The woman figure lacks a distinctive face even though Manet is presenting his wife, which is vastly different from the idealized, distinct face of the female figure of The Storm.

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley, 1882-1885 

Oil on Canvas, MET, 29.100.64 

Cezanne’s painting illustrates different subject matter then the other artworks including those of the realist and Cot’s academic works. Similar to Manet’s Madame Manet, Cezanne shies away from the use of crisp lines to exemplify the landscape. Instead Cezanne uses swift, visible brush strokes to illuminate the landscape with the use of varying shades of green and brown. Cezanne differs from both the other realists (seen in the above artworks) and Cot because instead of a figure Cezanne paints a landscape, specifically Mont Saint-Victoire above the Arc River valley. This work still employs the realist desire of painting everyday life but contrasts with Cot because Cot’s academic painting focuses on fantasy rather than reality.

Vincent van Gogh, La Berceuse (Woman Rocking a Cradle), 1889

Oil on Canvas, MET, 1996.435

Van Gogh’s painting is the farthest from academic painting seen thus far in this exhibition. Van Gogh differs drastically from Cot’s paintings, first in his use of color as an expression. The figure’s dark yellow face, piercing green eyes, and fiery orange hair all evoke the emotions of the viewer instead of trying to naturally portray the figure. Cot, however, uses color to make his figures somewhat naturalistic but to idealize the figures as seen in the porcelain like skin of the figures in The Storm. Van Gogh also employs thick lines to outline his figure, the chair she is sitting in, as well as to distinguish the floor from the background. Furthermore, van Gogh’s background consists of flowers and patterns, which serves to further the emotional response of the viewer. Cot and the academic painters are interested in a recognizable scene but exaggerating it to be more mythological.      



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