This text is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ or ‘The Book of a Million Facts’, seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).
I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in compiling this book I am studying:
Eighteenth Century Taste.-
The character of French decorative art throughout the eighteenth century was a continuation of the Louis Quartoze style, neo-classical and flamboyant, and it strongly affected the native style of most European countries. To imitate the French was to achieve elegance. Only the Dutch refused to be influenced by foreign taste, and sturdily maintained the reputation for wonderful craftsmanship and design which they had won in the seventeenth century.
Indeed, the Dutch themselves influenced contemporary taste, particularly in the passion for “chinoiserie” and “Indian” wares, largely derived from their oriental imports. Blue and white Chinese porcelain, the old Imari dishes (which served as models for the early Crown Derby designs) as well as all kinds of lacquered cabinets, indiscriminately described as “Indian,” were eagerly sought by men of taste.
Perhaps the greatest demand was in England, where the last quarter of the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries lacquered furniture was made by Anglo-oriental craftsmen, and became immensely popular. In describing the mode Daniel Defoe* (d. 1731) declared that all people of fashion were “piling their china upon tops of cabinets, scrutores and every Chymney Piece to the top of the ceilings and even setting up shelves for their Chinaware where they wanted such places, till it became a grievance in the expense of it and even injurious to their Families and Estates.”
Now that Watteau was dead, and the Poussins, and Claude Lorraine, French painting lay fallow until it was brought new life by the impressionists. In England, meanwhile, painting was struggling for recognition, but the English moneyed aristocracy adorned their houses with foreign pictures, mostly “Old masters” † bought in Italy on the “grand tours” considered essential to the education of fashionable young men. But by 1770, portraits by English painters had become fashionable, and in the applied arts also there was a demand for English work.
The change was brought about by the great increase in wealth if the mid-eighteenth century. wealth creates the desire for elegant surroundings, and the Adam brothers, Chambers, Dance and Holland were called upon for mansions and their interior decorations, while Nash built the Regent Street Quadrant and terraces in Regent’s Park. The demand of the eighteenth century magnates called forth the furniture of Chippendale (d. 1779) and Sheraton (d. 1806), and the porcelain of Worcester, Derby and Chelsea.
Great possessions produce self-satisfaction, and self-satisfaction produces a demand for portraits. The wealthy English found Gainsborough (d. 1788) and Romney (d. 1802) and Reynolds (d. 1792). The age produced, too, that most English and Prolific of painters – though he never achieved the front rank as a painter – George Morland (d. 1804). In his forty-one years he is said to have done 4000 pictures, of inn and farmyard, stable and village green. With the increase of the prestige of art and artists it became the fashion for young ladies to learn painting, and a supply of drawing masters grew up. One of these, “Old” Crome (d. 1821) who imitated the Dutch, was the leader of the Norwich school, and East-Anglican-Dutch landscapes were also painted, at the close of the century, by Constable (d. 1837) and John Sell Cotman (d. 1842).
The development of music during this period can be only lightly touched upon. It was not until the eighteenth century had begun that two men could find music the true expression of their grasp of life. Handel and John Sebastian Bach were born within a month of each other (1685) in the same part of Saxony, and both profited by the Italian methods that were then penetrating to Germany. Bach (d. 1750) was a member of a family which produced musicians over a period of two and a half centuries.
When the new art found symphonic expression in Haydn (d. 1809) and Mozart (d. 1791) it became music pure and simple, and yet had no more difficulty than painting and poetry in dealing with external ideas. Beethoven (d. 1827) , the greatest of all master, soon showed how gigantic the scale and range of sonata style could be, and how tremendous was its effect upon the possibilities of vocal music, both choral and operatic. Meanwhile Mozart raised comic opera, both Italian and German, to a height which has never been approached and from which operas of Rossini seem to show a deplorable decadence. Classical “opera buffa” begins and ends in Mozart.
* The author of “Robinson Crusoe” and chief among the “pamphleteers.”
† And often spurious copies at that.
The Romantic Movement. –
The opening of the nineteenth century saw a new brutality in art inspired by the Revolutionary era and the Napoleonic wars. Goya (d. 1828) the Spanish artist, paused in his regular work of painting magnificent portraits to produce a set of etchings that are among the tragic documents of art, while Wiertz, in Brussels, painted “Napoleon in Hell” and the picture called “Nineteenth Century Civilization” which shows a woman leaping from a window with her child in her arms while fired upon by soldiers.
This was one aspect of the “Romantic Movement” which affected music, architecture and literature as well as painting. It is a vague term; when applied to such delightful pieces as Weber’s (d. 1826) “Invitation to the Waltz” it seems to imply “programme music” – a characteristic of any stage in which art is imperfectly mastered. But the movement produced such men as Shubert (d. 1828), the greatest of all song writers, Schumann (d. 1856), Chopin (d. 1849), with his astounding lightness of touch and perfect balance of style, so well exemplified in his numerous “Nocturnes,” and Mendelssohn (d. 1847), whose brilliant mastery of all branches of art tended to discredit his work in the eyes of those who looked for slight imperfections as the infallible sign of genius.
Wagner (d. 1883) achieved absolute of music and drama, but his music, though appreciated by some, has no appeal for those who cannot overlook the inherent absurdities in Grand Opera. Side by side with Wagner rose the Hungarian, Liszt (d. 1866), and it is unfortunate that these two great geniuses should have fed the fire of criticism and comparison by a paper warfare which they did everything in their power to promote. Nevertheless, Liszt as the pioneer of the symphonic poem and a great piano virtuoso, deserves to take his place beside Wagner in the hall of Fame.
The German Romantic Movement opened with a series of romances or tales written in imitation of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but these are important only in so far as they prepared the way for the great universal genius Goethe (d. 1832) and his friend and compatriot Schiller (d. 1805). Goethe was supreme as a lyric poet, a modern writer says of him “he was a sort of emperor or high priest of letters, wielding a European supremacy like that which Voltaire had held before him, and such as nobody, except perhaps Victor Hugo, has had since.” Or, as Napoleon said, “voila un homme!”
In Britain the most “romantic” figure was that of Sir Walter Scott (d. 1832), whose “Border Minstrelsy,” ballads and novels are all typical of the revolt against the artificiality of Pope and his school, and whose stirring “picaresque” tales leaped into immediate popularity. Other “romantic” figures were poets like Keats, Shelley and Byron (d. 1824), whose own life-history was as lurid as any of his poems. Charles Dickens (d. 1870), the great and prolific novelist, also belongs to the Romantics. In the Anglo-Italian Rossetti is found the link between the poets of this time and those painters who styles themselves “Pre-Raphaelites.”
One of the most striking features of the first half of the century had been the artist’s ignorance of the great pictures of the past. The Old Masters were mere names to him until the Prince Consort arranged historical art displays* and Ruskin’s influence encouraged gifts to the National Gallery (founded in 1838). In 1848 a group of artists, among them Rossetti, decided to imbue their pictures with the early Renaissance spirit. The “Pre-Raphaelites” set out to defeat camera by attempting to rival its unselecting vision, and “by going,” as Ruskin (d. 1900) urged them, “to nature, respecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing.” The “Times” accused the artists of disorder of mind and eye, and a clergyman published a pamphlet beginning: “Woe, woe, woe, to young men of stubborn instincts calling themselves Pre-Raphaelites.” But while the Pre-Raphaelites were being reviled, Frith was making a fortune from the subject pictures of everyday life (of his famous “Derby Day”) and when they were exhibited in the Royal Academy a policeman had to be stationed to keep back the crowd.
* The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in Hyde Park, It was visited by 6,170,000 people.
The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.-
After the fall of Napoleon, the annual exhibitions at the Paris “Salon” became the central point of focus of French Art, while the general public became patrons. All through the century there was a prolonged battle between the “classicists,” followers of Poussin, and the “individualists,” the spiritual heirs of Rembrandt. Curiously enough, an Englishman, Turner (d. 1851) is a link between them, and his work had a great effect upon those painters known as “Impressionists.”
These never formed a band, like the Pre-Raphaelites, but worked as individuals, each observing directly from nature, and painting what he felt to be essential, recording what he saw at the moment of vision, not what his reason told him existed. The impressionists aimed at reproducing by any means itself, the transitory effects of sunshine, or cloud, or mist, or some strange effect of broken light. Some believed that only pure unmixed colour should be used.
One of the earliest of these impressionists was Corot (d. 1875), whose delicate ethereal landscapes show this movement at its beginning. Manet (d. 1883) followed, and Degas and Renoir (d. 1916) used rich and glorious colour, but the detail of their pictures was subordinated to the general shape or design, and anything which did not go into the pattern was ruthlessly omitted. Cézanne carried this still further, his pictures are elaborately simple, and the colour is made to do the work of modelling and light and shade.
The Dutchman, Vincent van Gogh (d. 1890), also used colour in this way, but he depended on brushwork too for his effects, trying to render the very texture of things. Gauguin (d. 1903) also used pure colour; he went to live in the South Seas, and painted natives and tropical landscapes with vivid brilliance. He has had a very great effect upon modern poster design. Some painters went further still, and produces picture puzzles (not to confused with the “problem” pictures popular in the ‘eighties) which might have any meaning or none.
As in art, so in literature. The end of the nineteenth and the beginning of this century have seen a movement away from romanticism and towards realism. The French novel, traced through Balzac (d. 1850) and Flaubert (d.1880) to Daudet, Loti, Zola and Anatole France, has moved far from the romances of Victor Hugo (d. 1885) and is still the model for model for modern artistic style. The Italian writer Pirandello has created a theatre of his own in Rome (1925) where he can produce and experiment at will, His work has met with great response, and has been translated into fifteen languages. In philosophy , too, the greatest thinkers of to-day, Bergson and Croce, are essentially experimentalists.
In architecture, too, the days of the “Gothic Revival” inaugurated by Violler-le-duc (d. 1879) and fostered by Ruskin, are long past. The new style is still in the experimental stage of eclecticism, but the general tendency is towards boldness and simplicity of line and is sparing in ornament. The French sculptor Rodin (d. 1917) applied impressionistic technique to sculpture; to-day the tendency is to experiment with plane surfaces and exaggerated proportions. In the sculpture of Epstein some profess to find a “strange beauty,” but the plain man, who throughout history has looked askance at all experiment, is heard to murmur – “What next?”