4.4- Visual Arts in the Classical Era

The first half of the 1800’s was much different than the later half

Rococo style dominated the art world until about 1775, then in 1785 there was a clear shift to a new style of painting: Neoclassical style


“Church in the Meadows” Bavaria – Rococo style



  • Characteristics are very similar to Rococo Architecture
  • Pastel Colors
  • Curving forms
  • Light subject matter, emphasis on pleasure
  • Fetes galantes
  • References to Greek and Roman mythology
    A reflection of the tastes of the aristocracy

More details about the French Rococo Era  – video included


The French Artists

Jean-Antoine Watteau 1684-1721

Portrait of Watteau – 1721 by Rosalba Carriera

François Boucher   1703-1770

  • Favorite painter of Madame de Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV
  • Appointed as director to the French Academy
  • His color choices were described by friends as “rose petals floating in milk’
  • His popular subject was nudes
  • Popular work — Bath of Diana

Jean-Honoré Fragonard 1732-1806

  • Student of Boucher
  • Rapid brushstrokes, at times completing works in an hour
  • Overtly erotic subject matter
  • Patronized by Madame du Barry — last mistress of Louis XV
  • Most popular works — The Swing and The Meeting

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun 1755-1842

  • Child prodigy
  • Supported her family by painting from the time she was 15
  • Popular with the aristocracy, including Marie Antoinette
  • Fled France to escape the Reign of Terror
  • Published 3 volumes of memoirs — great insight into the era
  • Popular works — The Artist and Her Daughter

English Artists

Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-92

  • A leading portrait painter of London society
  • First president of the Royal Academy of London
  • Frequently painted aristocratic ladies in a gracious and refined manner
  • Popular work — Lady Elizabeth Delme and Her Children

Thomas Gainsborough 1727-88

  • Portrait and landscape artist
  • More money in portraits
  • Rival of Reynolds
  • Popular work — Blue Boy

William Hogarth 1697-1764

  • Painted series of pictures, like scenes from a play
  • Painted as a social critique — satirizing the decadent aristocracy
  • Made engravings of his paintings and sold black and white prints
  • Popular work — Marriage a la Mode
  • Link to a marvelously informative supplementary video:


Neoclassical Style

“Oath of the Horatii” Jacques Louis David 1784


Traits of Neoclaccism

  • Moral virtue
  • Patriotic self-sacrifice
  • Goodly deeds
  • Roman Ideals

Subject matter of:

  • Roman stories of virtuous behavior
  • Heroism
  • Tributes to self-sacrifice


  • Somber
  • Linear

French Artists

Jacques Louis David 1748-1825

Jean-Antoine Houdon 1741-1828

“L’atelier de Houdon” – Louis Leopold Boilly

  • Created sculptures of some of the most important figures of the Enlightenment
  • His busts were very intimate and natural portrayals
  • His sculptures were all commissions
  • Most Popular work — George Washington

English (International)

Angelica Kauffman 1741-1807


Benjamin West 1738-1820

  • One of the first American painters to gain an international reputation
  • Abandoned the Neoclassical style of portraying Greek and Roman dress
  • Painted historical and religious subjects
  • Popular work — Death of General Wolfe

John Singleton Copley — 1738-1815

portrait by Gilbert Stuart

(please peruse this wonderful site with an engaging presentation of both the artist and his important work)

  • American born — worked in England
  • History paintings
  • Innovative revisions of earlier paintings
  • Popular work — Watson and the Shark

8 Responses to “4.4- Visual Arts in the Classical Era”

  1. Elliot writes:

    I guess artistic value evolves to reflect the current needs and wants. Much of Western Art was naturalistic, which was convenient for the time, but began to wane after the introduction of the camera.

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  3. Yes, I love Impressionism! | chanda in fairbanks. writes:

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