The development of Neoclassicism in France had much to do with social and political changes that were taking place in the 1770s, 80s, and 90s. Neoclassicism was one of the styles that flanked the French Revolution before, during, and shortly after this historical era. The period was marked with the robust growth of symbolic art and architecture. In other words, an unprecedented degree of knowledge gave a major impetus to the classical revival witnessed even before the actual revolution began. As a matter of fact, the roles played by art in the social realms could not be ignored during the revolution years.
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In 1777, Jean-Baptiste Greuze developed a remarkable piece of painting that depicted what was referred to as the paternal curse. It revealed the general lifestyle of poor families. He crafted several sentimental and moralizing scenes that left an indelible mark in the face of the French Revolution. Although most of his works were already outdated by the early 1780s when neoclassicism was taking shape, his emotional and social contribution to the ideals of revolution could not be wished away easily.
Both the Punished Son and Father’s Curse won him a lot of popularity at a time when the revolution fever was becoming more intense. To make it clearer, the two paintings were a masterpiece that depicted the corrupt nature of French society. The two paintings also symbolized the lost familial responsibility in France. According to Greuze, social strife and disorderliness that were being experienced in France was purely a construct of the French regime. Hence, there was a need for an immediate revolution to bring society back to order.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was yet another renowned artist who boggled the minds of many with paintings of portraits that belonged to the noble class. After painting over 30 portraits of the Queen and her household, she could not withstand the pressure of revolution. She feared for her life and subsequently departed the country. Élisabeth was very critical of the aristocracy in her paintings, bearing in mind that she artistically symbolized the nature of tyrannical and oppressive authority that was running the nation at that time.
In 1793, a heart-rending picture of the deceased Jean-Paul Marat was painted by Jacques-Louis David in order to act as a memorial to struggle for revolution. Marat significantly fought for the spirit of revolution when he was still alive. Even though he passed away later, his memories and active participation in the revolution were rekindled by this painting. As expected, the 1793 painting fuelled the revolution war and took it to a different level altogether.
Marat was one of the ring leaders of the initial neoclassical movement. The latter was mainly prevalent in European art in two centuries (18th and 19th). When the ancient models were revived as a result of the magnificent discoveries of archeological artifacts, the French Revolution gained both the political and moral momentums. The cruel nature of the French regime was depicted in the Marat’s figure that was being stabbed to death.
The emergence of political clubs also punctuated the French Revolution era. These clubs dominated French politics largely on the issue of revolution. By the 10th day of August 1790, the popular Jacobins club had already attracted close to 160 members. The clubs that were formed during the revolution years largely provided channels for political debate.