French Neoclassicism  

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The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) by Joseph-Benoît Suvée, in the collection of the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.
The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) by Joseph-Benoît Suvée, in the collection of the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.

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The middle of the 18th century France saw a turn to Neoclassicism, that is to say a conscious use of Greek and Roman forms and iconography. In painting, the greatest representative of this style is Jacques Louis David who, mirroring the profiles of Greek vases, emphasized the use of the profile; his subject matter often involved classical history (the death of Socrates, Brutus). The dignity and subject matter of his paintings were greatly inspired by Nicolas Poussin in the 17th century.

The Louis XVI style of furniture (once again already present in the previous reign) tended toward circles and ovals in chair backs; chair legs were grooved; Greek inspired iconography was used as decoration.

The French neoclassical style would greatly contribute to the monumentalism of the French revolution, as typified in the structures La Madeleine church (begun in 1763 and finished in 1840) which is in the form of a Greek temple and the mammouth Panthéon (1764-1812) which today houses the tombs of great Frenchmen. The rationalism and simplicity of classical architecture was seen — in the Age of Enlightenment — as the antithesis of the backward-looking Gothic.

The Greek and Roman subject matters were also often chosen to promote the values of republicanism. One also finds paintings glorifying the heroes and martyrs of the French revolution, such as David's painting of the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, a student of David's who was also influenced by Raphael and John Flaxman, would maintain the precision of David's style, while also exploring other mythological (Oedipus and the sphynx, Jupiter and Thetis) and oriental (the Odalisques) subjects in the spirit of Romanticism.

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