18th century art  

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The Swing (detail) (ca. 1767) by Fragonard
The Swing (detail) (ca. 1767) by Fragonard

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18th century, Enlightenment, Venus in the 18th century, History of painting, 17th century art

Art in the 18th century was dominated first by Rococo and than by Neoclassicism. The center of the art world shifted from Italy and the Low Countries to France.

After Rococo there arose in the late 18th century, in architecture, and then in painting severe neo-classicism, best represented by such artists as David.

This movement turned its attention toward landscape and nature as well as the human figure and the supremacy of natural order above mankind's will. There is a pantheist philosophy (see Spinoza and Hegel) within this conception that opposes Enlightenment ideals by seeing mankind's destiny in a more tragic or pessimistic light. The idea that human beings are not above the forces of Nature is in contradiction to Ancient Greek and Renaissance ideals where mankind was above all things and owned his fate. This thinking led romantic artists to depict the sublime, ruined churches, shipwrecks, massacres and madness.

The century also saw the rise of academies and the Paris salons.




French Rococo and Neoclassicism

Low Countries

Low Countries, Dutch art, Belgian art


English art, 18th century English art

In the 18th century, English painting finally developed a distinct style and tradition again, still concentrating on portraits and landscapes, but also attempting to find a successful approach to history painting, regarded as the highest of the hierarchy of genres.

Sir James Thornhill's paintings were executed in the Baroque style of the European Continent and William Hogarth may be called the first English artist — English in habits, disposition, and temperament, as well as by birth. His satirical works, full of black humor, are originally English, pointing out to contemporary society the deformities, weaknesses and vices of London life.

Leading portraitists were Thomas Gainsborough; Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy of Arts; George Romney; and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Joseph Wright of Derby was well known for his minute candlelight pictures, George Stubbs for his animal paintings.



Spanish art


Italian art

Rococo was the tail end of the Baroque period, mainly in France of the 18th century. The main artist of the Rococo style in Italy was Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 to 1770).


German art


Japanese art

Woodblock prints and Bunjinga: The school of art best known in the West is that of the ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints of the demimonde, the world of the kabuki theater and the brothel district. Ukiyo-e prints began to be produced in the late 17th century, but in 1764 Harunobu produced the first polychrome print. Print designers of the next generation, including Torii Kiyonaga and Utamaro, created elegant and sometimes insightful depictions of courtesans. In the West, erotic woodblock "prints" became popular because the material was not otherwise available. In that sense, such niche prints did more to promote Japanese art in the West than art studies.

The origins of art criticism

Although critiques of art may have its origins in the origins of art itself, art criticism as a genre is credited to have acquired its modern form by the 18th century.

The first writer to acquire an individual reputation as an art critic in 18th C. France was La Font de Saint-Yenne who wrote about the Salon of 1737 and wrote primarily to entertain while including anti-monarchist rhetoric in his prose.

The 18th C. French writer Denis Diderot is usually credited with the invention of the modern medium of art criticism. Diderot's "The Salon of 1765" was one of the first real attempts to capture art in words. According to art historian Thomas E. Crow, "When Diderot took up art criticism it was on the heels of the first generation of professional writers who made it their business to offer descriptions and judgments of contemporary painting and sculpture. The demand for such commentary was a product of the similarly novel institution of regular, free, public exhibitions of the latest art." [Published in Diderot on Art I, p.x]

See also

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