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Neo-Grec is a term referring to late manifestations of Neoclassicism, early Neo-Renaissance now called the Greek Revival style, which was popularized in architecture, the decorative arts, and in painting during France's Second Empire, or the reign of Napoleon III, a period that lasted approximately between 1848 and 1865. It was one of many "Revival styles" of the mid to late 19th century, and just one among several concurrent modes of Classicism. The Neo-Grec vogue took as its starting point the earlier expressions of the Neoclassical style inspired by 18th-century excavations at Pompeii, which resumed in earnest in 1848, and similar excavations at Herculaneum.


In painting, the Neoclassical style continued to be taught in the French Academy des Beaux-Arts, inculcating crisp outlines, pellucid atmosphere, and a clear, clean palette. However, a formal Neo-Grec group of artists was created in the mid 19th century after growing interest in Ancient Greece and Rome, and especially the later excavations at Pompeii. The Paris Salon of 1847, an art exhibition, revealed the academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, who in The Cock Fight depicted a composition in which, in a scene of antiquity, a young boy and a girl attend the combat of two cocks. Gérôme gained fame from this exhibition, and in the next year formed the Neo-Grec group with Jean-Louis Hamon and Henri-Pierre Picou—all three pupils in the same atelier under Charles Gleyre. Gleyre himself adopted the tenets of neo-classicism more strictly than others at the time, adopting the classical style and aesthetic, but almost exclusively applying it to myths and motifs from antiquity, recalling both characters from Greek myth, and antique emblems such as bacchantes and putti. The Neo-Grec group took Gleyre's style and interests, but adapted it from use in history painting as in Gleyre's work, into genre painting. Because they were inspired by discoveries at Pompeii, they were also called néo-pompéiens.

The paintings of the Neo-Grecs sought to capture everyday, anecdotal trivialities of ancient Greek life, in a manner of whimsy, grace, and charm, and were often realistic, sensual, and erotic. For this reason they were also called "anacreontic" after the Greek poet Anacreon, who wrote sprightly verses in praise of love and wine. Alfred de Tanouarn describes one of Hamon's paintings as "clear, simple and natural, the idea, the attitudes and the aspects. It leads the lips a soft smile; it causes us an inexpressible feeling of pleasure in which one is happy to stop and view the painting". It can perhaps be said the motto of this group was "the goal of art is to charm". Most Neo-Grec paintings were also done in a horizontal layout as in a frieze decoration or Greek vases, with the composition simplified.

The Neo-Grec school was criticized in many respects; for its attention to historical detail it was said by Baudelaire "the scholarship is to disguise the absence of imagination", and the subject matter was considered by many as trivial. The painters were also charged with selectively adopting the ancient Greek style, in that they left out noble themes and only focused on trivial daily life—leading to the accusation that they were creating art that supported the ideologies of the bourgeoisie, or comfortable middle class.

The discovery in Pompeii also inspired history paintings based on the event, not necessarily strictly in a Neo-Grec style, such as The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Briullov.

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