The artistic evolution cannot be separated from the overall human history, so the development of painting styles mostly goes on in alignment with other aspects of life. Neoclassicism, impressionism and abstract expressionism are all reflective of their epochs’ philosophy and mark milestones in painting. While Neoclassicism is a flashback into the best approaches of classical antique and Renaissance art, Impressionism with its focus on movement and play of light is a breath of fresh air, and Expressionism is a quintessence of emotional tension and freedom.
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques Louis David is an example of Neoclassicist painting that became popular at the end of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century. The very appearance of an emperor in painting is characteristic of the style, which tended to picture outstanding personalities rather than ordinary people. As Napoleon was one of the proponents of the style, it is natural that he was embodied in this period’s painting. A characteristic trait of the approach was a focus on the traditions of painting, which were left as a legacy by antique and Renaissance artist. Clear lines, classical approach to color palette, simplicity combined with nobility – these were characteristic features of the style. While painting Napoleon, the painter’s aim was to underline his status and his outstanding position but he did not do this by any distortion that would make him seem larger than life. Instead, the painter is precise and perfect in his technique, pays attention to details and thus manages to reveal the dignity that his character irradiates.
In contrast, Impressionism took little interest in historical figures because its philosophy was totally different. The movement was interested in catching the passing moments of everyday life, which was done by depicting nature and humans. Luncheon of the Boating Party is an example of impressionist approach as it focuses on movement. The characters are full of life, each of them has a natural posture, unlike neoclassicism where people tended to sit for a painter. Like other impressionist paintings, this one by Auguste Renoir is a perfect example of impressionist love to take contexts from real life. A group of people in the paintings are in movement and interaction with each other, they are involved in conversation and each of them has their own character. Some are cheerful, some are dreamy; some want to communicate, some want to stand aloof. This makes impression of the painting natural and fresh. The pallet and brushstrokes are typical for impressionism. Preference to joyful but pale colors with a lot of light poured by the painter, and the blurred technique of bold brushstrokes are marks of impressionism nowadays.
Finally, speaking of Expressionism and abstract one in particular, it is worth considering a painting Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock. The most striking feature of it is absence of meaningful subject matter, unlike previously mentioned styles, although not all expressionist painting was like that. However, it is an abstract nature of the painting that helps reveal the philosophy of expressionism, for which the artist’s emotional reaction to reality was more important than the objective truth. Like impressionism, it indulges in movement, revealing the hidden dynamism of seemingly static objects. The painting looks chaotic but it is clear that the artist was well aware of his idea, and that he saw some inner hierarchy in his painting. The colors are quite gloomy despite of emotionality, which probably explains why the name is Autumn Rhythm. The art is highly subjective, subconscious and expressive, which is clear from the name of expressionism
To conclude, the three mentioned painting styles are quite different in its approaches. While Neoclassicism reincarnates classical standards and techniques, Impressionism tries to catch passing moments of life, Expressionism attempts to reveals the hidden power of emotions and the subsconsious.
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