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Benjamin West's influence on the course of American painting was enormous, and it is certain that without him the achievements of most of the major American artists of the time would not have been possible. Born on October 10, 1738, near Springfield, Pennsylvania, West manifested a talent for painting at an early age, and was encouraged to draw by his parents. The lessons in antiquity fuelled his determination to become a history painter, and in 1760 he sailed for Italy.
There he met the right people, by the time he reached London in 1763, was steeped in the newest artistic trends. His ability, ambition, modernity, willingness to experiment, and social skills earned him widespread patronage. West met King George III, who appointed him a charter member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and by 1772 made him his historical painter.
American History painting
In 1692, Louis XIV of France had mounted an ill-fated attempt to restore James II, a fellow Catholic, to the throne of England. In response, Britain and her Protestant allies, the Dutch, massed their fleets and engaged the enemy for five days off the northern French coast near La Hogue. Nine decades later, West employed much artistic license to devise this patriotic scene that is almost entirely propaganda.
Standing in a boat at the left, for instance, Vice Admiral George Rooke embodies heroic command with his raised sword. Yet he undoubtedly gave orders far from the thick of battle. At the right, a Frenchman deserts his craft with its fleur-de-lis motif. Having lost his wig, he becomes an object of ridicule. West parted the foreground's thick smoke to reveal the French flagship beached in the center distance. Actually sunk a few days before this encounter, The Royal Sun is here imaginatively refloated -- only to be run against the cliffs so that West might better symbolize the French defeat.
This picture is one of Blake’s figurations of death, which is represented by the immortal (female) soul leaving the mortal body, ascending towards the ‘Gate of Pearl and Gold’, with the keys in her hand that perhaps provide access to the place of eternal life. In the picture the body is separated from the soul by a white cloud which represents the division between the material and spiritual realms. Indeed it almost appears as though the dead body is asleep and the soul is a figure from a dream. Blake shows death not as an end, but as an opening to the unknown
This work illustrates an episode in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, builder of the walls of Babylon and perhaps also of the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The picture is inspired by an account in the book of Daniel of a dream the King had in which he saw an enormous tree that stretched to the ends of the earth and that he was told to cut down. The tree was interpreted by the prophet Daniel as the King himself, and may be said to represent the folly of human creation and desire for power. The King is transformed into a lion-like figure and the expression on his face is one of horror
Death on a Pale Horse
In this picture, Turner creates a powerful vision of death arriving on a pale horse. It is difficult to make out the almost transparent figure which seems to emerge out of a dream-like mist, reminiscent of Turner’s famous pictures of sea storms. The picture evokes a mood of disturbing mystery
The Haywain is an oil sketch representing a rural scene set in the English countryside the foreground is taken up by the haywain at the centre apparently crossing the quiet stream the cottage on the left and the big tree behind it. The background and the upper part of the picture are occupied by the distant grassy fields the trees and the sky, light blue but mostly crossed by drifting white and grey clouds. Two human figures a peasant and a boy can be see in the haywain a third one may be detected near the cottage on the riverside, every detail in the picture the stream widening into a pond the old cottage the lettuce and the dog in the foreground the trees in the distance with the patches of sun on the grass
the small figures is the result of Constable’s belief that the artist’s response to the nature could not be expressed through traditional neoclassical forms this belief was shared by the Romantic poets too.
At the beginning of the 19th century landscape painting changed from a minor genre it became a major form of artistic expression. The painters spoke of landscapes as having a significance beyond the visual. Constable said that they expressed moral sentiments. He believed in the language of the heart and that “painting is another name for feeling”. This picture is not a photographic reproduction of the nature, Nature is capable of raising the highest kind of emotion in the beholder, he took his inspiration directly from the nature without referring to mythological, historical or Christian traditions. Read also: http://www.thelilypad.co.uk/haywain.html
Sublimity in painting often consisted of painting terrifying subjects such as shipwrecks or avalanches. Most often, human figures were presented as tiny, helpless pawns in the grip of the great powers of nature. Mountain scenes with deep crevasses or scenes of ocean and sky are favourite topics of the sublime painter. Dark or vivid colours and extensive use of shadow and contrast are frequent techniques in sublime painting. See also: http://www.en.utexas.edu/Classes/Moore/sublime/subPaint1.htm
Constable, John (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776 – London 1837) Painter.
Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’
Enthusiasm for the ruins of old historic monuments was a key part of the Romantic and to a certain extent the Victorian aesthetic. Like Wordsworth’s poem ‘Tintern Abbey’, this painting evokes the memory of the place that forms its subject, Hadleigh Castle. Yet as in all Constable’s works this sense of the past is combined with the meticulous recording of a present moment, conveyed by the way the artist captures the particular atmospheric conditions of the day, the quality of light, cloud formations etc. Thanks to this superimposition of past and present the painting transmits a powerful feeling of loss, an image of the ruins of time.
Constable, John (East Bergholt, Suffolk 1776 – London 1837) Painter.
Rainstorm over the Sea
This painting conveys a powerful feeling of the immensity of the vacant space between sea and sky. With just a couple of boats barely visible on the horizon, the space of the painting seems to extend to infinity. The sea, as a realm between heaven and earth, is traditionally a place of myth. On the margins of reality, it is symbolic of the forces of both creation and death, of beginnings and endings. The goddess Venus was born from the sea. The heroine of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening walks into the sea to die, perhaps in the hope of being reborn. In this picture the sea in question is the English Channel. The dramatic rain clouds may make us think of the tempestuous political situation in post-revolutionary France. Alternatively we might look forward forty years to Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’.
In literature we notice a pre romantic tendency, the critical term was the sublime, it was against the classical ideal of beautiful, classical harmony and regularity in form, it indicated fear, terror, strength and irregularity. “Sublime object are vast in their dimensions (mountains like Alps, oceans in tempest) massive and solid, and terror is ruling principle of sublime” Edmund Burke. Typical of pre romantic sensibility was a cult for the ruins, for dark and night, death, an exotic dream-like poems.
The artist inspired by French revolution felt like rebel, against any form of authority, in favour of free expression of personality. The romantic hero was the product of the glorification of the individual, the common trait was the discovery of the self, the celebration of political leaders, the illustration of collective and individual struggles for freedom, man’s aspiration to freedom and his revolt against all form of tyranny.
Instinct, feeling and imagination were central point for Romantic poets, romantic poets endowed nature with life passion and feelings, nature was a source of inspiration, the countryside with humble people, as a life-force, Kant believed that nature was as a reality in itself and as a projection of the human mind in Turner’s paintings we grasp a general sense of wonder and restlessness in the face of nature, his landscape of mountains, snowy fields, roaring seas seem to evaporate and became pure lights, man is completely fascinated by powerful natural effects.
Turner and the sublime in italian: http://www.arslife.com/dettaglio2/2007/7/il-risveglio-del-sublime.htm in English: http://www.cercles.com/n1/bois.pdf
Turner’s works at www.j-m-w-turner.co.uk/turner-switzerland.htm