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The Art Of The French Revolution

The art of the French revolution is a fascinating turning point in the history of France, and a turbulent time for culture in Europe as a whole. Prior to the revolution, classicism was the fashion across all of Europe, with the renaissance coming to something of a close following centuries of innovation and experimentation.

By the time the French people were beginning to express extreme unhappiness in regards to the division of wealth, classicism had evolved into the frothy and frivolous Rococo period.

Rococo was little more than pastel-shaded mild erotica, with rural scenes featuring nobleman receiving flashes of ladies' undergarments, as one could see in paintings such as Fragonard's The Swing.

This was essentially the painting style of the royal court and their decadent, greedy aristocratic friends, and was evidently far removed from reality – the rural villages weren't the settings for rosy-cheeked romantic encounters, they were where people were starving by their thousands.

The Art Of Jaques-Louis David

If there is one quintessential French revolution artist, it must surely be Jaques-Louis David. David brought together all of the iconic components of revolutionary art; he used a neoclassical style which conveyed familiar classical Roman and Greek stories to the people, yet within the context of the early stages of the revolution, were little more than a call to arms.

His first major 'revolutionary' work was The Oath, an impressively stark and vibrant painting (in comparison to the flowery, genteel Rococo works which were still in circulation at this point), it depicts Roman soldiers showing their commitment to their country, whilst their women weep.


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The Oath of Horatii, 1784
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'Nation over family' was possibly the message the King (who commissioned the piece) intended, yet it was read by the people as a call to what they should be fighting for, no matter what the personal cost.

A Message To The People

As the revolution continued, David's work became more and more preoccupied with Napoleon, who he saw as the rightful inheritor of the battle for France. At this point in the art of the French revolution, we begin to see the iconic images of Napoleon crossing the Alps, of Napoleon at the coronation of Empress Josephine, of the Death of Marat.

French revolutionary art became strong, powerful, taking the clarity of neoclassicism to new heights with which to free art from the restrictions of the court and remind the people that they are the rightful heirs of an old and impressive empire.


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The Death of Marat, 1793
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