Styles of Art Timeline

Art History Research


Academic Art exhibitions were held often, and the most popular exhibition was the Paris Salon—and, beginning in 1903, the Salon d'Automne. These salons were sensational events that attracted crowds of visitors, both native and foreign. As much a social affair as an artistic one, 50,000 people might visit on a single Sunday, and as many as 500,000 could see the exhibition during its two-month run. Thousands of pictures were displayed, hung from just below eye level all the way up to the ceiling in a manner now known as "Salon style. " A successful showing at the salon was a seal of approval for an artist, making his work saleable to the growing ranks of private collectors.

Source: Boundless. “Sculpture.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 31 Mar. 2015 from

Source: Boundless. “Painting and Sculpture in Academia.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 31 Mar. 2015 from


Academic art was first criticized by realist artists for its use of idealism: based on idealistic clichés and representing mythical and legendary motives while contemporary social concerns were being ignored . Another criticism by realists was the "false surface" of paintings: the objects depicted looked smooth, slick, and idealized, showing no real texture. Similarly, perspective was constructed geometrically on a flat surface and was not really the product of sight.

Source: Boundless. “Sculpture.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 31 Mar. 2015 from

Source: Boundless. “Painting and Sculpture in Academia.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 31 Mar. 2015 from
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Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784 (salon of 1785) oil on canvas, 3.3 x 4.25m (Louvre)


In opposition to the frivolous sensuality of Rococo painters like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher, the Neoclassicists looked back to the French painter Nicolas Poussin for their inspiration (Poussin's work exemplifies the interest in classicism in French art of the 17th century ). The decision to promote "Poussiniste" painting became an ethical consideration—they believed that strong drawing was rational, therefore morally better. They believed that art should be cerebral, not sensual.

The Neoclassicists, such as Jacques-Louis David (pronounced Da-VEED), preferred the well-delineated form—clear drawing and modeling (shading). Drawing was considered more important than painting. The Neoclassical surface had to look perfectly smooth—no evidence of brush-strokes should be discernable to the naked eye.

France was on the brink of its first revolution in 1789, and the Neoclassicists wanted to express a rationality and seriousness that was fitting for their times. Artists like David supported the rebels through an art that asked for clear-headed thinking, self-sacrifice to the State (as in Oath of the Horatii) and an austerity reminiscent of Republican Rome.

Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784 (salon of 1785) oil on canvas, 3.3 x 4.25m (Louvre)

Neo-classicism was a child of the Age of Reason (the Enlightenment), when philosophers believed that we would be able to control our destinies by learning from and following the laws of nature (the United States was founded on Enlightenment philosophy). Scientific inquiry attracted more attention. Therefore, Neoclassicism continued the connection to the Classical tradition because it signified moderation and rational thinking but in a new and more politically-charged spirit (“neo” means “new,” or in the case of art, an existing style reiterated with a new twist.)

Neoclassicism is characterized by clarity of form, sober colors, shallow space, strong horizontal and verticals that render that subject matter timeless (instead of temporal as in the dynamic Baroque works), and Classical subject matter (or classicizing contemporary subject matter).

Essay by Dr. Beth Gersh-Nesic


In the decades following the French Revolution and Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo (1815) a new movement called Romanticism began to flourish in France. If you read about Romanticism in general, you will find that it was a pan-European movement that had its roots in England in the mid-eighteenth century. Initially associated with literature and music, it was in part a response to the rationality of the Enlightenment and the transformation of everyday life brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Like most forms of Romantic art, nineteenth-century French Romanticism defies easy definitions. Artists explored diverse subjects and worked in varied styles so there is no single form of French Romanticism.

Intimacy, spirituality, colour, yearning for the infinite

Even when Charles Baudelaire wrote about French Romanticism in the middle of the nineteenth century, he found it difficult to concretely define. Writing in his Salon of 1846, he affirmed that “romanticism lies neither in the subjects that an artist chooses nor in his exact copying of truth, but in the way he feels.... Romanticism and modern art are one and the same thing, in other words: intimacy, spirituality, colour, yearning for the infinite, expressed by all the means the arts possess."

One might trace the emergence of this new Romantic art to the painting of Jacques-Louis David who expressed passion and a very personal connection to his subject in Neoclassical paintings like Oath of the Horatii and Death of Marat. If David’s work reveals the Romantic impulse in French art early on, French Romanticism was more thoroughly developed later in the work of painters and sculptors such as Theodore Gericault, Eugène Delacroix and François Rude.

In 1810, Germaine de Staël introduced the new Romantic movement to France when she publishedGermany (De l’Allemagne). Her book explored the concept that while Italian art might draw from its roots in the rational, orderly Classical (ancient Greek and Roman) heritage of the Mediterranean, the northern European countries were quite different. She held that her native culture of Germany—and perhaps France—was not Classical but Gothic and therefore privileged emotion, spirituality, and naturalness over Classical reason. Another French writer Stendhal (Henri Beyle) had a different take on Romanticism. Like Baudelaire later in the century, Stendhal equated Romanticism with modernity. In 1817 he published his History of Painting in Italy and called for a modern art that would reflect the “turbulent passions” of the new century. The book influenced many younger artists in France and was so well-known that the conservative critic Étienne Jean Delécluze mockingly called it “the Koran of the so-called Romantic artists.”

The direct expression of the artist's persona

The first marker of a French Romantic painting may be the facture, meaning the way the paint is handled or laid on to the canvas. Viewed as a means of making the presence of the artist’s thoughts and emotions apparent, French Romantic paintings are often characterized by loose, flowing brushstrokes and brilliant colors in a manner that was often equated with the painterly style of the Baroque artist Rubens. In sculpture artists often used exaggerated, almost operatic, poses and groupings that implied great emotion. This approach to art, interpreted as a direct expression of the artist’s persona—or “genius”—reflected the French Romantic emphasis on unregulated passions. The artists employed a widely varied group of subjects including the natural world, the irrational realm of instinct and emotion, the exotic world of the “Orient” and contemporary politics.

Théodore Géricault, Raft of the Medusa, oil on canvas, 193 x 282 inches, 1818-19 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Man and nature

The theme of man and nature found its way into Romantic art across Europe. While often interpreted as a political painting, Théodore Géricault’s remarkable Raft of the Medusa(1819) confronted its audience with a scene of struggle against the sea. In the ultimate shipwreck scene, the veneer of civilization is stripped away as the victims fight to survive on the open sea. Some artists, including Gericault and Delacroix, depicted nature directly in their images of animals. For example, the animalier (animal sculptor) Antoine-Louis Barye brought the tension and drama of “nature red in tooth and claw” to the exhibition floor inLion and Serpent (1835.)