A VERY usual mistake is made of applying the title, The Men of 1830, exclusively to the painters of the Barbizon group; apparently from the notion that this represents the date at which they settled in that village. But Rousseau did not visit the Forest of Fontainebleau until 1833, while it was at the Salon of 1831 that the men, afterwards so famous as a group, first attracted notice by their landscapes. The phrase, actually coined to designate the band of literary artists who under the leadership of Victor Hugo were hurling defiance at classicalism, refers to that memorable night, February 25, 1830, when Hugo’s Hernani was produced for the first time, and the rival partizans of the Academy and Romanticism came to blows in the theater. Five months later occurred the July Revolution of 1830, which drove into exile Louis XVIII, the last of the Bourbon kings. Thus the phrase had in additional significance of revolt and came to be applied broadly to all the fervent spirits in literature and painting who had fought the battle of individualism against the paralyzing restrictions of official dogmatism. = They were, as Théophile Gautier styled them in one of his poems, Les Vaillants de dix-huit-cent-trente.
One of the phenomena of the French Revolution is that within the space of only twelve years, 1789-1802, the old institutions had fallen and society was already being reconstructed on a new basis. This is to be explained by the fact that preparations for the new were already in progress before the downfall of the old. Thus, in the case of Romanticism, the torch had been lighted by Jean Jacques Rousseau and was carried for-ward by Chateaubriand (17681848) and Madame de Staël (1776-1813). Chateaubriand’s autobiographical novel, “René,” published in 1802, reveals him akin to Werther and to Byron a prey to ennui and bitter self analysis. “My mind,” he writes, “while made to believe in nothing, not even in myself ; to despise all things, honors, misery, kings and peoples, is yet dominated by an instinct of reason which commands it to reverence whatever is beautiful, such as religion, justice, humanity, liberty and glory.” Converted from infidelity by his mother, he wrote “The Genius of Christianity,” “a prose-poem which by a series of picturesque and pathetic images awoke all the vague religious feeling that slumbered in the souls of men.” He also embodied in several books the impressions derived from his extensive travels, which included a visit to America, 17911792. The descriptions of nature which form the background of all his writings are impregnated with subjective feeling. As M. Lébon says, “no writer has ever painted more faithfully or poetically the all-compelling, somber or gracious spell of the night, the solemnity of primeval forests and prairies, the misty skies of Germany, the sunlight of Italy, the loveliness of Greek mountains or the varied colors of Arab encampments.” Moreover, in his “Genius of Christianity,” Chateaubriand inculcated new artistic ideals; the abandonment of conventional, vexatious rules for liberty of spirit ; the interpretation of the grandeur and the beauty of nature and the expression of real emotion in place of depicting drawing-room manners and mythological scenes. Under his influence writers turned for inspiration to Shakespeare, Scott, Schiller and Goethe, whose works began to be translated into French; and to the Bible, Gothic art, medievalism and history in general.
The influence of Madame de Staël complemented that of Chateaubriand. In her novel, “Corinne,” published in the same year as the latter’s “René,” and in “Delphine” (1807) she also indulges in the personal note and proves herself to be sentimental and romantic. On the other hand her main characteristic is that of a thinker. In her “Literature considered in its relation to Social Institutions” she declared, “The object of literature is no longer to be, as in the eighteenth century, merely the art of writing; it is to be the art of thinking, and the standard of literary greatness will be found in the progress of civilization.” She broke away from the old method of criticism which merely searched for beauties and defects, and substituted as a basis the examination of a work of art in relation to the circumstances of its time and the psychology of its author. In fact, to quote M. Lanson, “Madame de Staël furnished the Romanticists with ideas, theories and a method of criticism: Chateaubriand gave them an ideal, desire and the means of’ enjoying them. The woman defined where the man realized.”
The most brilliant of the younger band who were more or less directly inspired by these two writers comprised Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Lamartine, Alfred de Musset, Saint Beuve, Théophile Gautier, Béranger and the historians Thierry, Guizot and Michelet, who transformed the historical method by infusing into it life and color. For life in its infinite, colorful variety of experience and sensations, set against the color of surrounding nature and conditions, was the theme which variously occupied these diverse minds. As the doctrines of Romanticism were formulated by Victor Hugo in the preface to his drama, Cromwell (1827), it aimed to rejuvenate art by giving it a new dress and a new coloring, to represent human nature with its real passions and weaknesses, to seek a background for emotions in the world of nature and to give local and historical truth to the heroes of the drama.
Of this atmosphere so charged with revolt from classical tradition and with ideals of the future, it would have been strange if painters had escaped the influence. As a matter of fact early in the century they became participators of the general impulse. Even David yielded a little to it when he painted his masterpiece, The Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame, now hanging in the Louvre. This canvas of superlative magnificence does more than extol the pride of the Emperor. It is no mere official emblazoning of an autocrat’s glorification, as were the state canvases of the Grand Mon-arch. It represents also the exultation of a nation, glorying in its newly awakened life and the grandeur of its possibilities.
But the painter who directly marks the transition toward Romanticism is one of David’s pupils, Baron Antoine Jean Gros (17711835) . He accompanied the French army during the campaign in Italy, and attracted the notice of Napoleon, then General Bonaparte, who after he had become Emperor commissioned him to paint the large pictures in the Louvre, representing Bona-parte on the Bridge at Arcola, Bonaparte visiting the Plague-stricken at Jaffa and Napoleon at Eylau. In these Gros abandoned the bas-relief compositions of impersonal antique figures in heroic postures for personages of the day, individually characterized and grouped with reference to the actions of the drama in which they are engaged. The coloring is no longer that of tinted marble, but has qualities of esthetic appeal. In their expression of the emotions, aroused by the horror and glory of war, these pictures are a foretaste of the storm and stress of Romanticism. In their record of events actually witnessed or imagined as the result of visual experience they anticipate the Realistic motive, while their tribute to the Emperor sets the key for the Napoleonic legend which the imagination of Frenchmen was weaving around the national hero. The younger generation recognized in Gros an inspiration. He had, in fact, all the qualities of a leader save belief in his own convictions. He could never free himself from the trammels of David’s authority. The old master remonstrated with him for painting these “worthless occasional pieces.” “Posterity requires of you,” urged David, “good pictures out of ancient history. ‘Who,’ she will cry, ‘was better fitted to paint Themistocles?’ Quick, my friend, turn to your Plutarch.” Gros’ faith in him self was shaken. Later after the death of Girodet, who with Pierre Narcisse Guérin (17441833) had succeeded to the leadership of David, he yielded to the entreaties of the Academicians that he should head their flight against the hot-brained foes of classicalism. Yet he recognized the anomaly of his position. “I have not only no authority as leader of a school,” he said, “but, over and above that, I have to accuse myself of giving the first bad example of defection from real art.” Gradually his own pictures became paralyzed by the dead hand of classicalism, until in 1835 appeared the wearisome rhodomontade of Hercules Causing Diomedes to be Devoured by his own Horses. It was ridiculed alike by artists and the critics. Gros was overcome with despair. What he knew to be his natural temperament he had sacrificed to what he supposed to be his duty. And in vain. The flood of Romanticism was now at full tide and his efforts to stem it had overwhelmed him in humiliation. He drowned himself in the Seine.
Meanwhile, the note sounded by Gros in his earlier days had been repeated in a triple blast by Théodore Géricault (17911824) , who thus became the actual leader of the younger generation. Like Delacroix he served his apprenticeship in Guérin’s studio. But he had no use for the master’s tame and elegant classicalism. A sturdy son of Normandy, he had grown up near the sea, prone to seriousness and nourishing a passionate nature on the elemental force and movement of wave and sky. Expressions of these qualities he found at first in horses, encouraged thereto by a short experience in the studio of Horace Vernet (17891863) , painter of battle scenes. In 1812 he sent to the Salon An Officer of the Chasseur Guards, the portrait of a M. Dieu-donné : the figure seen against a lofty sky, mounted on a rearing charger and brandishing a saber. It was followed two years later by The Wounded Cuirassier, who, grasping the bridle of his horse, is slowly dragging his body from the battlefield. The design and character of the former may have been suggested by the central figure of Napoleon in The Battle of the Pyramids by Gros; but the latter, in its direct and telling expression of pain and simple appeal to sympathetic emotion, had the shock of novelty, which acted upon the younger men like a call to arms. They gathered around this youth of twenty-one and looked up to him as a leader. Delacroix, his junior by some years, was among those who posed for his next picture, The Raft of the Medusa, which was shown in 1821. The survivors of the wreck have been floating aimlessly without food or water for twelve days; the original one hundred and fifty have been reduced to fifteen they are in the last stages of exhaustion; one already a corpse; but a passing sail has been sighted, and a sailor and negro, more hardy than the rest, are waving their shirts to attract attention. To the cool and collected spectator of to-day the traces of classical artifice are still apparent in the pyramidal design of the composition and the reliance on nude figures. In the coloring of the latter he will note also a prevalence of brown. Yet, if we try to put ourselves into the position of the young artists of the period, thrilling with the enthusiasm of their modern life, conscious of passionate yearnings and yet cribbed, cabined and confined in the meshes of a frigid convention, devoted to nerveless expositions of the past, it is not difficult to realize the amazing revelation of this picture. In importance it represents Géricault’s masterpiece, although The Race for the Derby is technically finer and involves a still further audacity of innovation. Shortly after his return from England, where he had painted this picture, Géricault was injured in the spine by a fall from his horse. He lingered for two years and then died at the age of thirty-three, before he had time to realize the full measure of his genius. His mantle fell upon Delacroix.
Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (17981863) was to Romanticism in painting what Victor Hugo was to its expression in literature : an undisputed leader, on whom the hatred of outraged Academicalism was concentrated. Yet he had nothing of Hugo’s stoutness of physical fiber, being a man of feeble constitution and inclined, like Alfred de Musset, to sickliness of soul. Nor had he the shifting violence of Hugo’s temperament. He possessed a clear and logical intellect that, on the one hand, compelled him to base his art on scientific study of the qualities of color and, on the other hand, could challenge his adversaries with pen as well as with the masterpieces of his brush. He made his appearance in the arena in 1822 with Dante’s Bark. Like David’s Oath of the Horatii, it is an epoch making picture and has been justly called “the first characteristic painting of the new century.”
Who does not recall the subject? Charon’s bare back straining as he drives his crazy boat through the greenish blue water, churned into foam by the contortions of the damned to whom Heaven and Hell are alike closed; Dante, awe-struck, and tottering in his balance; Virgil, whose shade has passed beyond human emotion, poised and calm; the fires of Phlegethron smoldering in the distance. It is still pyramidal in composition, with recourse to the expedient of the nude; yet it passes far ahead of The Raft of the Medusa in physiognomical expression and in the imagination which has realized the varieties of individual torment. The distinction of this picture, however, rests chiefly on its use of color. Color once more has been restored to painting. It has become a medium of emotional expression and has asserted its supremacy over the strictly modeled outline of the school of draftsmanship and marbleized painting. Well might the veteran, David, exclaim, “D’où vient-il? Je ne connais pas cette touche là.” This youngster had taken a classical theme but had made it live to the modern imagination. More than that, he had joined hands with Watteau and the finest spirits of the eighteenth century in mental admiration of Rubens and the latter’s adjustment to Northern art of the glories of Venetian painting. Through the example of Delacroix, who is said to have devoted the first half hour of each day to drawing from Rubens, the Flemish artist became again the fertilizer of French art.
But where there is really life there is always movement forward and Delacroix’s next picture, the Massacre of Chios, exhibited in 1824, passes beyond the Rubens influence in the fact that it commemorates the emotion of the artist’s own time. To a nation, vibrating with the trumpet call of Liberty, the heroic struggle of the Greeks for freedom could not fail of a response. It had been fired also by the poetry and example of Lord Byron, one of the high priests in the hierarchy of the French Romanticists. That his death had occurred at Missalonghi in the April preceding the Salon of 1824 was a coincidence which must have added to the sensation aroused by Delacroix’s picture.
But the latter represents also a technical advance beyond the Dante’s Bark. Its composition has exchanged geometrical formality for an organized irregularity of grouping and the color scheme also is more highly organized, more subtle and splendid. Instead of the murk of color which is fittingly characteristic of the other subject, the human horror is displayed against a beautiful golden brown landscape and a blue sky, radiant with luminosity. Further, there is an orchestration of tone which reveals the imagination and mastery of the color-composer, the real colorist. Delacroix in this picture had already surpassed all previous French painters in emulating the splendors of Rubens.
It is interesting to note that in this picture he was stirred to emulation of Constable. Géricault had written from England, “It is here only that color and effect are understood and felt”; and at the Salon of 1824, still held in the Louvre, some of Constable’s landscapes were shown. They made so powerful an impression on Delacroix that at the last moment, while his own picture hung in its ‘place, he added some touches to enhance its brilliance and luminosity. Later he frequently gave expression in his writings to the inspiration which the early French Romantic movement owed to the English artist’s example.
In 1825 Delacroix visited England, studying not only British painting but also the literature and drama; and gaining his first knowledge of “Faust” through an English opera. Three years later he published a cycle of illustrations to accompany a French translation of the poem and followed it up with a series of lithographs of Shakespearian subjects.
For, as Muther points out, while the word “Romantic” as first used in Germany was equivalent to “Roman,” the German Romanticists being moved to enthusiasm for Roman-Catholicism and Roman Church painting, the term in France had an exactly opposite meaning. It implied a preference for the English and German spirit, as compared with the Greek and Roman, and an enthusiasm for the Anglo-Saxon and German poets, Shakespeare and Goethe, in whom, as contrasted with Racine’s correctness, were to be found unrestrained genius and animated passion.
The Bark had scandalized the Academy: the Massacre infuriated it. Gros called it the “massacre of painting” : others prophesied that this “dramatic expression and composition marked by action” would wreck the “grand style” of painting. Even its beauty of color was held to belong to an inferior kind of art, since it involved the sacrifice of the contours of the figures and was based upon ugliness of form. Delacroix became, and continued to be throughout his life, the target on which was concentrated the envenomed arrows of Academic criticism. He was accused of painting with a drunken broom and, since his birth place was Charenton, the site of a state lunatic asylum, was called “the runaway of Charenton.” No painter was ever so loaded with gross abuse. He was supported by Théophile Gautier, Thiers, Victor Hugo, Saint-Beuve, Baudelaire, Burger-Thoré, Gustave Planché and Paul Mantz; but even his supporters caused him some distress, for they styled him the Hugo of painting and thrust him into a position of radicalism that did violence to his own reverence for the art of the past. Nor did his own temperament permit him to rest silent under all this opprobrium and misrepresentation. Frail of physique, sick of soul, and during the latter part of his life a victim to complicated diseases, he was drawn into a conflict which kept his flaming imagination continually at fever heat. Yet his writings, contributed to the Revue des Della, Mondes are models of criticism, expressed in the fine classical style, characteristic of his admiration for Racine.
He contended for a comprehension of art not limited to the beautiful as the sole, supreme end; but admitting the claims of character and emotion. “This famous thing, the beautiful,” he wrote, “must be every one says so the first aim of art. But if it be the only aim, what then are we to make of men like Rubens, Rembrandt and in general all the artistic natures of the North, who preferred other qualities belonging to their art? Is the sense of the beautiful that impression which is made on us by a picture by Velasquez, an etching by Rembrandt or a scene out of Shakespeare? Or again, is the beautiful revealed to us by contemplation of straight noses and correctly disposed draperies of Girodet, Gérard and other pupils of David. A satyr is beautiful, a faun is beautiful. The antique bust of Socrates is full of character notwithstanding its flattened nose, its swollen lips and small eyes. In Paul Veronese’s Marriage at Cana I see men of various features and of every temperament and I find them to be living beings, full of passion. Are they beautiful? Perhaps. But in any case there is no recipe by means of which one can attain to what is called the ideally beautiful. Style depends absolutely and solely upon the free and original expression of each master’s peculiar qualities. Whenever a painter sets himself to follow a conventional mode of expression, he will become affected and will lose his own peculiar impress. But when, on the contrary, he frankly abandons himself to the impulse of his own originality he will ever be, whether his name be Raphael, Michel-angelo, Rubens or Rembrandt, securely master of his soul and of his art.”
A turning-point in Delacroix’s life, which proved to be an epoch in French art, came in 1832, when he accompanied an embassy to the Court of Morocco and returned home by way of Algiers and Spain. The imagination of the colorist bathed in the splendors of southern sunshine and broadened its vision by experience of the colorful picturesqueness of Oriental life. He writes to a correspondent of the “sublime and fascinating life.” “Think, my friend, what it means for a painter to see lying in the sunshine, wandering about the streets and offering shoes for sale, men who have the appearance of ancient consuls, of the revivified ghosts of Plato and Brutus, and who do not lack even that proud, discontented look which those lords of the earth must have had. They possess nothing but a blanket in which they walk, sleep and are buried, and yet they look as dignified as Cicero in his curule chair. How much truth, how much nobility in these figures ! There is nothing more beautiful in the antique.”
Here speaks the real lover of the antique, who recognizes the eternal verity of its spirit ; as contrasted with the attitude of classicalism that would flatter it by imitation. The distinction has never been better expressed than by the third Earl of Shaftesbury in his forgotten work, “Characteristics of Man, Matters, Opinions and Times,” published in 1711. He criticizes those who try to reproduce the form instead of the spirit of the Classic and says, “We should not imitate but emulate the Greeks, for we shall be most like the Greeks when most ourselves.” This observation is applicable to Delacroix. He was always him-self ; yet even in his most turbulent pictures, such as Horses Fighting in a Stable, in his scenes of intense tragedy like the Medea, about to kill her children, where the antique drama thrills with modern emotion, one detects the Greek spirit of poise asserted. Their effect is not produced, as in Victor Hugo’s dramas, by shocks of contrast, but by a subtlety of ensemble, which, to use a term of the modern French studios, is elaborately organise. Delacroix, in fact, for all the fire and splendor of his torrential imagination, reveals the poise and tact of restraint which are distinctively characteristic of French art. It is the over-enthusiasm of his supporters and the virulence of his opponents which have fastened upon Delacroix the reputation of an anarch.