A new chapter in French history was opened in 1789 when, under the onslaught of the Revolution, the feudal Bourbon monarchy collapsed. The artistic movement which expressed the revolutionary aspirations of the progressive factions of French society was Neoclassicism.

The Death of Cato of Uttca by Guillaume Let-hiere (1760-1832) gives us some idea of the distinctive features of this movement, which was called upon, in accordance with the beliefs of contemporaries, to inculcate in man a sense of duty and civil courage. Cato, a confirmed Republican, commits suicide upon hearing of the establishment of Caesar’s dictatorship; the figure of the hero, who preferred death to the loss of freedom, was consonant with the aspirations of the time.

During the First Empire Neoclassicism remained, as before, the main trend in art, but it had already lost its revolutionary essence. ? Now, turning to classical antiquity, artists began to choose idyllic or allegorical themes. Guerin’s paintings Morpheus and Iris and Sapho and two sculptures, Chaudet’s Cypress and Canova’s Dancer, illustrate the fundamental changes in Neoclassical-art.

The leading figure in French Neoclassicism was Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). The Hermitage does not possess any of David’s paintings of the Revolutionary period. From his late canvas Sapho and Phaon (1809) it is evident that at the time of the Empire no traces remained of the revolutionary spirit of the former member of the National Convention, the creator of the Death of Marat.

Delacroix. Arab Saddling His Horse. 1855

In the same room is Antoine Gros’s (1771-1835) Napoleon upon the Bridge at Arcole. This painting is based upon the actual event at the time of the Italian campaign of 1797; during the battle of Arcole Bonaparte, young general at that time, was the first to rush forward and, leading his men, began the assault on the bridge. In Gros’s handling the figure of Napoleon lost the rhetorical quality of Lethiere’s hero; however, it contains a greater feeling of vitality, greater energy, those qualities which later received expression in the paintings of the Romantics.

Franfois Gerard (1770-1837) expressed in his work the tastes of the ruling class. His Portrait of Josephine (Napoleon’s first wife) presents a new type of formal portrait, in which Gerard skilfully combines the austerity of a classical composition with a simple and unaffected rendering of the appearance of his model. One of the first artists to portray the everyday life of the bourgeois society of his time was Louis Boilly, who painted the small picture A Game of Billiards.

Room 331. Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), the major painter of the Romantic movement, is represented in the Hermitage by two late works, Lion Hunt in Morocco (1854) and Arab Saddling His Horse (1855). One glance at these paintings is sufficient for an understanding of the great difference between them and the painting produced by the artist of the Neoclassical school. Painted in bright, fresh colours, Delacroix’s canvases are filled with the ardent breath of life, and a sense of grandeur of nature.

Dupre. Autumn Landscape

One of the representatives of the Romantic movement in sculpture is the animalist Antoine Barye (1796-1875), the creator of the bronze groups A Lion and a Snake and A Panther and an Antelope. Like Delacroix, Barye imbues his works with great expressiveness, revealing in them the harsh laws of the animal kingdom.

Jean-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), a staunch adherent of Neo-classicism and an ardent admirer of antiquity and Raphael, was among the most subtle and complex artists of the mid-nineteenth century. The only painting by him in the Hermitage is the portrait of the Russian diplomat Count Guryev, painted in 1821 and notable for the austere formal arrangement and the strength and assurance of line.

Renoir. Girl with a Fan. 1881

Rooms 321, 322, 325, 328 and 329. In the 1830s the realist trend appeared in French painting, heralded by the Barbizon school of landscape painters. This name was given to a group of artists who had settled in the village of Barbizon near Paris, where they faithfully reproduced in their paintings their native countryside. There is a large collection of landscapes of the Barbizon school in the Hermitage. Its leading figure, Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867), showed, even in one of his early works In the Vicinity of Granville that the simple, visually unprepossessing countryside of Normandy could become a source of inspiration. Close to Rousseau in their perception of nature are Jules Dupre, Charles Francois Daubigny, Diaz de la Peiia, Charles Jaques and Constant Troyon.

Degas. Woman Combing Her Hair. 1886

An important place in the history of French landscape painting belongs to Camille Corot (1796-1875). A profound, subtle understanding of nature connects him with the painters of the Barbizon school, but unlike them Corot did not strive for an accurate reproduction of landscape. His poetic landscapes are echoes of the artist’s own experiences. “If you are really moved,” said Corot, “the sincerity of your feelings will be felt by others.”

The work of the leading painters of the realist movement, Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) and Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), developed under the influence of the bourgeois revolution of 1848. Millet was the first among his contemporaries to depict French village life, with what was then unusual degree of profundity and veracity. The Hermitage possesses only one of his paintings, Peasant Women Carrying Firewood. Courbet, an active figure in the Paris Commune, was the major representative of the realist movement in painting and ardently defended the right of the artist to portray contemporary life. The only Courbet in the Hermitage is the Landscape with a Dead Horse which, because of its poor state of preservation, does not give us any real idea of his skill as an artist. The choice of theme in this painting represents a challenge to the official art, because Courbet maintained that the artist should be concerned with life in all its diversity.

Rodin. Eternal Spring. After 1884

Room 320. Towards the 1870s Impressionism reached its peak in France, the movement having originated as a protest against the rigid convention which prevailed in official art. The Impressionists emerged as heirs to the realist traditions and enriched painting with their fresh, Joyful colours, their representation of light, and exquisite rendering of atmosphere. They drew only from life, and did not complete their paintings in the studio from sketches as their predecessors had done, but out in the pleln air, capturing the spontaneity and naturalness of the first visual impression. In conveying the wealth of colour in the real world around them the Impressionists attempted to catch and to record its face, forever changing under the play of light. But, having focused their attention on purely artistic goals, these painters thereby limited the possibilities of art and relegated the social theme into the background.

Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) embodies the principles and methods of Impressionism in portrait painting. Renoir did not attempt to reveal in his portraits intricate feelings or emotions; he caught the spontaneous movement, the half-smile, the gentle reverie of his model. Unaffected animation and simplicity characterize his Girl with a Fan and Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary. Renoir’s colours are notable for their freshness, the richness of hues, and the extremely delicate transition from one tone to the next.

Monet. Lady in a Garden. 1860s

The work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is represented by some pastels – Woman Combing Her Hair, After the Bath and Dancers’ Heads. Together with the Impressionist paintings are displayed marble sculptures by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and bronzes by Aristide Maillol (1840-1942).

Room 319. One of the leading Impressionist painters was Claude Monet (1840-1925), whose picture, Impression: Sunrise, exhibited in Paris in 1874, gave the name to the whole movement. One of the artist’s early works, Lady in the Garden (1860s), reflects the first success of the new manner of painting. The colours have become fresher and more vivid; abandoning black and subdued tones, Monet painted the shade in colour depending on the surrounding milieu. The woman’s white dress in the shade of the parasol, for example, acquires a bluish hue against the background of the green foliage and the blue sky. In the landscape The River Bank (1873) the canvas is filled as it were with the subtle, barely perceptible movement of currents of moist air, in which outlines of things melt into nothing. Gradually the rendering of light and air became Monet’s main theme and he portrayed one and the same subject several times in different lights, stripping things of their materiality (see his London Fog, 1903). Room 318. The painting of city landscapes was introduced into art by the Impressionists. Paris street life with its characteristic bustle, commotion and endless flow of traffic and pedestrians was captured by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) in his paintings The Boulevard Montmartre and Place du Thedtre Francais.

Gauguin. Woman Holding a Fruit. 1893

The eleven paintings by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) make it possible to observe the main stages in the development of the artist’s work. Unlike the Impressionists Cezanne tried to reveal the materiality and plasticity of whatever he depicted. Typical in this way is the landscape Banks of the Marne (1888), in which he painted a tranquil scene from nature, as though trying to immortalize on canvas its immutable qualities. Still-life painting was Cezanne’s favourite genre. His still lifes are simple: a wooden table, two or three faience vessels, some fruit, all objects possessing some special distinctive corporeity peculiar to Cezanne. To preserve their “eternal” qualities – weight and volume – Cezanne made the form geometric, building it up with thick strokes of bright green, orange and blue. Room 317. The Hermitage has four paintings by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890): View of the Arena in Aries, Ladies of Aries (Memory of the Garden at Etten), Bushes, and Cottages with Thatched Roofs. Cottages painted during the last years of the artist’s life, is penetrated with the feeling of anxiety which overcame him on seeing the poor dwellings, clinging to the slope of the hill. Van Gogh’s characteristic dramatic tension is felt in the vividness of the colours, the restless rhythm of the thick, energetic brushstrokes, and the expressiveness of line.

Displayed in the same room are Tropical Forest and The Luxembourg Gardens with the Bust of Chopin by Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), usually referred to as a “naive artist” or a Primitive.

Matisse. The Dance. 1910

Room 316. The fifteen paintings in the Hermitage by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) belong to his so-called Tahitian period which began after he left France and settled in 1891 on these islands in the Pacific Ocean. In his pictures painted in the tropics Gauguin extolls a world untouched by bourgeois “civilization” and full of the exotic, where people live in harmony with nature. Gauguin’s paintings are decorative, the areas of local colours lie on the canvas in motionless patches, and the contours of the figures and objects – sometimes smooth and fluid, sometimes exquisitely delicate – give the picture the semblance of a co’.oured pattern (Tahitian Pastoral Scenes, Woman Holding a Fruit, Miraculous Source, The Idol, etc.).

Rooms 343-345. The thirty-five pictures by Henri Matisse (1869- 1954), painted between 1900 and 1913, make it possible to illustrate the special features of the work of one of the leading twentieth century French artists. The Family Group, Red Room and other of Matisse’s works are striking in their decorative quality and their saturated colours. Rejecting a chiaroscuro treatment, Matisse simplifies and schematizes his figures and objects, building up his composition on the contrasting juxtaposition of large areas of pure colour. The radiant colourfulness of Matisse’s canvases produces a feeling of joy and gaiety.

Picasso. Boy with a Dog. 1905

Rooms 346 and 347. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was the major figure in art in the modern Western world. He was an eminent French progressive, the winner of the International Peace Prize and of the International Lenin Prize “for the strengthening of peace between nations”. The development of Picasso’s work is unusually complex and contradictory. The Hermitage collection consisting of thirty-six works, helps illustrate just the beginning of this development. In one of the best paintings of his early period, Woman Drinking Absinth (1901), Picasso created a type that evokes a deep sense of tragedy. The Portrait of Soler and The Visit (Two Sisters) belong to the so-called Blue Period (1901-04); his Pink Period (1905-6) is represented by a gouache drawing, Boy with a Dog.

Between 1906 and 1907 Picasso was absorbed with analysis of form and reduced everything to a simplified volume similar to a cube, a sphere or a cylinder. He became one of the founders of a new tendency in art, Cubism, typical of which are such works as Woman with a Fan, Three Women, Pitcher and Bowl and others. After this Picasso arrived at a complete break-up of form; he destroys volume and creates free compositions from planes and lines (cf. Flute and Violin, 1912). Such experiments only led him to a dead end and he gave up experimenting further.

Renato Qutiuso. Rocco and Son. 1960

Rooms 348 and 349. Among the paintings displayed of early twentieth century artists are works by Andre Derain (1880-1954) – The Wood, The Lake and A Harbour in Provence; Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958) – ^4 View of the Seine; Jean-Edouard Vuillard (1868 – 1940) – A Room and Children; Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) – The Arrival of Spring and A Corner of Paris; Louis Valtat (1869-1952) – Pleasure Party in the Garden; Maurice Denis (1870-1943) – Spring Landscape with Figures.

Room 350 coniains a large collection of pictures by the fine landscape painter Albert Marquet (1875-1947), whose greatest love was Paris and who painted her streets and squares, embankments and bridges over the Seine. The colours in his landscapes are always true to life, the line simple and laconic, and objects are represented in a very generalized way (cf. Rainy Day in Paris; The Louvre Embankment and the Pont-Neuf in Paris and Naples).

Kent. Maine Headland. Winter. 1906

Displayed in the same room are landscapes by Leopold Survage (1879-1968) and Andre Fougeron (born 1913). The Bridge was painted by the latter in 1964. Glowing colouring and great vitality distinguish the Red Dancer and Lady in a Black Hat by Cornelius Kees Van Don-gen (1877-1968).

In room 350 are also shown paintings by Fernand Leger (1881- 1955),- Carte postale and Composition.


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3 May 2007

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