BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Claude Howell, #168 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Claude Howell, #168
In this art history lecture from the Gwen Ward videotape collection, artist Claude Howell (1915 - 1997) discusses Romanticism and Neoclassicism with an audience assembled at St. John's Museum of Art in Wilmington.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Howell, Claude Interviewer:  Lecture Series Date of Interview:  n.d. Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


[Please note: the audio quality of the source has degraded over the years, resulting in gaps in the following transcript.]

Claude Howell: There are a lot more than this. I tried to simplify it as much as possible, and this only goes up to around 1950 because the contemporary world is quite different from this. This really is what we call modern art. It is a historical period just like the renaissance or any other period, and it's over. As we said, it was finished just about 1950. Tonight we want to talk about two of these isms, the first two. We briefly mentioned neoclassicism last week. We saw some of the slides of the architecture particularly in the columns. Then there was a big revolution and it was romanticism and that lasted all through the 19th Century. It was a terrible influence on art, most of the romantic painters were. There was revolt against form which the renaissance had brought in to being. There was a revolt against beautiful design. It was all emotion. Romanticism is really the triumph of the imagination and emotion over reason. That's what it is. It's a intellectual art, and you'll find that it certainly stirred up things. We are under the influence of the 19th Century romantic revival. Most of the architecture in Wilmington is Victorian. It couldn't be more romantic. The city hall is classical, that's different, but most of our houses are Victorian, and it lasted until, oh I guess, about 1900. Even the little churches that we have, there's a wonderful little Presbyterian church on Chestnut Street, is Gothic Revival. This was the period of many revivals of ancient styles of architecture, of thought, dress, everything. And then we mentioned already the English landscape paintings we've talked about and I didn't include this school of painting, which we will certainly mention very shortly, and for lack of a better term we call it naturalistic, but these are the Barbizon painters who did something very revolutionary. They were painting a landscape. They went out and sat down, and looked at it and painted it. Now, you might think this is crazy because today everybody goes out and paints landscapes, but until this time people had imagined landscapes. Everything was done in the studio. They moved out into the fresh air. There's a French term called plein air, p-l-e-i-n, which means plain air, and these were called plein air painters. And then we find that there is a terrible reaction against the romantic revolution. Courbet comes in. Courbet is not only a revolutionary with regard to art, but he was a revolutionist as far as politics is concerned. He was always in trouble. He was banned from France for a few years. And this is called realism. It didn't last too long in France. There were two great practitioners, Courbet and Daumier. Daumier was showing up making fun of the evils of society. The realists looked at things as they were, and they saw that they weren't so good. So they began to paint pictures, or make drawings, which in a sense were propaganda. Then of course we come to another big revolution which is impressionism, and that's where we will start during this session. We will begin with post-impressionism of which is the pointillists who came from the impressionists. And then we get Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Well, then you come to an enormous revolution, and I bet you 20 years ago you couldn't go to a single exhibition anywhere in the world that you wouldn't see the influence from these people. These were the cubists. This was the climb of intellect over the emotions. Everything has become so emotional, and it's fine in the beginning, but soon it descends into sentimentality, and we have the bad pictures of Christ in all of our Sunday Schools, even to this day. You know that awful picture of Christ by Hoffman that you see in practically every church. Every time I used to go to and from church I would take it off the wall and carry it into the office, and say, "Don't hang this up. You think it's a Van Gogh. It is a bad painting," and this went on for a number of years. But it was turning anything which is serious and really good into something which is sloppy sentimentally. That's what it is on the surface. We still have it in a lot of religious revivals today, but some of that is being done away with. Well, from cubism on you find that no holds barred. You can just do anything you want to, and people gradually eliminate and eliminate. We see Monet proving that the haystack doesn't exit, that it's just the light hitting it which exists. The cubists take the planes of, say the haystack, and they rearrange it. Then they take both planes and make composition of them, which absolutely destroys the looks of the haystack. And then finally you get to some of the Russians. Malevich the suprematist, suprematism and they eliminate and eliminate until you have a white square on a white piece of canvas. And then you have people who had solid black canvases, absolutely nothing but solid black. Well, this is absolutely destroying the object. Art had become very literary, and a lot of the people, some of them whom we're going to talk about tonight, were more involved in the literary aspect of what they were painting than they were the formal aspects of a work of art. These would be the post-impressionists, people like Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Everything they painted had to tell a story, and the story was more important than the way it was presented. Now we have already said that if you paint propaganda it's fine, but if the propaganda becomes more important than the aspects of the work of art it descends to the level of a political cartoon. Well, the same thing is true if you're telling a story. If the story becomes more important than the elements of the work you probably should have written a short story rather than painting a picture, because it doesn't last. The Pre-Raphaelites had had almost no influence on later generations. They were very intriguing, very interesting people to look at, but there's nothing there to bring you back, and you cannot go any further in that direction as far as being literary. You couldn't go very much further than painting a black canvas or a white canvas. That was the end result of cubism. So what do we do? We have another revolution and people introduce, like de Kooning, he introduces the human figure, but it's not the human figure that we have known. It is a distorted human figure, bits and pieces of the human figure just placed at random on canvas. This unlocks the door to realism, and we find that more and more the younger artists are beginning to learn to draw again. They had forgotten how to draw. They're beginning to learn their craft, and we have what is called magic realism. We have surrealist people like Dali who are just as good technicians as the early Flemish, and just as careful in the way that they work, but with a different approach. They are putting the juxtaposition of unrelated objects side by side so that you can't quite tell what's going on even though you recognize every little thing in it. He is concerned with the inner spirit. That is the psychology of the person, the subconscious, the dream world. Everything becomes a symbol for something else. Well, a lot of these things are not confined only to art because we had Freud, and we had his psychoanalytical writings. This had a tremendous influence. You'll find that literature, and science and the arts often come up with various aspects of the same problem, and this is what went on until we came to about 1960 or '70 and you begin to get realism that is photographic realism. It is so photographic that you can't tell the difference between a photograph and a painting. And we mentioned Duane Hanson and his figures which he creates. They're three dimensional sculptures. And if you put one of those seated in the chair here you couldn't tell the difference between you and the person sitting there, I mean, it's that real. And you find Richard Estes painting a storefront in downtown, any downtown in the U.S.A. All the reflections are in the glass windows. You can read the license plates on the stores-- on the automobiles that are reflected in the window. He paints the telephone booths. You see all the legs of the people and you see a little bit of the hat, or the hair, or a hand. Absolute utter realism. At the same time you have a lot going on in the world. We've had the Korean War. We've had World War I. We've had the atom bomb, and what does that bring? It brings destruction, and destruction brings fragments of human bodies. Therefore, you have a lot of people painting bits and pieces of the human anatomy, but not the whole figure. It's the destruction of the figure by man this time and not by art, and the artist is reflecting the way the world has become today. I'm sure that our present crime wave will have some influence on art, because everything that happens always has. And if we go back now to the neoclassic period we'll see the reason for it. When it started, I guess, about the time of Napoleon. Now, what was Napoleon trying to be? He was trying to be the ancient Roman Emperor. He thought he was ruling the universe, which at that point was Europe, and he almost became one. Well, what do they do in clothes and costumes? You have the neoclassic dress, which is a high bodice, a long flowing skirt, patterned after the Roman toga. David who was the great neoclassic painter looked at the Greek pieces of pottery, ceramics, the paintings, and had his furniture designed after the furniture, the chairs, the tables on Greek vases. This became very fashionable and became called Empire or Empire furniture. You also find a lot of those sphinx's heads and all sorts of winged things on the furniture in Empire furniture. This is because of Egypt, ancient Egypt, going back to a former time when things were a little bit more stable according to the way they thought then that they were when they were painted. So you'll find that all of the art is going back. What happens when you go back like that? You're interested in form, aren't you? The great contribution of Greece was form, wasn't it? It wasn't color, it was form. So Ingres says, he was one of these painters, he says, "Color is nothing. Drawing is everything." What does that mean? That means that the line, the sharp edge, which we had seen completely lost in Romanticism, it comes back into art. Do you know, do you remember, I think it was week before last we looked at Boucher and Fragonard and how flimsy everything was, and soft, I mean there were virtually no lines ever, no edges, no sharp edges, no form. And, you know, we said that if you stuck your finger in the people it would go right on through them. Well, you can't stick your finger through a figure painted by David. It's as solid as a brick and it sits, it sits in a chair. He was really a wonderful draftsman. He was even excelled by Ingres, and his name is Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a long name, all hyphenated, by the way. You find that David began as a history painter because Napoleon wanted to glorify the French Revolution, and David was an odent exponent of the Revolution, and he thought that Napoleon was one of the Gods of antiquity, really. And when he painted Napoleon he didn't paint him as an ordinary man. He pained him as the great hero of antiquity. We had seen the same thing in our country when Gilbert Stuart painted George Washington. He didn't paint him as a human being. He painted him as the father of his country. So what you're painting there is an ideal rather than the realist of it. Neoclassicism is not naturalism at all. It's not particularly real. They changed things to suit their own philosophy, most artists have. There have been very few artists in the history of the world who have ever painted what was in front of them, very few, and the ones who have, haven't been any good, because it's not so much what is there, and your ability to reproduce it. That is simply topographic rendering, which any school boy can learn if he trains hard enough. Art is really by the way you feel about what you. Now, it can be recognizable and sometimes it cannot be recognizable. That has nothing to do with it. It's what your philosophy is that counts. This is the reason that so many people paint today and they're dreadful painters because they have no philosophy, they just paint pictures. Well, David was a history painter, and he was trying to glorify the Revolution. And they were tremendous pictures. Well, they took up that big of a wall, so. There's some of them in Versailles. Have you all seen them? They're absolutely gigantic, and they're about the dullest things you've ever seen in your life because they have dozens and dozens of people. Everything is carefully drawn. The story is important. The glorification of the event is the main thing. And it's not in his historical paintings that he had made his name, it is in his portraits of people. He painted many of the ladies of the court, and they're very beautiful paintings. And he goes beneath the surface. You have a feeling that they are real people, but he also does something about their insides, their inner spirit, and that's why he's considered good today. Now, he had a friend who was a painter to Napoleon, and his name, he was, Baron Antoine Gros. And he thought that he would become the leader of neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was cold, it was aloof, and it really could not express the violence of the French Revolution. The two things were diametrically opposed to each other. But Gros knew that he was being trained to take over David and Ingres place, and he didn't feel that way. He was a very emotional young man. And he tried, he tried his best, but everything he painted was very violent, and he really rebelled against the cold, and what had become the academic art of the day. And so he was about 50 something, I guess, he realized he just couldn't draw it any more so he committed suicide. Now that's how violent the beginning romantics were. They felt that France needed a breath of life and they felt that all of this cold drawing, all of this harsh linear quality was deadly, and that it didn't express the way the younger generation felt. We've seen a little bit of that in our own life time, haven't we, young people revolting against the older generation. This is what the romantics were doing, and so they began to paint violent things. (drops something) It loves the floor. It stays on the floor most of the time. Well, when you get the romantics you can't think of romanticism without thinking of Delacroix, Eugéne Delaxroix. Now, Eugéne Delaxroix became the head of the Romantic Movement after Gros, and he was sort of dissatisfied with his painting because he felt that he wasn't getting enough color in it. And he saw the Salon of 1827, and in that Salon was a painting by the Englishman that we saw last week, I think it was, John Constable, he saw the Hay Wain. Well, it was just-- it just absolutely impassioned him. He went home, he withdrew his painting from the salon, took it home and repainted it with a lot more color, and he began putting little dabs of pure color in various spots of the canvas to make the whole canvas begin to shimmer. This is what the impressionists picked up. So we had first Constable and then we have Delaxroix, and then we have impressionism. That is the way it worked. If you were to see a painting by Delaxroix today I don't think he was very colorful. I've seen an awful lot and I wonder how the impressionists were so excited by this man's work. They seemed to be pretty brown to me, but I guess if you were used to the Victorian way of painting absolutely colorless pictures, the paintings of Delaxroix must have been very exciting. He painted the Massacre at Chios, which also was a historical scene, but he included a lot of North Africans in it, and some of the color is much lighter and much more intense than we had seen for a long, long time. We still don't have any areas of bright color like we saw in the Italian Renaissance. We still don't have that. With Raphael things began to go downhill as far as color was concerned, because light and shadow became much more important than good flat areas of color. So that, in a sense, has been the fight that's gone one for four or five hundred years in art between the people who are breaking up things and the people who are simplifying things. They're the two opposite approaches. Delaxroix was a very energetic painter and he painted all the time. He also was a friend of a musician and a writer who could not have been more romantic. Do you know who they were? Chopin and George Sand, they were living together, and they had a country place, and they also lived on Majorca. Delaxroix painted portraits of both of them which are just about as emotional as anything Chopin has ever written. Now, I don't know whether you're like I am, but if I listened to a whole concert of Chopin music I would be in tears, and I would just be absolutely a wreck by the time the evening was over, because he tears you to pieces. He's so emotional. Delaxroix, in a sense, is the same. They lived at the same time. They were influenced by the same sort of thing. Also, you get something else. You get poetry, and you get Keats, and you get Shelley, and you get Byron. And Bryon was so romantic that he went to Greece to liberate the Greeks and got killed at Missolonghi. I mean, that's being pretty romantic, you know, to die for an idea. And these people did. Well, it wasn't just in Europe it also was in this country too, so we have a whole century of almost romanticism in the United States. But at the same time it's fighting with Yankee honesty, which is realism. And so you have sort of a dichotomy there. Things don't quite work sometimes. In the same century, the same generation, almost, you'll have a complete utter realist like Winslow Homer and then you'll have someone who's painting like Ryder, which is a dream world, moonlight and mysterious quality of light. So we don't have the same type of painting everywhere at the same time. The 19th Century is beginning to get very complex. For one thing you had the Industrial Revolution and that causes a lot of the trend toward Romanticism. What is Romanticism anyway? Well, primarily it's escape. It's escape from the present day. This is why we have the Gothic Revival. We have The First Presbyterian Church, we have St. James. It's an escape from the century in which you live. It is looking back in time. So when you saw things weren't good you have a lot of the painters including Greek temples in their paintings. Back to sort of a golden age, a pre-civilization age when it's called the golden age, and you find that is one of the major aspects of romanticism. Well, romanticism is very complicated and very interesting. I once wrote an article about comparing romantic painting and romantic literature for the North Carolina English Teacher on the magazine, and I was scared to death. I knew my subject, but I wasn't so sure about the English. That's what bothered me the most. But in it I showed that in America the romantic painters were also friends of the romantic writers. And you have Coleridge, and you have Whitman, and you have Poe, and you have Melville. All of them were romantic writers. They did the same thing that the painters were doing. You have this escape mechanism. All of them were using it. You have George Catlin, American painter in the 1850s who painted something which was so exciting and so different from anything anybody had ever seen before. He painted the American Indian. He went to the far west and lived with the Indian tribes. And his record of Indian life is just irreplaceable today. He also had to be a good painter because he was trying to record the life of the savages, something which Europe didn't know, and many Americans, at this point, didn't know, because by this time the eastern seaboard had not seen real Indians in a long time. What does Moby-Melville do? He writes Moby Dick. That's pretty exciting isn't it, about a man chasing a whale? You have Sir Walter Scott, he writes Ivanhoe. All these novels about chivalry occur at this same time. All of it is part of a big pattern that today we call romanticism. In architecture you have, as I said, Gothic Revival, Duke University, all the churches in Wilmington, all the churches practically all over the United States. Even some of the penitentiaries are built like Gothic castles, and some of the state capitols are built like Gothic castles. It was pretty widespread. There was one architect out of New York, Upjohn who termed what Gothic Revival meant. You have adaptations. The First Baptist Church is still Gothic, but it's hardly like a French Gothic cathedral. You know, there are big differences in it, but this is where it comes from. It's escaping back to a past day. Well, if you...

Q: Excuse me. Do you want to try to do this?

Claude Howell: Is it working? Well, I'll talk a little bit longer and then we'll look at the slides.

Q: Okay. We'll see how it goes. Let me know when.

Claude Howell: Okay. When you get into Romanticism you also find that it's like looking at the world through rose colored glasses, everything is ________. What do you admire most? You admire the common man, the peasant. So we had the rise in this country of genre painting, storytelling painting about the life on the farm. Now, we must remember that the United States is becoming settled, and now we have painters from the mid-west, we have Mount, William Sydney Mount painting the life along the Mississippi River. No longer is it confined to the eastern seaboard. You also find that romanticism means that you look at your surroundings and you glorify them. And we have in New York State the Hudson River School of Painting. They begin in the Catskills, and they are glorifying the beauty of America. For the very first time Americans have really painted America, and people keep going further west and further west until you get to Albert Bierstadt, and he paints Yosemite. He paints the Rockies and further beyond, and they are spectacular. Well, of course, Europeans loved this too because it was so evocative. But if you are a romantic and you are looking at the world through rose colored glasses you realize that something is not right, because the world really isn't like that, and this does not take place so much in painting as it does in other fields. You have crusaders, people trying to right the wrongs of the world. And this is the period when all of the great charitable organizations were started, The Red Cross, all of the wonderful philanthropic organizations begin during this time. You'll also find muckrakers, people who are digging up the dirt on things that are trying to cure the evil of society. All these things come under the general heading of Romanticism. It's the most fascinating subject once you get into it, and I would advise all of you to read as much as you can about romanticism. It practically killed the arts in this country, and in Europe it did, it caused some very funny things. It caused the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, which is certainly a peculiar structure. It caused a lot of the really eccentric. I guess we could call them follies in architecture. Every now and then today somebody builds a folly. We have one in Kernersville, North Carolina. Some of you may have seen it. It is called Kürner's Folly. It is a romantic structure and nothing's changed in it. The cobwebs are still on the walls. The pigeons roost on the top floor, but whatever, it's an eccentric's delight. This is the period when you have eccentrics. And we had some eccentric painters in this country. Thomas Hicks, we saw one of his paintings last week. Well, we soon are going to have Grandma Moses. She is an eccentric painter. You find that all different, seemingly different ways of working can be traced to this one field which is romanticism, which is a reaction against the inland, that's primarily what it is. Do you think we-- do you want...

Q: Well, let's try it and see what works.

Claude Howell: It doesn't matter because I can go on.

Q: Well, do you want to go on? Some of them fell out. I don't know if they're in the right order, but.

Claude Howell: Okay.

Q: Now, do you have a changer up there, or do I have to change?

Claude Howell: I think I can change. I can see if this will work. Yeah, it's working.

Q: Is it working okay?

Claude Howell: Uh-huh. Well, let's go back to this print. This, of course, is neoclassicism. Look at the sharp edges, the importance of line. Now, this is very similar to the painting of Madame Récamier, which there should be a slide of in here. I was shocked when I first saw the painting, it's in Louvre. The paint is so thin that you can see the canvas all over the painting. And this is very thin paint too. This is a portrait of Madame Récamier, but it's by Gros. Always this wonderful Grecian robe. Look at the furniture. Do you see the influence of the Greek vase painting? This is the time, at the time of Josephine and Napoleon. Also, a lot of these dresses were diaphanous. Now this is the early painting, The Oath of the Horatii by Ingres, the man who said drawing is everything, color is nothing. The color is adequate, but it's not exciting. There is no relationship between one color and another which really knocks you over. The craftsmanship is spectacularly good. I don't think you really care very much, though, about The Oath of the Horatii, do you? You see it's so cold. It's so coolly intellectual that the feeling is gone. The Death of Marat, I think we should give you an award for getting the first _________________. Everything is drawn rather than painted, isn't it? Isn't it more like a color drawing? Napoleon Crossing the Alps, you begin to see a little intimation here of romanticism.

Q: Who painted Napoleon?

Claude Howell: Huh?

Q: Who painted Napoleon?

Claude Howell: Ingres. But look at all these paintings. They're going back really to the Renaissance to get the line, but they've forgotten about the form. That's a beautiful nude.

(overlapping conversation)

Claude Howell: That's in the Louvre.

Q: Who did this one?

Claude Howell: He painted all of these. The nude is still with us. I guess it always will be, but the nude now is a lot more naked than it used to be. Don't you think it is?


Claude Howell: And it's meant to be.

(overlapping conversation)

Claude Howell: It's in those portraits that he excels.

Q: Who is it?

Claude Howell: These are all by Ingres.

Q: That almost looks modern.

Q: Yeah, it does, doesn't it?

Claude Howell: But always that line is important in the neoclassic world. It didn't last too long. There's something else that we don't notice in the 19th Century, movements come and go with much great rapidity than ever before. When we were studying the Gothic period it lasted several hundred years, and also Romanesque, and Roman, and Greek lasted three or four hundred, Egyptian three or four thousands, and now...

Q: Yeah, it's a small world.

Claude Howell: Yeah. I think a lot of it is communication.

Q: It was.

Claude Howell: We wear things out in a hurry. They painted a lot of mythological simply as an excuse to paint a human figure. Now, this certainly looks Victorian, doesn't it? It's French. France had good fortune to escape the Victorian period, but the taste was just as bad. Now when he went to Morocco he came back and he painted a lot of pictures of the Turkish bath, women in the Turkish bath. This is tondo. Remember we saw a tondo by Raphael, of the Virgin and the Christ Child, but it's still line, it's not color. And this is Gros. But think back to Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, we've changed completely. These are a lot more solid. You still have good portraits during this period. The lady has just a received a farewell note from her lover. That is a genre. It's telling a story. And some of these paintings are almost lascivious, I think.

Q: Almost what?

Claude Howell: Lascivious. We're going to see some marble statues from the American neoclassic sculptors who worked in Rome in the 1840s and 1850s. These are the ones that Bill Gertz referred to in his lecture as the people who painted and carved the erotic Frigidaire. That's the term that he used, and I think that's a good description, say of a good painting right here. It's so classical in a way, and it's so dirty at the same time. It's the erotic Frigidaire. This is what is going on in architecture. Do you know, do you recognize this, it's La Madeline in Paris. This was built in the early days of the 19th Century. And this is Houdon. Most of us know of him because of his statue of George Washington. I think you can see how the sculpture and the painting is so related. And then down in Italy we get Canova. And Canova wasn't quite sure what he was. He thought he was neoclassic, but he was so realistic. And he was doing this which was in the height of fashion at that time. It was a fashion to paint the notable women of the day nude, or call it nude. This is Pauline Borghese and this is now, or still in the Borghese Palazzo in Rome. Now we come to the United States. This is neoclassic. I bet you never thought of it. It's Audubon. You know, he thought he was the lost ________ for a long time. He came to this country. Everything he did was concerned with silhouette and with line. ________ this is painted exactly the same way that the portraits of the women that we've just been looking at. He happened to be an ornithologist, so his interest is slightly different, but he works in the same fashion. Now we come to an American sculptor who didn't work here. He worked in Rome. There are three of them. Hiram Powers, Horatio Greenough and John Crawford, Thomas Crawford is his name. You never hear of them. They were all influenced by Italian classical art. They are so slick. The surface of the marble is always coated, but it is always beautifully carved. I think they're terribly sexy. They weren't supposed to be at the time. You know where a lot of these are, in the Capitol in Washington. It was the taste of the time. These are all by Greennough, I mean by Powers. And this one, which I think is the funniest piece of sculpture. This is the Indian Maiden. It is far removed from an Indian maiden as you can get. Look at that classic head she's got. The only indication she's an Indian maiden is that little skirt. This is art of the United States about a little over a hundred years ago. There's one man, though, who was different, and he lived in Maine. And he became very well known, and had a lot of big commissions later in his life. It's William Rimmer, R-i-m-m-e-r, and he's probably the most serious sculptor of that period. He did not work with the other men in Rome at all. Anatomically he was quite remarkable and his drawings are beautiful.

Q: Did he...

Claude Howell: That's The Falling Gladiator, The Falling Gladiator, and he's pushing up and pushing down at the same time. It's quite a remarkable piece of sculpture, actually. This also is in the Capitol of the United States. This is by Horatio Greenough, and it has some terribly pompous name about war and justice or something like that. Also it's big. It's 11 feet high. Sometimes I wonder if people will laugh at what we created today the way we laugh now.

Q: Do you think they'll ever change any of these things?

Claude Howell: I don't know. It's so famous at this point, and so historical that probably they couldn't do it. And another generation may come along and think it's good. There's a similarity between all of these, but please remember the phrase the erotic Frigidaire. That's the one thing you can say about it. Now...

Q: Is that Washington?

Claude Howell: Yes, we've got George Washington. Okay, we've seen George Washington as the father of this country. Now you have him as a Greek God, Napoleon the same way.

Q: When was this done?

Claude Howell: In the 1840s, I think, '30s probably, mid 19th Century.

(overlapping conversation)

Claude Howell: Now we come to people who are diametrically opposed to this. This is Géricault, romanticism. One characteristic of romantic painting is you go from light to dark, to light to dark, to light to dark all over. There's always a lot of violent movement. There are a great many diagonals. Do you see them all in here? What makes this so dramatic? If the horse was standing still it wouldn't be half as dramatic. The horse rearing up like that gives you that wonderful diagonal. Look at the ground. It's not a solid area at all. Every inch is broken up, and you are going to find that this is true. This is the painting that made him famous, The Raft of the Medusa. The Medusa was a shipwreck, and the tabloids in Paris had written it up. It was pretty harsh, and the people had stayed on this raft for days after they were shipwrecked. And he painted this picture from the newspaper account. This in itself is quite different from anything that happened before. He's using a current event. It's no longer a mythological scene. These are not gods and goddesses. It is a horrible disaster that he painted. Look at the breakdown of that area there. There's no big light area. There's no big dark area. It is constant change from very light to very dark, from very light to very dark. There's no importance of color here, either here. Now, this man was very strange. He painted this old woman who is having ugly thoughts. He painted this man who was crazy. This is a far cry from the sweet little goddesses that we've just been looking at. They're much more realistic in their approach. I'm sorry about this slide because we took it from a book that it was on two pages. This is Napoleon in the penthouse at Jaffa, and you see there is a nice overall composition, but the figures are so many filled with lights and darks, there's no line anymore, line has disappeared. Now there is a story here. The story is not the most important thing. There is some emotion here, particularly in some of the various figures. This is what is going to turn into sickly sentimentality by the time we get to the 1860's, '70s and '80s, which will be one of the big reasons for the revolt toward modern art. This is Chopin. He spent three summers with George Sand, and Chopin in their summer place outside of Paris, and while he was there he painted his portrait, and he also painted this one. That's George Sand. And she probably, according to the book I read, listing to Chopin's music.

Q: I thought she always dressed in masculine clothes, but that looks...

Claude Howell: No, I don't think so at all. Maybe she only did it in public.

Q: To attract attention.

Claude Howell: Yeah. He also painted portraits. This one was rejected in one of the big exhibitions. They called this man, said he had the figure of a violin. But you'll notice something, even in this painting. It may not be the greatest painting in the world, but that's okay. That's a real landscape. It's not like the fragment, it's not like all the English portrait painters who put in flimsy backdrops. This is a real landscape. They're preparing the way for the Barbizon painters, the great French school of landscape painting, and also the impressionists. And this is An Orphan Girl in a Graveyard. Always the emotion. Hamlet and Horatio. Notice the color is never important at this point. (laughter) These are Indians, by the way. I don't know. He never came to this country. I don't know what the background for this painting is. The Metropolitan recently got it. [inaudible], but it's so mixed up it's hard to tell, isn't it? There are two of his paintings, one is a lion hunt and the other is a tiger hunt. I never know which is which, but it's just what I would call an orgy of emotions, always the diagonals, always the light to dark, always.

Q: That's Medea.

Claude Howell: That's Medea, and The Death of Sardanapalus, and all the women around there are all either dead or being killed. It was a very violent painting. Look at the importance of diagonal in this painting. You know we mentioned once if you go to the beach on a very peaceful day everything is going to be horizontal, if you go on a stormy day everything is going to be diagonal. And this is what they do in their painting to create violence and people dying. And Greece Expiring off the ruins of Missolonghi. Even the idea is kind of melodramatic, but a lot of times they get melodramatic. And this is The Massacre of Chios. In the original painting, by the way, this is a beautiful bit of painting in the landscape in back of the figures. The figures are nice, they're adequate, but the landscape is quite beautiful. You can begin to see here where Delaxroix is putting in a few spots of pure color. See down in there in the corner the little blue and red. In the original that's pure blue and pure red and it kind of glows. And the castle being burned and the daughters being abducted. He was very much influenced by one man, and guess who it was, Ruben, you know, Ruben painted The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus. It's very much the same composition. Now, we're in Germany and this man is quite different. He thought that color was nothing. He was only interested in shape and in line, and he was on top of that a mystic. He had a great influence on American painting in the 1850s, not the 1950s, 1850s. His name is Casper David Friedrich, F-r-i-e-d-r-i-c-h. This is one of his simpler paintings. Usually there'll be some vision in the sky.

Q: Is that a rainbow?

Claude Howell: That's a rainbow. But they're strange paintings, but very compelling, and the longer you look at it the more you see. Now we come to romanticism in architecture, and this is the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. Isn't it crazy?

Q: It is.

Q: Which king was it that did that one, I mean, during whose time?

Claude Howell: It would be about 1860 or 1870. We have several slides of it, excess. This is called the most ostentatious vulgarity that's ever been erected in the history of the world. I read that today. It's the Paris Opera House. And what it becomes is a showcase for wealthy women to walk up and down the stairs unrehearsed twice. And I was there, and I put on my best suit, and I walked up and down that stairway and I felt like a million dollars. You can't help but feel like a million dollars. You have never seen anything more luxurious, or more vulgar, ostentatious. It's everything for show. On the outside of the building the figures are so realistically nude that it's very embarrassing to look at, but it's a marvelous building. It's filled with charm, and you will love it. Now we come to the United States. It's always like a breath of fresh air when you come back to this country. Thomas Cole, who started the Hudson River Painters, calling attention to the beauty of the American landscape, this is one of the aspects of romanticism. Uh-oh, I wish we could get back to the light. Can you get it? What do you think?

(crew talk)

Claude Howell: I thought, but we really had a time with that machine tonight. When we came in they had put a different machine that nobody had ever seen before and it didn't work, so it's really not our fault. Upside down and backwards.

Q: That's all right you can see it.

Q: See if I've got it. I don't know if I even hit the right...

Claude Howell: Okay. Shall I go to--? Now, we talked about the influence of literature on painting and vice versa. Here we have Samuel Taylor Coleridge painted by Thomas Cole. They were very friendly, and this is in the Catskill Mountains. It's a good honest painting. Now look at this landscape and think back to the landscape behind the portraits of Romsey [ph?] and Gainsborough, and you'll see a world of difference. He obviously has looked at this landscape. It's probably not exactly like the place. I bet you couldn't find it. I bet he probably made a lot of different sketches and put them together because it's beautifully composed, and nature does not compose itself as well.

Q: That one almost copies it.

Q: Yes.

Claude Howell: Now, several of these men, Church, Frederick Church and Kensett went to far away places to paint. Church went to Ecuador, and Barbara Babcock, who is a archive friend, is married to a man who lives there now, and they have bought the hacienda that Church used to live in when he painted out in nature. And it's very interesting exotic landscape. Martin J. Heade went to the jungles of Brazil, and a lot of his landscapes have beautiful orchids and hummingbirds in them. John Kensett painted the Andes in all their majestic romance. So these are people who are seeking the exotic too. And then we have a portrait painter in this country who is certainly romantic. Do you recognize him? He painted my great grandmother. His name is Sully, Sully, S-u-l-l-y. It's called Mother and Son. I bet that little boy was teased like everything with that outfit and that hairdo he's got, but she has the same curls, almost. What Sully does, and it's very interesting, he simplifies areas. The shapes become much larger than we saw in Delaxroix or ________ any of the French romantic painters. Now, this is George Catlin who lived with the Indians in the far west, real far west. This is part of the attempt to escape. You become interested in other times. You become interested in other places. I saw this painting for the first time last year. It is so beautiful. It's not a large painting. It's probably the size of that sign there. It's called Boatman on the Missouri, I think it is, but it's one of paintings of George Caleb Bingham who painted genre scenes of life of the middle class people who lived in Central America, and he painted them in the 1850s. We on one? Genre painting...

Q: Do you know where this is now?

Claude Howell: Huh?

Q: Do you know where this is?

Claude Howell: No, I saw-- where did I see it? I saw it at the Court, but I think it was on loan. I'm not sure where its permanent home is. There were three of these paintings hanging in one room and it was part breathtaking. The paint quality is excellent. The drawing is very good and the color, while not too exciting, is very good, good and rich colors.

Q: Where did you say that was?

Claude Howell: Huh?

Q: Where is the painting?

Claude Howell: Don't know. I saw it in the Court. There was a temporary exhibition, and I'm not sure where it came from. A lot of these paintings are in St. Louis. A lot of them are in, still in the central parts of this country. There was a man-- there were a lot of genre painters during this period. We have Eastman Johnson who painted My Old Kentucky Home. You have a lot of cubed paintings of Black people on plantations, which is pretty bad today according to the way we think now, but at the time they were depicting life as they saw it. You know, Winslow Homer went to Charleston, and he painted a lot of watercolors of the Black people playing games, having a carnival, doing all sorts of stuff like that. So we find that these people, the ordinary man, is becoming the hero in romanticism. This is certainly the ordinary man, isn't it? It's a far cry from any of the gods or goddesses that we've seen, or the people who were dressed like gods and goddesses that we have just seen. It is. I'm going to put it back so you can look at it because I want to say just one more thing. We have gone through two periods tonight which are all mixed up. They're mixed up in time and in place, and sometimes romanticism goes back, or sometimes neoclassicism comes forward, so it's very difficult to separate them from the standpoint of time, all those nations. It's not the movement of any one country. Actually, romanticism began in France. Neoclassicism began in France, but you can't talk about romanticism without talking about English romantic poets. They were terribly important. Now we're going to find that this led to the academy of the 1800s. This sort of thing, the painting that we just saw, done by a lesser artist in a sentimental way could become so trite, and so popular, and so academic that the young artist couldn't stand it any longer. So next week we're going to have the first of our big revolutions, which is realism. We are going to talk about Courbet and Winslow Homer, and all those people who were revolting against this sort of, what they called excess. They were trying to bring back form to art, and trying to put it on an even keel. Every revolution in the arts have been created by people who thought they were bringing sanity back into the arts. The public, sometimes, has thought that they were crazy, but they themselves have always felt that they were bringing it back into the great line of tradition. Now, that's what we've been talking about for a number of months now, the great tradition in the arts, and we've about come to the conclusion, I believe, that the great tradition is revolution. You know, you have something, it's carried to excess, so another generation comes along and changes it. And we don't know where we're going to go from here, but I think we're about ready for another one. So next week we will concentrate on realism and we'll be jumping around Western Europe and also this country. The United States, at this point up until tonight, has contributed some good paintings and some good arts, but we have not contributed a single new idea, or led the world in anything at all, and we won't until 1950. That's when the United States first breaks on the world scene as the leader in the new movements, and that was the abstract expression, but we have a long way to go before we get to that. We are still emulating Europe and doing it not quite as well. I think you can see a slight difference in the approach from the American painters from the European painters. They were a little more cosmopolitan, a little more knowledge, a little bit more sophisticated than the Americans. We still were trying, in the 1850s and '60s, to develop this country, and our goals were not exactly geared just towards the arts. They still aren't, but we're much further along the way today than we were then. We'll that's where we are now. I'm sorry about our problems tonight.

Q: I want to apologize about the slides. I'm really sorry. I think the reason they put the new projector in is because it makes less noise. I wondered if you all noticed that it was easier to hear Claude. So we'll have it all worked out.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign