From the early 18th to the mid-19th century, dynamic transformations in European art mirrored turbulent political and social changes, including revolutions, imperial conquests, and the emergence of the modern industrial age. The refined, decorative aesthetics of Rococo art mirrored an aristocracy engaged in the pursuit of pleasure prior to the French Revolution of 1789. Neoclassicism, the severe style embraced by the revolutionaries who did away with France’s monarchy, was grounded in ancient Greek and Roman culture and was often used to reinforce political messages. After the fall of the short-lived empire of Napoléon Bonaparte, Romantic artists of the early 19th century focused more keenly on exotic and turbulent themes, often executed with loose and colorfully bold brushwork. Later in the century, proponents of the newer Realist movement turned to sober depictions of working people as the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe. Some Realists turned to nature, using landscape to convey a sense of direct experience of a specific place and time.
The movements from Rococo to Realism flourished extensively in France but were international in scope—as demonstrated by artists such as John Constable (England), Francisco Goya (Spain), and Giovanni Tiepolo (Italy). Thanks to the patronage of local collectors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Field, the Art Institute of Chicago has developed an extensive collection of works from these critical chapters in the history of art.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off, c. 1806. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.