Peter Paul Rubens painted his work The Arrival of Marie de’ Medici at Marseilles in 1622-1625 to commemorate the actual arrival of Marie in France (Tansey and Kleiner, 851). The artist turned his painting into a theatrical stage, reflecting all the ideals of the Baroque style. The figures of Marie and her ladies in waiting are presented in a magnificence and grandeur that are typical of the style. The ship and the textiles give a sense of richness. At the same time, the lower part of the painting, depicting mythological figures rejoicing for Marie’s safe arrival, is full of movement and vitality, also typical of the way the Baroque artists chose to depict the world.
Jean Fragonard’s The Swing from 1766 is a typical painting of the way Rococo artists viewed the world. A sense of frivolity appears in the art of the period which reflects the political and social climate of the era especially in France, where the style blossomed. The subject of the painting is sensual, with a young man strategically placing himself among the plants to see the object of his affections while another man from behind keeps pushing the swing higher and higher (Tansey and Kleiner, 892). Her reciprocating smile leaves doubt that she is fully aware of his presence. Situated in a massively decorated garden and painted in colorful pastels, this is a happy representation of the flirtation of a young couple, depicting a scene from everyday life, full of frivolity, playful attitude and colorful environment. The world for the Rococo artists was a happy, sensual place.
The Raft of Medusa by Theodore Gericault was created in 1818-1819 and depicts a dramatic scene of a group of people trying to survive after the sinking of a ship. This is actually a real event that shocked France in 1816, when a ship carrying Algerian immigrants sank on the west coast of Africa. The painting embodies some of the basic ideals of Romanticism and is indicative of the ways the Romantics viewed the world. Nature, with its power to destroy and kill, is represented as the opposite of reason that was the fundamental view of the philosophical movement of enlightenment that had flourished in the previous century. Its unpredictability and often brutal force are shown through the representation of the humans facing its wrath. Survivors and corpses are packed together as one raises a flag to attract the attention of the distant ship that will eventually save them (Tansey and Kleiner 941). The dead bodies as well as the obvious pain in the faces of the survivors shock the viewer, while the light entering from the left adds to the intensity of emotion (Tansey and Kleiner 942).
The Impressionists challenged traditional views of painting in many ways, by choosing to see the world through the interplay of light and color, using visible brushstrokes and trying to catch the spontaneity of the moment but also through the subjective view of the painter. All these are apparent in Claude Monet’s Woman with a Parasol from 1875. The artist chose an outdoor location to create his work of art and not a studio, capturing thus all the intensity of color and light that exists during a sunny day in the country. His brushstrokes, although looking blurry at first, give a sense of spontaneity, that a single moment in time has been captured in painting, almost like photography, a new technique at the time, did. Color and light are presented in a powerful interplay each reflecting the other in specific parts of the painting. The green parasol leads the eye to the green grass of the meadow while at the same time the light blue color of the garments matches with the sky above. Light enters from the right passing through the clouds, reflecting on the woman’s dress and ends up lighting the grass at the bottom of the picture.
Tansey, Richard G. and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.