The last third of the 18th century was remarkable not only for political and economic changes (the French and Industrial Revolutions), but also for a substantial alteration in art. Deliberately rejecting the aristocratic and erotic subjects which had dominated French art for the past century, a group of artists looked back to Roman and Greek models, especially items being uncovered in the excavations of Pompeii, to produce works of high moral seriousness. Their "school" came to be called Neo-Classical. In general, "classical" refers to aesthetic attitudes and principles based on the culture, art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, and characterized by emphasis on form, simplicity, proportion, and restrained emotion.

The first of these artists was an Englishmen, Joseph Wright of Derby. But three Frenchmen independently produced the more famous works and form the heart of the Neo-Classical school of art. These were Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), and his two pupils, Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)

So much of neo-classical painting was official art, that is art sponsored by first the French Republic, and then by the Emperor Napoleon, that I have included a special section on Images of Napoleon. Many of these paintings are not considered "great art," but they form an important addition to the history of art: art in service to political power.

To enter the collection, click on the enhanced title.

Wright of Derby, Joseph


 David, Jacques-Louis




Wright of Derby: The Alchemist (1749)

 David: Self Portrait (1794)


Pupils of David:
Gros, Antoine-Jean and
Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres


 Images of Napoleon




Ingres: Self Portrait

 Gros: Napoleon at Arcole


Return to Art in European History

 Show Slide Show - Neo-Classicism