Compare and Contrast
Choice 3. French Neo Classic and French Rococo Galleries
- Compare David’s “death of Socrates” with any paintings by Fragonard
Artist: Jacques Louis David
Title: Death of Socrates
Dimension: 51×77 inches (129.5×196.2cm)
Medium: oil on canvas
In this painting artwork by David, in comparison to the artwork of Fragonard, finish is a relative term. In the painting, gloomy tone prevails as David shapes the image’s composition in dark shades on the background and grey, brown, white, blue and purple on the clothing of the disciples and Socrates himself. The multi colours on the clothing are concentrated at the centre of the painting and the canvas where there is illumination of the light (Lydecker & Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008).
Artist: Jean Honoré Fragonard
Title: love letter
Medium: oil on canvas
Date: early 1770s
Dimensions: 32 ×26 inches (83.2 × 67 cm)
This painting artwork by Fragonard is in contrast to the painting by David on Socrates. Fragonard has applied over a brown tone and shaped the composition of the painting in darker shades of brown, modelling and drawing with strokes of varying thickness and the tip of the brush. Moreover, in that painting of Fragonard, white and colour are confined to the passages that are under a strong light towards the canvas centre; the powdered face of the young woman, her cap and dress, stool and writing surface, dog and flowers (Fragonard & Art Image Publications, 1988).
- Discuss the different time periods and therefore the different subject matter and painting style. What happened politically in each of the two periods? How did that affect the art?
The picture above was painted by Jacques Loise David and it shows the death of Socrates. The painting is dated 1787 and depicts Socrates accused by the government of Athens of corrupting the young with his teachings and denying gods. Socrates who lived between 469-399 B.C.E was given two choices of either dying by taking a cup of hermlock or renouncing his beliefs, of which he chose to die. In the painting, David shows Socrates when prepared to die and with his grief stricken disciples discoursing on the soul’s immortality. The painting has been done with a stoic theme and is considered the most perfect David’s neoclassical statement (Lydecker & Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008).
On the other hand, the painting by Fragonard entitled “love letter” dates back in 1770s with also a contrasting subject matter and paining style as that of David’s “Socrates Death.” The image shows a young woman seated on a stool in a boudoir before an oculus window at her writing desk. She has addressed a card to an unknown gentleman and she is inserting it in a bouquet of flowers wrapped in a cone of paper (Fragonard & Art Image Publication, 1988).
In comparing and contrasting the two paintings, the image of Socrates death has political elements in it compared to “love letter” image which has no political elements in it. Using the period of Socrates, he was accused of corrupting young people with his teachings in addition to denying gods. He was offered two options; either death or denouncing his beliefs. The politics that prevailed during that time affected the painting as it has gloomy ambience and dull compared to love letter image. In contrast, love letter image is bright and has no traces of political traces hence asking the image bright and theatrical. This is emphasised by the manner in which the intimate view of the image is surrounded by curtains as well as the focussed light. The lady in the portrait is looking over her shoulder as if somebody is entering. Moreover, her hair is smoothly dressed with pink ribbons and muslin cap. She is wearing painted lace cuffs in a flurry of white strokes and a robe, à la française pleated at the back below her neckline and falls into soft loose folds. Furthermore, her white face seems heavily in makeups, and beside her closely is a white dog with silky, fluffy ears.
- What were the names of the different painting styles/ and notice the difference in subject matter and paint application
The painting style adopted by David in his image of death of Socrates is referred to as abstract expressionism. In this style of painting, Zucker (2013) noted that the paintings are spontaneously created by the artists and are emotionally intense. Moreover, there is high drama and tension in their composition. This is true to the painting of Socrates death. Tension is very high, Socrates knows about his death and he is ready to die because of his beliefs while his disciples are grief stricken. The artist have used shapes and colours to portray the landscapes and emotions of the inner world of Socrates and his disciples.
On the other hand, the painting of the love letter by Fragonard have applied impressionism painting style. According to Zucker (2013), this painting style is characterised thin brush strokes and emphasis are laid on light depiction. In the painting of love letter, the artist have captured sunlight and the subjects colour in his painting. This is in line with the subject matter of the image which is filled with brightness, joy and relaxed atmosphere.
Fragonard, J.-H., & Art Image Publications. (1988). The love letter: La lettre d’amour. Champlain, NY: Art Image Publications.
Lydecker, J. K., & Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). (2008). The Death of Socrates.
Zucker, P. (2013). Styles in painting: A comparative study. New York: Dover Publications.