Realism and Neoclassicism Essay

Realism and Neoclassicism

John Singleton Copley. Portrait of Samuel Adams.

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What is the scene?

The scene of Samuel Adam’s, Copley’s most powerful portrait shows the man in the act of confronting Governor Thomas Hutchinson on the eve of the American Revolution (Fradin, 1998). He is holding tightly in his right hand a roll of paper which demands the removal of British troops from the city after the Boston Massacre, which occurred March 5, 1770. With his left hand, Adams is pointing firmly and stubbornly to the charter of the Massachusetts colony, reminding the governor of the rights granted by the king to the citizens (Adler, 2005).

What are the figures wearing? Why?

This painting by John Copley shows only one figure and that is John Samuels himself. He is wearing a bright red coat, the brightness of which is the first thing that catches a viewer’s eye. That is the standard garb of a leader of the American Revolution. His hair is white and wavy with slight waves in them. Very interestingly, the angry red of the painting coincides with the occasion the painting is sketched for. It is believed Samuels was about to confront the Governor Hutchinson on the eve of the American Revolution and it was a time of volcanic emotions and actions.

What do you think the purpose was?

Copley’s portrait shows Samuel Adams in slightly disproportionate figures which art historians believe shows the artist’s mindset which is that the artist regarded him as a dangerous, deranged and grim man. But keeping with his tradition of never demeaning his subjects, the purpose of the painting seems to be to remind viewers of a man who believed so completely in his principles that he was ready to die for them. He seems to be eager for the confrontation with the British.

Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. Portrait of Marie Antoinette with her children. 1787

What is the scene?

The scene shows the Queen sitting with her three children (Weber, 2006). The youngest child seems restless in his mother’s lap, squirming and trying to grasp his mother’s gown. But Marie Antoinette supports him firmly, her left hand around his waist, her right draped gently over his legs. The eldest daughter is standing at her mother’s right and pressing a cheek against her mother’s shoulder. The middle child stands a little apart, more into prominence because he is to be the future heir to the throne. The general mood of the painting is subdued and emotionless, showing that passion rarely ruffled the Queen’s demeanor.

What are the figures wearing? Why?

The Queen and her three children are wearing royal dresses, which though extravagant by the common man’s standard are much subdued according to royal standards (Lever, 2000). This is because at that time, the queen was trying to win back the graces of France’s common people. The dark drapery in the background of the painting increases its visual weight

What do you think the purpose was?

Most people believe the queen wanted to immortalize herself and her children in a portrait and so she asked her friend Marie Elizabeth to do so. The painting purports the queen as a mother, flanked by her children. The empty cradle represents the death of the queen’s youngest child Sophie-Helene. This painting was also painted to help win back some popularity for the queen, her name having been sullied in the recent ‘necklace affair.’

How are these two images related to each other?

Both images glorify their subjects, showing the two leaders of different countries as ordinary albeit strong individuals. Both use dark colors and muted backgrounds, red being the most prominent in both cases. Both have been painted at important moments in history: Samuel Adams on the eve of the American Revolution and Marie Antoinette with her children before the French Revolution took place.

References

Book

Fradin, D. B. (1998). The Father of American Independence.

Adler, D. A. (1999). A Picture Book of Samuel Adams.

Weber, C. (2006). Queen of Fashion.

Lever, E. (2000). Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France.

 

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