Revolution and Art

In the eighteenth century there were many revolutions that took place around the world.  These revolutions were changing the world.  People were fed up with kings and regimes that gave the people no say in how they were governed.  The first of these occurred in the New World which would eventually be known as the United States of America.  Inspired by this revolution the French would follow suit.  A lesser known and less successful revolution, known as the Batavian Revolution, took place in what is now Holland that saw the end of the Dutch Republic.  The three pieces that have been chosen show scenes from these revolutions.  In fact a lot of the art from this time shows various depictions of these wars.  People often look to what is happening around them for inspiration and when it is war, then depictions of war is what you get.   The first piece is:

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31, 1775 by John Trumbull (1786)  America


This painting depicts one of the early battles of the Revolutionary War.  The artist, John Trumbull, was a soldier in the war so he witnessed many of the horrors of war firsthand.  The fact that he was a revolutionary shows through in this painting particularly by his depiction of the death of the general at the center of the painting as almost a martyr.  I like how this painting is a callback to ancient mythology where the general is a god or hero of legend that has just died.  The general’s lifeless body is being mourned by the ones holding him up.  I particularly like how the men in the foreground are almost in shock that this great man could be dead.  It looks like they are screaming “NOOOOO!!!”.  This painting captures the horror of war very nicely.  Next is:

Tennis Court Oath by Jacques-Louis David (1791)  France


This drawing by neoclassical painter, Jacques-Louis David, depicts the famous Tennis Court Oath that took place in the opening days of the French Revolution.  Like Trumbull, David was an active participant in the revolution and witnessed firsthand many of the important moments of the revolution.  He drew on these firsthand account during this period to inspire him in his art.  This drawing is also a callback to ancient Rome.  It reminds me of Raphael’s School of Athens where there are all of these people standing in a room the attention is drawn to the middle of the piece to the most important person.  In this case it the man leading the oath while right below him are members of the revolution discussing the balance of church and state in the government that they want to set up.  Looking at this drawing I can’t help but think of the musical, Les Miserables.  It looks like this is a photograph of the musical midsong.  I think what I like most about this piece is the hope and energy that is shown through in the people drawn.  You can tell that they really believe in their cause and that they think that they will win.  The last piece is:

General Daendels Taking Leave of Lieutenant-Colonel Krayenhoff by Adriaan de Lelie (1795)  Amsterdam


This painting depicts Lt. Cl. Krayenhoff on his way to dissolve the Amsterdam Council during the Batavian Revolution.  de Lelie was not an active participant in this revolution but, he was still moved to depict this important moment in the Batavian Revolution.  This is my l east favorite of the three works chosen here because I find it to be the most plain.  It is just a simple scene of a winter day where some soldiers are getting ready to go do their duty.  The art itself is technically good but, so is the artwork that hangs in motel rooms.  There is nothing here that jumps out at me.  I tried to find more history about the painting because I thought that maybe I was missing something but could not find anything that changed my opinion of the work.  This painting is just a depiction of the mundane parts of war that happen before the fighting actually happens.

People can be inspired by anything.  Some artists look to nature.  Some look to the past.  The artists shown here and their works were inspired by the revolutions that were happening around them.  Some were active participants while others watched from afar but, all were affected by the war that they were witnessing.

Yale University Art Gallery.  The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31, 1775

Encyclopedia Britannica.  John Trumbull (American Painter)

Jacques-Louis David, The Complete Works.

Encyclopedia Britannica.  Jacques-Louis David (French Painter).

Rijks Museum.  Adriaan de Lelie.

Wikipedia.  Wikimedia Foundation.  Adriaan de Lelie.


3 thoughts on “Revolution and Art

  1. Really well done blog post. These paintings vibrantly capture the human emotion evoked by revolution and war. I cannot imagine how horrendous the people depicted in the first painting must have felt at that moment, but I think that that painting does just about the best possible job of getting it across. The complete arrangement of all the individuals is included in great detail, which I think exemplifies just how deeply ingrained that moment was within the painter’s mind. Similarly with the second painting, the direct participation of the painter in the scenario taking place likely made his memory of it quite vivid. It is interesting that the final painting is so plain, or at least lacking in any action, and as you say it depicts the mundane aspect of war. One of the things I find most fascinating about art is that it shows things from different perspectives, and this painting does accomplish that. I don’t know the particular details of this revolution, but perhaps this dissolution event influenced the life and death of a great number of people, not directly, but through the consequences of the political decision being carried out. In this case, the literal event depicted is certainly mundane, but what it signifies is quite the opposite.

  2. I have to agree with the above comment, very well done post. I also did mine on Revolution and Art, though I stuck to the American Revolution. I really enjoyed your look at all of the prominent revolutions from this time. I liked how you discussed each artist’s connection/participation to their revolution. Although, I wonder if the passion/inspiration that is seen in Trumbull and David’s paintings is lacking in that of de Lilie due to him being an outsider to the cause and if that is why his painting seems more “plain” to you? I find all of the paintings fascinating, but actually prefer de Lilie’s because it shows a “day in the life” perspective of revolution, one of the many small steps that are needed to bring about change. This may be a more practical approach to art, especially that which is connected to war, but to see such a mundane image from the street and then look to a definitive image of the time such as Trumbull’s Deceleration of Independence, make it seem like the connection between the two is more real and more attainable.

  3. I’m not sure if you just missed the parts about the artistic trends of this time, or I tried too hard when doing my blog, but it made this blog, honestly, more enjoyable to read. I like being able to discuss the revolutions and the paintings about them only, with no other distractions. I agree with your opinion of the first two pieces, but I enjoyed the final painting more than the second one. To me, Lelie did a better job of portraying what he wanted to than David in these examples. Although it was a more boring scene, I feel that it was executed better than the second piece, as a lot of the people blend in to the background. I feel as if this retracts from the overall painting, rather than adding emphasis to it. Also, the colors are much more dull and boring. I really liked Trumbull’s piece. I agree with everything you said about this one. I had forgotten about the Dutch revolution, so it was nice to hear about that one again.

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