Ingres  - The Spring Anthony D'Elia - Seated Nude

©2000 Anthony D'Elia

"Classical Realism" is used to describe many different styles which have little in common except for being representational and archaizing. The hard-core Classical Realists seem to be convinced that they are continuing the traditions of Nineteenth Century academic painting. It's not quite so simple.

Nineteenth Century academic painting indeed exploited hard lines, smooth transitions of colors which were not too shocking, and The Object. And when the lines of battle were drawn, that's where they were drawn. But there was another side to academicism. It was the culmination of a long tradition of abstraction. You didn't paint the woman in front of you; you painted Woman. And you didn't just generalize her; you generalized her by using the simple, traditional lines and forms which you had been taught.

The lines of Ingres' The Source are generalized and simplified to the point of impossibility. The outer lines of her thighs, and the outline from her waist to her left knee, are close to the arc of a circle. And never have I seen a woman with a face quite as egg-shaped as hers.
Anthony D'Elia's Seated Nude is both more detailed and less abstracted. I'm sure that the changes of surface next to the beautiful lady's nose and mouth were really there, but Ingres would have ignored them. The detailing of the toe-rings and the nails is distracting. Ingres' young lady has rounder breasts than either common reality or the law of gravity allow, but their simple lines follow convention. The breasts of the lady on the right are indeed more realistic and more Realistic than the "upstanding breasts" whose social significance Maurice Grosser so cleverly remarks.
Which brings us to another example. I'm pretty sure that Anthony D'Elia is not one of the hard-line Classical Realists, but I had several reasons for choosing his paintings as examples. And one of my reasons was modesty. Western art has always been understandably skittish about the lower half of a frontal nude. Ingres' solution to the problem is conventional, if extreme. Many of the Classical Realists ignore the traditional solutions to the problem, and their greater realism would have offended some of the viewers of this site.

Even the titles which the Classical Realists give their works reflect compromises between the ideals of Nineteenth Century neoclassicism and those of its enemies.
Ingres  - Madame de Sennones Anthony D'Elia - Beatrice

©2000 Anthony D'Elia

Ingres - Madame de Sennones Anthony D'Elia - Beatrice
"Madame de Sennones" innocently reflects the social conservatism of the circle for which Ingres worked; the use of first names by the Classical Realists reflects the greater emphasis on the inner person by the Impressionists and those who sided with them. Similarly, though most of the nudes painted by the neoclassicists represent nothing but Woman as a symbol of perfection, the painters still felt obligated to stick a vase or a bow in the hands of the ladies and call them The Source or Diana. Names like Seated Nude reflect the Modern compromise between the study and the finished work, which in itself reflects the weakening of the idea of the subject.

Like their social and literary counterparts, the Classical Realists have no choice but to compromise with the dominant ideas of their time, while sometimes fighting bitterly over words. This doesn't mean that Nineteenth Century Neoclassicism is better than Classical Realism. D'Elia's absolute nude represents Woman as perfection better than Bouguereau's sugary improvements on the female body.

Spaces, not commas, please!