Becoming Modern Julia Gehlert

Historical Context

The term “modernize” can easily be defined as the adaptation to modern behaviours or needs, usually by the usage of modern ideas and tools. Art used to be centered around the upper class, or people with religious or political power. “Science” was still based off of the Bible, and the Church and the State were one in the same. The people of the 19th century began to define themselves as a more “modern” generation of people due to their experiences with radical changes in the world. The “modern world” at the time of the early 19th century went through major shifts, specifically that of agriculture to industrialization of cities. The ideas of modern society also changed; there was a new importance on secularism, urban development, and capitalism, amongst other things. The overall quality of life seemed to be greatly improving in this Modern World.

A Romantic Overview

Caspar David Friedrich, "The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog" (1818)

Romanticism was a movement involving the arts and literature at the end of the 18th century. Romantic artists generally liked portraying a wide variety of emotions in their work, as well as spirituality, nature, and nostalgia. Romantic artists created paintings and drawings, music, and writing. These people had a general dislike for the sciences mainly because they focused on the logical and natural ways of things.

Romantic Artists

JMW Turner, The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

Points of view in art are highly significant because they allow others to gain insight about the world that the painter lived in. JMW Turner (1775-1851), for example, grew up in the England that had to deal with the American Revolution. Additionally so, he grew up during the first Industrial Revolution, which put England at the top of all competing nations. In this painting by JMW Turner, the battleship “Temeraire” is portrayed being pulled along in the sea by a tugboat. It holds significance because it was a product of the Industrial Revolution, as well as an important factor to the British victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, thus putting importance on the industrial success of England.

Romantic Composers

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The romantic movement of music can be credited to many genius composers, but Ludwig van Beethoven remains perhaps the most influential and significant of all. Even a musical prodigy such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who studied with Beethoven, claimed he would be a true success. Beethoven was one of the few that could convey a myriad of emotions with his music; emotions that were more than just “happy” or “melancholy”, but rather fear, horror, anxiety, confusion, joy, contempt, and many others. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about Beethoven is that he went completely deaf, and yet still continued to compose. This truly puts a large stress on the emotions of romantic music.

Romantic Literature

Lord Byron, George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

Another leading figure in the romantic movement of Europe was George Gordon Byron, also known as Lord Byron, a British poet. His most famous works are “Don Juan”, “She Walks in Beauty”, and “The Eve of Waterloo”, amongst others. Lord Byron did not restrict himself to just writing, though. He was an activist in Parliament for disadvantaged groups. While his personal life was quite shady, including platonic and romantic relationships with both men and women, Lord Byron’s writing style could have been influenced by this in that his writing style actually flips gender roles of men and women, thus evoking a new spectrum of emotions in his works. Fun Fact: Lord Byron’s closest friends included Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron’s dog Botswain.

Scientific Realism

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution can be simply defined as: all species competing to be on top, and to rise through natural selection, inherited traits, and the concept of “survival of the fittest”. However correct and logical Darwin’s theory was, though, he received much backlash, mainly due to the fact that his ideas challenged those of the Church. This new “theory of evolution” seemed to soil the ideas of the Bible, as well as confront the core ideas of Christianity.

Realist Writers

Leo Tolstoy, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Leo Tolstoy (pronounced: LAEoh TOLEstoi) was a Russian writer; his most famous works being War and Peace (1869), and Anna Karenina (1877). By using literature, Tolstoy believed that we as humans could connect with one another much easier, and that it was a tool for psychological and educational reform. He additionally did not believe in art for art’s sake, but rather that good art should make us as humans less judgmental, and more in touch with morality.

Émile Zola, Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola (1840-1902)

Naturalism is best defined as a style based on the very precise attention and representation of detail. A Frenchman named Émile Zola was a naturalistic author, poet, playwright, and journalist. His theories, however, are often criticized to be base-level and unoriginal. But, even though people were talking negatively about Zola, they were still talking about him. Zola also put a lot of importance on verisimilitude, which is the appearance of being real or true. By using this technique, Zola believed that an author could portray their subject in the most truthful way.


Sigmund Freud, Sigismund Schlomo Freud (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the creator of psychoanalysis, or “talk therapy”. Freud’s main ideas were that unconscious behaviours, such as those of one’s childhood or dreams, would have a major effect on one’s current behaviours. While he was a great psychologist, Freud’s theories proved to be controversial. This is due to his belief that all actions were driven by sexual tensions, which is obviously not the case when one factors in children in need of psychological help.

Modern Art

Claude Monet, The Argenteuil Bridge (1874)

During the late 19th century, the Impressionist movement sparked a new medium of art. Claude Monet’s style used in The Argenteuil Bridge is unique in that he strayed from traditional painting techniques. As seen in the painting, Monet used short brush strokes that were not meant to be neat, but rather abstract and unclear, creating a surreal effect about the the subject of the painting, no matter how simple that subject is.

Paul Cézanne, The Basket of Apples (1893)

While still-life painting appeared to be the least exciting medium of painting out there, Cézanne saw otherwise. Still-life paintings originally served as decorations in homes, and the entire medium has been characterized as a trivial thing. Cézanne believed that art should be reflective of what we as humans see, rather than simply photographic images.

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