Art took a dramatic turn following the French Revolution. Andrew Graham-Dixon explores artists including Jacques-Louis David, Delacroix, Ingres and Gericault.
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MUSIC: La Marseillaise
Liberty, equality, fraternity -
Vive la Republique!
If ever there was a moment when history was brought to a stop
and civilisation was reborn in a new and different shape, this was it.
France was about to embark on the most dangerous
and the biggest adventure in its history.
As Charles Dickens put it, "It was the best of times,
"it was the worst of times...
"it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
The French Revolution put an end to the monarchy.
The nobility was forced to flee the country or face death.
The authority of the church was overthrown.
But with the people's new sense of liberty and freedom
came the rule of the mob
and many innocent people went to their deaths.
Yet a new leader emerged
who had become the most powerful man in the world,
the romantic hero of the age -
The French Revolution would liberate France from the past
and ignite a century of change.
Art would be at the very epicentre of the revolution.
Art would be on the streets, on the barricades,
artists would record events but they would also incite events.
Romantics and revolutionaries
would take art to places it had never been before.
They had set out to transform the hearts,
the minds and the souls of the people,
preparing mankind for a new age.
This story begins on the eve of revolution.
The lull before the storm.
Paris in the 1780s...
..a city of fine architecture and great art,
unrivalled in Europe.
A city of enlightenment and sophistication,
apparently at ease with itself.
But storm clouds were gathering.
The country had been running out of money for decades.
The extravagance of Louis XIV at Versailles and wars overseas
had brought France to the verge of bankruptcy.
The new king, Louis XVI, knew there was trouble ahead,
but still clung to the vestiges of absolute power.
A young and up-and-coming artist, Jacques-Louis David,
destined to be the chronicler of his age,
was working on two enormous paintings.
Both had been commissioned by the king
to preach a message to his people.
"Know your duty and do your duty,
"whatever the cost."
The subject is a story from the ancient Roman past.
are making their vow of loyalty to Rome...
..as they prepare to take three swords from their father.
They will do battle with three of their enemies from Alba
and the result will determine the war.
But there is a human cost involved in this oath of violence
against the enemy.
And that human cost is depicted by David in this part of the painting,
embodied in particular by this figure in white,
swooning in grief and anticipation.
She is the sister of those three brothers.
And here's the twist,
she is betrothed to one of the three men
that they must and do, in the story, kill.
So by enacting the vow and saving Rome,
they make of their sister a premature widow.
That's the nature of the choice.
And the same opposition between honour and family,
duty to country and duty to self
is depicted in this even more troubling painting.
Brutus has learned that his sons were plotting to overthrow Rome.
He has betrayed them and they have been killed.
This is the moment when their dead bodies are brought to him,
by these men of granite, the lictors,
with their eyes of stone.
Look at the figure of Brutus.
He sits in shadow. His eyes are full of remorse, anguish,
his hand is knotted around the document
that revealed to him their treason
and his feet are twisted over one another.
He is in agony but he has done his duty.
That's what these pictures are about.
Doing your duty, supporting the state, no matter what.
These pictures found favour.
This painting was commissioned by Louis XVI.
And yet, while these paintings are not in any way revolutionary,
I think they do show David's profound unease,
his conflicted nature, as a person.
He has actually found it very difficult to deliver the message
he was supposed to deliver,
because he places so much emphasis
on the cost of this sacrifice of self to state.
But if you look at the painting with a heart,
it's hard for you to feel that it was really worth it.
And at the very centre of the painting, its focal point,
an emblem of the home that's been ripped apart,
it's a basket full of sewing.
David's pictures were so full of doubt,
it's as if they were inviting the French people to imagine
different endings to the stories.
What if Brutus's sons were to live?
And break the power of the state?
What if swords were taken up to kill a ruler, not save him?
In the real world, in the Paris of 1789, not the Rome of old,
that's exactly what would happen.
David's pictures turned out to be a premonition.
Within weeks of Brutus going on show,
the storming of the Bastille,
hated symbol of Royal power,
signalled the end of absolute monarchy.
The end of aristocratic power,
the end of the Catholic Church in France.
It was the 14th of July, 1789 -
the people suddenly were free to invent a better world.
This was the dawn of a new age.
The first meeting of the new revolutionary government
took place on a royal tennis court.
And Jacques-Louis David, who had been, at best,
a reluctant propagandist for the King, captured the moment.
Having joined the revolution at the first clarion call,
he became its painter.
And in this excitable sketch for a never-completed canvas,
he shows Mirabeau, early leader of the insurgency,
at the epicentre of a human earthquake.
This time it's not just three men making an oath,
but a thousand and this time, they're all vowing not to protect,
but to overthrow the status quo.
Above them, the winds of change blowing so hard,
they make the whole ancien regime seem as fragile
as an umbrella turned inside out by a gale.
The first months were mayhem, but calculated mayhem.
Across the Republic, the old royal flag with its fleur-de-lis
was burned and a new flag raised in its place.
The tricoleur, red, white and blue.
There would be a new revolutionary calendar and a new architecture,
devoted to the ideals of reason and justice.
There is only one building in modern Paris
where you can still breathe the fresh, clean air
of the French Revolution in its first and most idealistic phase
and this is it. The Pantheon. Le Pantheon.
It wasn't actually built
during the revolution, but shortly before,
and the revolutionaries had this brilliant idea of taking it over
and turning it from a church,
which it had been meant to be, into a new kind of building,
a secular space intended to celebrate
not God, not the kings of France,
not the saints, but the free ideas of free men.
So they stripped the whole place of religious images, religious symbols,
symbols of the monarchy.
They blocked in all of the lower windows
to create this sepulchral gloom,
and they turned it into a temple
to a new phase in the human spirit.
To the crypt of the Pantheon,
the bodies of those who died for the cause,
heroes of revolution, were brought for a solemn burial.
And alongside those martyrs were placed the prophets.
The remains of men such as Voltaire, atheist,
playwright and philosopher of the Enlightenment,
revered by the revolutionaries, were dug up and reinterred here.
the freethinker and political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
brought to his last resting place in a carved wooden box
as homely as a travelling gypsy caravan.
This is one of my very favourite objects
to have survived from the French Revolution.
I see it as a masterpiece of revolutionary folk art,
if you will. It's got this beautiful hand carrying the torch of truth
and passing it on, even from the grave, to future generations.
If you come round here...
..you can see even more of...
..the homely splendour of this wonderful thing -
his tomb is being blessed by the seasons.
They are bringing the bounty of nature and laying it on his grave.
Over here, we've got a woman symbolising, I think,
the muse of motherhood.
Rousseau had written time and again about the nobility,
the holiness of the child and I think this was something that really
struck a chord with the revolutionaries
because everyone in the revolution was a kind of child,
living in a brave new dawn.
These beautiful mourning human faces.
It's such a wonderful thing and most eloquent of all,
look at this little detail here.
The handles that were used to carry this thing, into the Pantheon.
It is very important to realise that things like this were originally
carnival floats as well as tombs,
they were part of huge, elaborate,
public celebrations of the values of the revolution.
David, the great pageant master of revolution,
understood the French people well.
With the abolition of the church, they had lost their saints,
they had lost their heaven.
The processions that he orchestrated
gave them new saints and a new holy place,
the Pantheon, to which they might make pilgrimage.
But while revolution is inspiring, it is also unstable,
and the French Revolution quickly splintered into factions.
David was on the extremist wing
and now he voted for taking revolution
to the point of no return, the execution of the King.
On the 21st of January, 1793,
Louis XVI was executed by guillotine in the Place De La Revolution.
The blood that dripped from Louis' head
onto the faces of a frenzied crowd
would soon turn into a river.
This was the time known as the Terror,
when the guillotine was busy every day.
Hundreds of people, many of whom had supported the revolution
in its early days, went to their deaths,
often on the flimsiest of evidence.
The French Revolution was the first triumphant people's revolt
in the history of the western world.
And it established the first great rule of every revolution to come.
All revolutions eat their children.
At the Musee Grevin, Paris's answer to Madame Tussauds,
they still remember one event
that marked the moment when the dream finally turned sour -
the killing of one revolutionary by another.
All the more shocking because the killer was a woman.
Charlotte Corday's victim, Jean-Paul Marat,
was a vengeful extremist who had incited mass murder
on the streets of Paris.
David has taken...
this scene, a tawdry assassination
of an unpleasant man
and turned it into an image for all history.
A bloodthirsty man sitting in his bath in his apartment
is murdered by a young woman who can't bear the tyranny
that he's perpetuating.
Marat, let's face it, was a nasty piece of work,
a tyrant who took pleasure in signing death warrants by the score.
He loved the blood of the Terror. He was the voice of the Terror.
Physically, too, he was repulsive.
He suffered from what contemporaries called une lepre,
a form of leprosy which meant he had to immerse himself in his bath
pretty much the whole day long.
His head he wrapped in a turban soaked in vinegar.
David takes the details, he takes this scene,
and he's turned Marat himself into a new Jesus Christ.
Look at that right arm dangling so heavily from the side of the bath,
holding the quill pen which it's about to release.
That right arm is borrowed directly
from perhaps the most famous image of Christ in the Renaissance world.
Michelangelo's Pieta in the Vatican in Rome.
The wound Charlotte Corday inflicted on Marat, that, too,
has given David an opportunity to apotheosise Marat
as another Christ, because here it evokes, of course,
the image in Christ's side,
pierced by the soldier, with his spear.
And there's one last detail borrowed, I think,
from Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St Matthew,
in which the saint bleeds to death
into a baptismal pool,
but the notion behind it all is the same.
Here's a martyr, a saint.
He is going to the revolutionary equivalent of heaven.
But the killing went on.
On the 16th of October, 1793,
David outlined the grimmest royal portrait in history,
as the Queen, Marie Antoinette, haggard, dishevelled as a tramp,
passed by his window on her way to the guillotine.
France was beginning to feel like hell on earth.
For 13 months, the Terror raged.
More innocent people went to their deaths.
The Place de la Revolution was now so soaked in human blood,
stray dogs came from far and wide to lap it up.
There were rumours of abused bodies and cannibalism.
During this terrible time, David painted portraits
as well as propaganda,
and these apparently innocent paintings
are perhaps his most chilling of all.
This is his friend Madame Trudaine,
dressed in plain clothes and wearing no jewellery,
shown in a bare room so that no-one might suspect her
of wealth or nobility.
But what fear there is in her eyes,
and behind the fear an unspoken question -
will it never end, this terror?
And it did. And among the first victims of its end
was the painter himself, Jacques-Louis David,
thrown into prison.
He painted this self-portrait, his life hanging in the balance.
He'd be reprieved, but only just,
and he'd never be quite the same man again.
As David fell, so, too, the hardliners fell from power.
And a new age of change was to dawn in France.
Seldom has history timed the arrival of one man to such effect.
A man who would harness the fury of the mob to take France
on a great imperial adventure.
The Musee de l'Armee in Paris is a latter-day shrine
to Napoleon Bonaparte,
whose monstrous ego and genius would intoxicate a nation.
He also established the second great rule of revolution -
turn its energies outwards, find enemies elsewhere to fight.
'Museum conservator Gregory Spourdos has the delicate task
'of looking after the great man's relics.'
That's the most famous silhouette in the world, I think.
You're touching Napoleon's hat!
Wow. I can feel the power.
I can feel the power surging through my veins.
It's an incredible thing.
Oh, wow. That's amazing.
What's the... the clock?
We must synchronise our watches.
On doit synchroniser ses montres. Oui, tout a fait. Tout a fait.
That's Napoleon... That's quite a watch.
'Napoleon certainly didn't waste time.'
By 1797, just three years after the end of the Terror,
his armies had conquered more territory
than all the armies of Louis XIV.
And wherever he went, he took possession of art
and objects of antiquity in vast quantities.
Venice lost its most prized possessions -
the bronze horses of San Marco.
They were brought back to Paris
and paraded in a show of booty that lasted two days.
This was Napoleon's answer to the pageantry of revolution.
But these weren't processions to honour the dead
like Rousseau or Voltaire. These were the triumphs of a new Caesar,
bringing the riches of the world to his new Imperium.
To Napoleon, these weren't merely acts of pillage.
He justified his Project Art Theft as the liberation of art,
freeing it from the tyranny of the past
and the obfuscation of religion.
And he brought everything back to the Louvre,
which characteristically he renamed the Musee Napoleon.
And, of course, the prize exhibit was to be himself.
David painted this heroic, monumental portrait of Napoleon
in 1801, to commemorate one of his most heroic feats,
crossing the Alps with his army,
just as Hannibal had done in the days of ancient Rome.
He sits astride this fiery, spirited steed,
urging his army onwards,
his cape fluttering in the sky.
It's a glacial Alpine landscape.
There are some wonderful details down below.
You can see between the fluttering strands of the horse's tail,
this little blurred face.
Here, a soldier,
pushing a vast piece of artillery up the mountain and on they go.
But the focus is right in the middle, Napoleon.
And he's been rendered almost as if he were a monumental equestrian
statue, frozen for ever.
The horse symbolises the unruly energies of the people.
And the ruler who holds the reins of the horse,
who controls the horse even as the horse rears up,
is almighty, powerful.
He is totally in control of his nation.
How do you understand a man like Napoleon?
Perhaps the best way is through his obsessions.
And here, in the library of the Sorbonne,
they still keep a monument to Napoleon's
greatest obsession of all.
He was fascinated by ancient Egypt.
The power and the mystery of the Pharaohs, builders of the pyramids.
Not only did he invade Egypt,
he took with him a second army of artists and archaeologists
to record its every temple.
It's as if he wanted to capture the magic and power
of the Pharaohs and make it his own.
Their work would result in an academic publication
that's had a profound influence on the Western world.
So, this is the frontispiece.
This is volume one.
This is where everything begins.
C'est formidable. And I understand...
Oui, oui, oui.
It's fantastic. I wasn't expecting it in colour.
It's amazingly thorough. Comment ca se dit en francais?
Look, there's a chap here coming.
A French artist.
He's going in to make his drawings.
But in the distance there is a French soldier.
You've got the two sides of the Egyptian campaign, here.
You've got a soldier, French soldier, in the distance,
keeping an eye on things.
And here in the foreground you've got the artist
trudging towards the ruins, that he's going to spend all day drawing.
So that they can be reproduced here.
It was all very well accumulating the great works of past empires,
but who was going to create lasting monuments
to Napoleon and his empire?
He asked David to travel with him to Egypt...
..but David said he was too old for adventures
and recommended his young pupil, Antoine Gros.
Gros had already proved himself a few years earlier,
depicting Napoleon as a dashing young soldier
during the wars in Italy.
So Napoleon asked Gros to come on the Egyptian campaign,
and the resulting picture
still hangs in the Louvre today.
Napoleon's instructions to his painter were very clear -
create propaganda for me.
Make the French people feel the triumph of my campaigns.
Whether Antoine Gros succeeded in the case of this painting,
I leave it to you to judge.
Napoleon's at the centre and he's been given, by his painter,
the old powers once ascribed to the King.
He has the King's touch,
the ability to cure those who suffer from any malady.
Gros has made us think, very intentionally, I believe,
of Jesus Christ raising Lazarus from the dead.
But there are other elements in the picture,
elements that suggest that Gros himself
was unable ultimately to deliver
the resounding propaganda painting that Napoleon wanted.
Look, for example, at this whole left-hand area of the painting.
A vision of hell.
The grisly detail.
The soldier who's been blinded by trachoma,
the bane of the Egyptian campaign.
The naked soldier erupting with evil boils.
Look at his armpit.
But above all, look at his scale.
If he were to stand up, he'd be ten feet tall.
So, yes, we've got the image of Napoleon, blessing and saving,
but it's dwarfed by the image of misery and suffering.
Gros tried so hard to paint war as something glorious...
..but he just couldn't.
In 1804, Notre Dame in Paris played host
to one of the most extraordinary coronations of the modern age.
Extraordinary because Napoleon actually crowned himself
and his consort Josephine.
The Pope, looking on,
stunned by the gilded hubris of it all.
At the French Senate, in the old Palais du Luxembourg,
there's still more than a flavour of Napoleon's new imperial style.
He'd become the most powerful man in history
and he wanted everyone to know about it.
So, here I am. They've let me into the French equivalent
of the House of Lords. I'm in search of one of Napoleon's great relics.
This interior is, of course, Second Empire, mid-19th century, but boy,
does it speak of the spirit of Napoleon.
Boy, does it make you think, the French are so good at pomp.
They're really good at it.
No-one does pomp and grandeur better than the French.
And here we are!
Here it is.
Here's the great relic.
It's Napoleon's own throne.
And it was built for him,
made for him, by a man called Jacob-Desmalter.
And it's just this wonderful...
Look at it, look at this embroidery, the N that we see forever.
Just the feeling of luxury.
a symbol that Napoleon loved for his France
because it stood for industry, hard work.
These sphinxes or griffins, which meant to place Napoleon,
who loved to borrow symbols and images of power,
this time sitting on this throne, he's actually a pharaoh.
There's something, it has to be said, faintly tawdry about it all.
It's a little bit Wizard of Oz.
And it reminds me a little bit of something Voltaire once said.
He said, "No matter how great the King or how proud the Emperor,
"no matter how splendid his throne,
"he's really only ever sat on his own bum".
If Napoleon had an Achilles heel, it was belief in his own invincibility.
No-one saw that more clearly than a brilliant young painter
called Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Attracted and repulsed by Napoleon
at one and the same time,
Ingres produced one of the most alarming portraits in history.
I personally find it almost terrifying.
Many great paintings invite you in,
but I never want to get much closer than this.
I find it revealing that they keep it behind glass.
It's almost as if you're in the reptile house...
..looking at a very dangerous animal.
And there's this fear that somehow it might leap out and bite you.
Ingres borrowed as many images for this painting as Napoleon borrowed
symbols for himself.
They're all there. If you start at the bottom,
the Carolingian Eagle, emblem of power.
Move up. On the left-hand side,
he holds the sceptre of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
To the other side, the hand of justice, of Charlemagne.
His head is crowned with golden laurel leaves,
which make him a Roman emperor.
By his side dangles
the bejewelled sword of Charlemagne.
How many different forms of power does Napoleon seem to possess?
But in a sense, all those emblems are just the prelude
to the final crescendo
which arrives through its composition,
this hieratic frontal pose,
taken by Ingres from the van Eyck altarpiece painted for Ghent
which Napoleon had looted, which was on display in the Louvre.
It's a painting of God, the Father.
So Ingres has painted Napoleon as all the Roman emperors,
every French emperor, and the Christian God himself.
Who could be more powerful than this?
It's an image almost crazed in its celebration of Napoleon's power.
And I think perhaps for that reason,
perhaps because Ingres had gone so far in his youthful enthusiasm,
the painting didn't actually meet with the favour he hoped for.
One critic said it looked as though it had been painted by moonlight.
And so the painting was quickly forgotten.
Ingres pretended he'd never painted it.
It languished in store rooms and eventually wound up here
in a neglected corner of the Musee de l'Armee.
But although it was rejected, although it was despised,
I think the real reason for that was because it actually spoke the truth.
The truth, especially when it came to his own megalomania,
was the last thing Napoleon wanted.
And his luck was running out.
Antoine Gros was still working away at heroic propaganda,
but he'd witnessed one horror too many on the battlefield
and now he could only see premonitions of disaster.
In each new picture, Napoleon got smaller.
Here, he's stranded like a postage- stamp figure in a sea of dead men.
This is triumph made to look like defeat,
a frostbitten prophecy of worse to come -
the loss of virtually his whole army in the frozen wastes of Russia.
It's as if all Napoleon's artists
knew deep inside the mad adventure could only end one way.
And they were proved right.
By 1815 and all that.
Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, followed by his exile and death.
France was left bankrupt and in ruins.
The romantic poet Alfred de Musset
would call the generation after Napoleon
"fervent, pale and nervous."
The generation that had been told that each high road led
to a capital of Europe.
In their heads they had an entire world,
but now everything was empty.
And the only sound was the sound
of the bell tolling in the parish steeple.
Theirs was the generation of the fallen and the disappointed.
Now France had a new constitution and a new monarch,
in the unattractive shape of Louis XVIII.
No-one had faith in him, or in anything much else besides.
Then in 1816, events unfolded in the press
that seemed to capture the national malaise.
A naval frigate, La Meduse,
was wrecked off the coast of Africa
because of the incompetence of the French captain.
In a grim echo of the Terror,
abandoned survivors on a raft resorted to cannibalism.
These stomach-turning events would inspire the first great masterpiece
of the pale and nervous generation,
a work created by a young painter,
a fragile genius called Theodore Gericault.
The raft of the Medusa is one of the most compellingly ambiguous
monumental paintings ever created.
It's often said that Gericault idealised the real events
on which he based his picture,
but there are plenty of horribly realistic details,
for those with eyes to find them.
Look at the man on the left, or rather is that just half a man?
Look at the figure to the right falling backwards into the sea.
There's an axe on the raft and there's blood on the axe,
a reminder that those who survived did resort to cannibalism.
You can read it politically,
in which case it symbolises
the ship of the French state
mismanaged by government,
set adrift forever on a stormy sea,
yearning for certainties
that they've lost and will never regain.
You can read it as a personal statement of loss.
Just as he set out on the adventure of painting the picture,
Gericault had said goodbye forever to his mistress.
In which case, we would see all of those men
desperately reaching towards the horizon as self portraits,
looking for his lost love.
Above all, I think it is THE great image
of what Alfred de Musset described as this lost generation
after the years of Napoleon's glory,
condemned to wander the world...
..in this crepuscular, melancholic twilit period of France's decline.
Alas, the genius of Gericault would be extinguished all too soon,
dead at just 32 years old of consumption,
the fatal condition preordained for the pale and nervous generation.
Almost as soon as he's dead,
Gericault becomes a cult figure, a martyr,
marked by this extraordinary tomb monument.
It's as if from this point onwards,
France will no longer trust its leaders, its institutions
or the church to give it meaning.
It will be down to the single, creative artist.
the great French writer who would be the spokesman for the generation
to follow Gericault, as he said, from now on,
tous, c'est moi et moi, c'est tous.
"Everything is me, and I am everything".
For its French audience,
Gericault's picture had been too much,
its depth of pathos too shocking.
Mankind was rendered more tragic,
more alone in the world than ever before.
A friend of Gericault's, a young painter called Eugene Delacroix,
said the picture propelled him into the realms of insanity
when he first saw it.
Delacroix set to work on his own versions
of the romantic nightmare.
Instead of Gericault's raft,
he set his figures adrift on a ship bound for hell.
And then came another far more disturbing work,
a crescendo of sex and death.
The perfect romantic artist,
the great painter of the age of "moi" was Delacroix.
Why? Because he could only paint them while he was an artist entirely
trapped in his own personal, subjective fantasies,
and he only had two modes.
One was despondency, and the other was frenzy,
and this is frenzy.
He based the picture on a half-baked play by Lord Byron
which tells the tale of an ancient despot of Nineveh.
Sardanapalus, who discovering that his city is about to be sacked,
orders the immolation of all his concubines,
the destruction of all his possessions
and the death of all his horses.
What a fantastic pretext for Delacroix,
a mad orgy of destruction,
bathed in the colour red.
You experience the painting as a cascade of horrible detail and this
really is one of the most repugnant paintings
ever created in the entire history of art.
Start from the top -
bound concubine, struggling concubine, collapsed concubine,
Dying horse, straining slave, trailing pile of booty.
Suppliant, desperate foot, limp hand, more treasure.
It's a kind of crazed kaleidoscope.
And what's its real subject, anyway?
Who is Sardanapalus, really?
This megalomaniac, this Nero figure,
this imperial potentate,
master of all he surveys.
Well, I think in Delacroix's imagination,
he's an alter ego for Napoleon.
Delacroix always remained obsessed
by the memory of Napoleon and his glory days,
and I think what he's really doing in this picture
is redesigning a more suitable death for Napoleon.
This is how Delacroix thinks
Napoleon should really have gone out, with a bang, not a whimper.
Delacroix's most famous painting was created three years later in 1830,
Liberty Leading The People,
commemorating the so-called July Revolution of that year.
MUSIC: La Marseillaise
It's the exception to the rest of the artist's work,
a rare image of hope and idealism,
a reminder that revolution could still seem sexy.
But almost before the paint was dry,
the uprising of 1830 had been put down,
the monarchy had been restored and it was business as usual in France.
In this age of rupture and failed ideals,
where could the romantic artist hope to find stability?
Perhaps in the world of art itself.
While all else crumbled,
art's own traditions could still be held up for veneration.
That was the message preached
at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris,
where 19th-century students of painting learned their craft.
And it was for the school's lecture theatre
that Paul Delaroche painted one of the most ambitious pictures
of the age,
so huge it dwarfed even the enormous canvases of David and his followers.
It's called The Artists Of All Times,
and what it expresses is the idea
that art has remained a continuous conversation, from ancient Greece
all the way into modern Paris.
So at the centre we see
Iktinos, Phidias, Zeuxis,
Greek architect, Greek painter, Greek painter.
On this side,
all the masters of painting whose speciality has been drawing,
beginning with Poussin on the right-hand side.
Close to him is Leonardo da Vinci.
In the middle we see Michelangelo.
Behind is Raphael.
On the left-hand side, the artists who specialise in colour.
So there we have Titian, we have Velazquez, we have van Dyck.
They're all talking to each other,
they're all communicating one with the other,
the idea being that in the end we're all in it together,
the past feeds into the present.
It's a wonderful, brilliant, beautiful continuum.
But the great paradox behind it is
that Delaroche painted it in 1841 at exactly
the moment when French art was about to be split and divided
as it had never been split and divided before.
So, who would finally shatter the mould?
Shockingly, it would be a weather-beaten survivor
from the glory days of Napoleon.
None other than Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres,
82 years old and still up for a fight.
The irony was that Ingres himself
had taught Delaroche everything he believed.
Ingres himself celebrated antiquity,
claimed to be a spokesman for classical values...
..but scratch the surface and it's a different story.
Look at his portraits and you come face-to-face
with the romantic sense of self,
each person a solitary god in their own private world.
Meet Monsieur Bertin, the Buddha of the bourgeoisie...
..meet Madame Moitessier, the Sphinx of the 2nd Empire...
..but of course they're not deities, they are not immortals -
Ingres was telling his audience
that the gods of old had flown
and wouldn't be seen again save as ghosts, not in this plush,
But, it was only when it came to paint his very last masterpiece
that Ingres finally let the mask slip.
What do we see?
Hundreds of naked women, combing each other's hair...
..spraying each other with perfume,
dancing, chatting, gossiping,
but really what an unbridled image of lust it is.
Ingres had spent his whole life declaring
that his art represented "le pur classique" - ha!
What is classical about that?
What this painting really marks
is the final severing of the artist who most wanted to belong
to the past from the past,
from anything resembling authority, convention, tradition.
He is suddenly admitting to himself
as a very old man that really none of that counts.
He doesn't actually connect to anything.
He has nothing to believe in except Baudelaire's "Le moi".
The me. And if you're just a "me", what is painting then?
Just the projection of your own irregularities, eccentricities,
passions and obsessions.
You're left in the orgy of your own mind.
And I think it's deeply significant
that Picasso regarded this picture
as one of the undoubted masterpieces of the 19th century.
It was the painting that marked the beginning of modern art,
because with this painting,
art declared itself forever
to be the creation of the individual
cut adrift from tradition.
In the world of public culture,
the shock waves went unnoticed at first.
The Palais Garnier, showpiece of the Second Empire,
began construction in the 1860s
and was nearing completion as Ingres breathed his last.
It's the perfect temple to official taste, a machine-made Versailles,
a fanfare to the power of the past,
complete with painted nymphs on every wall and ceiling.
For two centuries and more,
French artists had spoken the antique language
of Greece and Rome.
But by now, that language of art was in its death throes
or at least in its final decadence.
So, what would come next?
The greatest critic of the romantic era, Charles Baudelaire,
looked into his crystal ball to bury the past and predict the future.
During the one brief settled period of his life,
Baudelaire lived here in a house on the Quai d'Anjou.
They've marked the spot by gilding the balcony
from which he once overlooked the Seine.
It was as an art critic that Baudelaire pronounced
his most eloquent funeral oration.
"The painters of now must no longer spend their time in their studios
"studying plaster casts,
"clothing their characters in the costumes
"of ancient Greeks and Romans.
"No. The painters of now must immerse themselves
"in the chaos of the city,
"plunge into the crowd, become at once mirrors and kaleidoscopes,
"reflecting every fragment, every corner of modern life,
"no matter how base, vulgar or ugly.
"The painter of today must go in search of modernity."
France was changing.
Paris had grown to three times the size it had been in Napoleon's time.
The Industrial Revolution, late in the day compared to other countries,
had at last arrived.
The city, in all its complexity, its immorality and overcrowding,
would now fascinate the artist.
Edouard Manet would bewilder audiences
with his blurred brushstrokes and random crowds.
He would celebrate a prostitute as a modern-day Venus.
And he would baffle his audience
with the scandalous vision of naked women
picnicking with frock-coated gentleman
by the side of a stream.
Modern life wasn't just transient,
it was unfathomable, a vision of chaos.
Artists at the cutting edge now only had one rule -
keep rewriting the rules.
Gustave Courbet too was a great iconoclast,
and it was he who set the pattern for the next century and more.
Think the unthinkable, paint the unpaintable.
And if it causes a scandal, all the better.
To give you some idea of just how shocking Courbet could be
to his contemporaries,
I'd like you to imagine for a moment that it's 1866,
you're a Parisian art lover
and you've been invited into his studio to see
a painting called L'Origine du Monde, The Origin of the World.
What do you have in your mind?
Could it be a painting like this that you're going to see?
An idealised nude,
running her fingers through some perfectly pure stream of water
symbolising the origin of all things?
Or could it be a primeval landscape, such as this one?
Raw, savage nature?
Courbet, Courbet the blatant realist,
he's got something very different in mind.
A blatant depiction of the place,
literally, from which we all come.
Here it is. L'Origine du Monde.
This was Courbet's sacred truth,
the truth made flesh,
and from there it was just a short step to the birth of modern art.
But that's a story for next time.
Andrew Graham-Dixon explores how art in France took a dramatic turn following the French Revolution that ushered in a bold new world. From the execution of King Louis XVI and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte - a figure who simultaneously repelled and inspired artists of his time - through to the rise of Romanticism and an art of seduction, sex and high drama, Andrew explores artists including Jacques-Louis David - whose art appeared on the barricades and in the streets - as well as the work of Delacroix, Ingres and the tragic but brilliant Theodore Gericault.