The European Metahistorical Narrative and its Changing “Metaparadigms” in the Modern Age (Part II): Western Painting 1815–1914

  • Mark E. Blum
Part of the European Heritage in Economics and the Social Sciences book series (EHES, volume 5)


In the second part of my article “The European Metahistorical Narrative and Its Changing ‘Metaparadigms’ in the Modern Age,” I focus upon painting in the West in order to demonstrate both the shift from one metaparadigm to another, and at the same time, the nonverbal characteristics of the fourth phase and initial phases of a metaparadigm as found in the nonverbal historical logic of the composition of paintings.

The nonverbal or visual historical logic of artistic communication is founded upon the same part-whole diareses of experience as the historical logic of verbal communication in a culture. I derive this claim from the epistemology of Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl. Every judgment is a temporal claim as well as a spatial one. A nonverbal spatial communication is also a temporal claim. I enlist the mid-twentieth century aesthetic and rhetorical theory of Stephen C. Pepper to augment my Kantian and Husserlian epistemology. Based on these ideas I detail the temporal-spatial historical logic of paintings that correspond to the four phases of verbal historical logic that constitute a cultural systematization of ideas and values over time. In Part I, I demonstrated the four-phased development and dissolution of the metaparadigmatic assumptions that guide the arts and the sciences in the several generations of its existence. Wilhelm Dilthey’s theory of the four-phase development of guiding humanistic and scientific beliefs that inform the arts and the sciences in an era was the basis of my own historiographical theory.

In Part II, in order to demonstrate the correspondence of nonverbal and verbal historical logic, I show how the second major modern metaparadigm in the West that began in the 1750s was completed in its fourth phase within the paradigm of painting which extended from the post-Napoleonic period until the late 1860s. Then, I demonstrate how the paradigm of painting introduced the third modern metaparadigm within its domain beginning in the late 1860s. Although I use only French painters, the characteristics I demonstrate in their temporal-spatial historical logic are those of the regional reality, not the national, nor the personal of the painters themselves. I spoke in Part I of this article of the difference between the regional, national, and personal in regard to verbal historical logic.

To demonstrate the fourth-phase characteristics of the metaparadigm that began in the 1750 and culminated in the 1860s, I use the landscape painting of Camille Corot (1796–1875) and the realism of Gustave Courbet (1819–1877). To demonstrate the initial phases of the metaparadigm that began in the late 1860s and culminated in the 1960s, I use the landscape painting of Corot’s student Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) whose Impressionism carried this new historical logic, and the “Second Realism” of “Edouard Manet (1832–1883).

The second metaparadigm of the modern age began in the 1750s. This metaparadigm was characterized by a focus solely on secularism, separating itself from the necessity to include the Divine in its discussions of premises or findings in the arts and the sciences. Even “natural law” dropped away as a causal base of premises or findings. The foundation for a “right order” became human reason alone. A univocal objective world was posited in the arts and the sciences that guaranteed progressive outcomes for inquiry, and the standards to assess that progress. The fourth phase, as seen in painting, was a collectivization of the ideas of univocal objectivity: the painterly image stressed the “typical” in the organic, inorganic, and societal existence; an “objective” time was depicted as an enduring reality all shared; a sense of determined, material conditions that constrained everyone and everything was imparted, thus securing the enduring existence “in common.”

The third metaparadigm that began in the 1860s sought a secular, yet humanly spiritual basis for enriching personal as well as communal life. Thomas Mann has called the inception of this period the “third humanism.” Reason alone was not sufficient as a basis for meaning in the world. In doing so, the reflective ego itself was decentered, as new dimensions of intelligence became evident in inquiry. A new secular humanism emerged in the arts as well as the social sciences. The human being ceased to be the rational being whose inquiries and ethos were to be evaluated by generally agreed upon standards set by that very reason. Indeed, the very notion of a univocal objective world with laws to be discerned that were the same for everyone was put into question. Relativity in perception and judgment as well as in the material laws of nature became the study of many disciplines in the arts and the sciences. The physical sciences decentered the traditional building blocks of physical force and chemistry with new levels of material existence. In painting, this “decentered” reality was imparted by the myriad light sources contained in a perceptive judgment; Impressionism introduced this complex myriad of integrities that constituted any synthetic moment. The “relativity” of perception was imparted by painters instructing the viewer in how a perceptive image was constructed: each painter brought to the viewer’s attention the tension between the two-dimensional canvas and the three-dimensional image. The painter made clear by several techniques that reality was imposed upon the flat canvas through choices in perspective. His or her momentary or more extended vision of a state-of-affairs became the assertion. The painter recognized the subjective values in this impression or more conceptual expression. Painting became a lesson in the responsibility of becoming aware of how each person constructs a judgment, the corollary being that no state-of-affairs has a univocal objectivity apart from the human judgment. The historical logic of time was depicted as rapidly changing; the extreme “freedom” in choice and life movement was emphasized; material reality was made evident as a product of interest and intentional point-of-view (as the venue of what existed as it comes to consciousness).


Metaparadigm paradigm landscape painting Impressionism Realism Stephen C. Pepper Camille Corot Gustave Courbet Camille Pissarro Edouard Manet historiography 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark E. Blum
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of LouisvilleLouisville

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