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19th Century - Description
The goal of self-determination that Napoleon imported to Holland, Italy, Germany and Austria affected not only nations but also individuals. England's metamorphosis during the Industrial Revolution was also reflected in the outlook of the individual, and therefore in the art produced during the first half of this century. Heightened sensibility and intensified feeling became characteristic of the visual arts as well as musical arts and a convention in literature.

This tendency toward images of impassioned or poignant feeling cut across all national boundaries. Romanticism, as this movement became known, reflects the movement of writers, musicians, painters, and sculptors away from rationalism toward the more subjective side of human experience. Feeling became both the subject and object of art.

Conscious of being propelled into the future, Europe began to take a long and wistful look at the past and embarked on a series of revivals. Classicism, which had gone in and out of style at regular intervals, was joined with revivals of Gothic art, Egyptian art, and the art of the Renaissance.

By the mid-nineteenth century, much of Europe had become industrialised, and the generation of artists who had inaugurated the Romantic Movement was dead. But much of the romantic spirit lived on. In their emphasis on individual genius and subjective experience, arts of the Romantic era handed future generations the basis for their own development and provided a point of view that coloured their understanding of the past.

By the middle of the 19th century, revolts broke out in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Venice, Milan, Parma and Rome. These revolts shared a common ideology centred on a growing belief in democracy, a sense of individual freedom, and an emerging social awareness. These revolutions, the last outburst of the idealism of the 18th century, gave rise to the socialist ideology that would increasingly affect Western political, social and cultural history.

The spirit of rebellion also infected artists of the period. During the second half of the 19th century, the radical position of the separation of art from function gained many supporters. The notion of art for its own sake was revolutionary when it was declared that art objects that were useful ceased to be beautiful. Artists also challenged the philosophy and the aesthetic principles of the academies, looking outside these conservative institutions for their training, subject matter, styles and purpose.

As they sought alternatives, many artists gathered in groups based on common interests. Sometimes exhibiting together, at other times still seeking exposure through the annual Salons, these artists were generally not bound by academic standards or practices. Outside the established mainstream of their own time, the members of these groups broadened the horizons of Western art and expanded participation to include, for the first time in history, a significant number of women. The Pre-Raphaelites, the Barbizon school, the Realists, the Impressionists, and the Post-Impressionists all reflected the various aesthetic ideologies that proved to be the most important for the development of subsequent Western art.

While the artists outside the established institutions were revolutionising art, the Academy continued to function as a bastion of traditional standards and values. Recognition in the annual Salon remained the most effective means for an artist to establish himself. The academicians of this generation were lavishly rewarded with more prizes and awards than another generation before or since.

Contributed by Gifford, Katya

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