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The Industrial Revolution's Affect on Art
One of the most studied periods in history was the so-called Industrial Revolution. It hit England in the early 1800's and much of Europe only a little later in the century. Sociologically, it's hard to understate the impact this "coming of the machine" had on daily life. Like most drastic changes, it had both positive and negative effects upon the citizens of every society it touched. Most of all though, it gave birth to a permanent "middle" class.

And how did the Industrial Revolution effect painting and painters? Well, among other things, it brought a new clientele to the painting market and a new awareness of the daily lives of those who now, thanks to the machine age, could afford the time and money to collect art. Artists like Gustave Courbet devoted a lifetime to portraying these people, and in so doing opened up a new avenue of subject matter, portraying peasants, workers, merchants, and other contemporary individuals in a serious spirit.

Without really meaning to, he started a war. Noble ideals and flights of fancy were pitted against an old man and his young helper breaking up stones as in his Stone Breakers of 1849. History painting, became anecdotal. Religious painting became introspective. Mythological painting gave way to Romanticism, landscapes became geographically identifiable, still-life painting eschewed elegance in favour of humble elements of daily life. Paintings shrank. No middle-class homes had room for wall-size canvases. Art was no longer grand but approachable.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
25 January 1998

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