View of the Acropolis in Athens (1846) by the German artist Leo von Klenze (1784 - 1864). Klenze was above all a well known architect who studied classical architecture in Greece and Italy and designed public buildings in this tradition in Munich. So he wasn’t very interested in narrating old stories but more to show how his ideal may have looked like.
These two romantic paintings of the national icon Jeanne d’Arc are by the French painter Jean-Jacques Scherrer (1855-1916). Scherrer did them in the 1870s after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, when he left his beloved Alsace which was lost in the war. So Jeanne is here a kind of patriotic consolation and hope for a victory in the future.
Napoleon’s Vision (1910) by the Polish painter Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942). Wojciech Kossak was the son of the famous history painter Juliusz Kossak and became well known for his battle paintings. Despite he preferred normally a more realistic depiction he shows here a symbolic interpretation of Napoleon. Napoleon appears as one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the rider on the pale horse whose name was Death!
The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson (1881) by the British painter John Collier (1850-1934).
The great English sea explorer and navigator Henry Hudson traveled on his last expedition in 1611 far north in search of the Northwest Passage when his crew mutinied and set him adrift in a small boat with six of his men and his young son. They were never seen or heard of again. Collier dramatizes the moment when Hudson already knows about his certain death but has also to face this of his confident son.
The Daughters of the Cid (1879) by the Spanish painter Ignacio Pinazo y Camarlench (1849-1916).
Legend tells that the daughters of the famous Spanish hero, the Cid, were once expelled by their husbands the princes of Carrión. But there is nothing told of torture, nudeness and so on.
Nevertheless Pinazo y Camarlench used the subject to paint two sweet suffering nude girls during his scholarship in Rome. Interesting is that a generation earlier a painter would have used a classical subject to present his nudes, but now the artist turned more to his own national history, which was invented as well.
History painting dates back to the Renaissance and was long considered to be the "grand genre". Nevertheless it has its peak in the 19th century forged by Neoclassicism and Romanticism. There it became the artistic contribution in the process of the construction of National Identities of the European and American nations.
At the same time history painting under the influence of historism pretended to be "realistic", to show history how it has been. Above all it was this pretension that led to the great failure of History painting AND Realism at the end of the century.
When artists and their public realized that telling history always will be subjective and a painting will always be an illusion Realism and history painting lost their ground to modern painting.