Signing the Treaty with the Indians (c.1890) by the American painter John Ward Dunsmore (1856-1945). Despite it’s a well done history painting, there is nothing special about it. It’s good old European academic style.
The Chasseur in the Forest (1814) by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). Despite it doesn’t look like very patriotic at first glance it’s eminently that. There is a French soldier (one of Napoleon’s occupants) lone and lost in a dark German forest. So the painting is suggesting that there are other powers than simple soldiers that will help to free Germany from her oppressors.
The Prophetess Libuse (1893) by the Czechoslovakian painter Karel Vitezlav Mašek (1865–1927). Libuse is the legendary founder of Prague and the ancestor of the Přemyslid dynasty and the Czech people as whole.
This Art Nouveau painting reminds of stained glass in churches and is therefore a good modern interpretation of a national myth.
Sex sells! This platitude proves true especially in art history. Already a lot of Renaissance painters improved there incomes by painting gorgeous nudes or adding them to other sceneries.
In 19th century academic painting voluptuous nudes were so endemic that it was necessary to find good excuses for their omnipresence. So they were situated in mythological, biblical and not at least historical sceneries.
One of the most popular practices to place nudes in history paintings was slavery. Paining nudes on an antique slave market was not only a good excuse but also kind of politically correct. Superficially accusing the suppression and exploitation of the poor females the artists could paint gorgeous nudes and exploit them themselves by selling them in the art market.
The White Slave (1894) by the British painter Ernest Normand (1859-1923). Normand was kind of a specialist in mythological and historical nudes.
Roman Slave (1894) by the Brazilian painter Oscar Pereira da Silva (1867-1939). On the sign is written "VIRGO XXI ANNUS NATA" meaning "Virgin, 21 years old". That feigns authenticity, but it’s a poor invention. Beautiful slaves were never sold nude on the streets.
Slave Market in Rome (c. 1884) by the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904). Gérôme did also a lot of paintings of this subject but preferably with an oriental setting which offered even more salacious opportunities.
In the long run nearly all these paintings are cheap exploitation already long before the word was used in that context. I know only one painting which offers another point of view on that subject: A Slave for Sale (c. 1897) by the Spanish painter Aranda, José Jiménez (1837-1903).
There is a young slave girl bowing her head in shame, clearly a victim. She’s not voluptuous like the slaves by Normand or Gérôme, she’s pregnant probably violated. Around here are the feet of lecherous men the possible buyers and above all the voyeurs. This circle can be completed with the contemplators of the painting. Really a great piece of art!
The Lovers of Teruel (1884) by the Spanish painter Antonio Muñoz Degrain (1840-1924). Muñoz Degrain depicted here an old Spanish legend. He did with all the drama and perfection of the heyday of history painting, which won him a medal in the national exposition.
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.