Morning of the Battle of Agincourt 25th October 1415 (1884) by the English artist Sir John Gilbert (1817–1897). Gilbert started more as a craftsman. He did mostly illustrations and woodcuts for magazines like Illustrated London News Punch or The London Journal and books. Anyway, I appreciate a lot his interpretation of the the Battle of Agincourt. Old weary warriors are praying and awaiting their fate while above them are already flying the crows to feast on the dead.
Afternoon Tea by the Italian classicist painter Francesco Brunery (1849-1926). Brunery studied with Gérôme and was well known for his anti-clerical art. Here it looks like the older lady is hooking up the cardinal with a young girl, maybe her daughter or niece.
Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich the Terrible conquers Kazan (1880) by the Russian painter Alexey Kivshenko (1851-1895). Kivshenko depicts here one of the great highlights of Russian history. The Russians now free from the Mongol yoke are now beating back and starting their own conquest. It's easy to imagine that this painting was very popular as illustration in schoolbooks and so on.
Priamus at the Feet of Achilles pleading for the Body of Hector (1876) by the French painter Joseph Wencker (1848-1919). Despite the story nowadays is mostly forgotten it was a very popular subject in the 18th and 19th century. The old king softening the heart of the harsh and bitter hero.
French retreat in 1812 by the Russian painter Illarion Mikhailovich Pryanishnikov (1840 –1894). Here some poor survivors of the once so proud "Grande Armée" are walked to prison by poorly armed Russian peasants.
Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi (1785) by the Swiss/Austrian painter Maria Anna Angelica Catharina Kauffmann. As a women Kauffmann painted here a female heroine, Cornelia who was considered responsible for the education of her sons who became later very important politicians.
Pharoah's daughter finds Moses (1886) by the British painter Edwin Longsden Long. This is a very traditional subject in art history and lots of painters made a version of that story. What's relatively new is the historical exotic touch. Long traveled to Syria and Egypt and was specialized in oriental paintings.
After the murder (1882) by the British painter John Collier (1850-1934). Collier depicted here Clytemnestra the wife of king Agamemnon. She killed her husband in the bath after he had returned from the Trojan war. But probably she got her reason. Agamemnon had sacrificed her daughter Iphigenia and brought for himself a new wife as a trophy from the war. Probably Collier got the same opinion because he shows her with an axe not with the usual dagger, so she looks strong and pround.
The Duke of Wellington at Waterloo by the British battle painter Robert Alexander Hillingford (1825-1904). Hillingford did a whole series of Waterloo paintings. Here he shows the Duke of Wellington encouraging one of his famous infantry squares the backbone of the British army then.
Across the Brazos by the great American artist Robert McGinnis (born 1926). McGinnis did over 1200 paperback book covers and movie posters. Here is a good example how the newly invented CinemaScope format also influenced the formats of paintings.
A Knight at the Crossroads (1878) by the Russian painter Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926). The scene is taken from an old Russian fairy tale where a hero comes to a fork in the road where he found menhir with the inscription: "If you ride to the left, you will lose your horse, if you ride to the right, you will lose your head"
The Flute Concert by the French painter Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger (1824-88). It's evident that the artist and his potential buyers had visited Pomeii and studied there the architecture and especially the frescoes. So the painting is above all a nice reconstruction of a Pompeiian villa.
The Coronation of Charlemagne (1861) by the German romantic painter Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Theodor Kaulbach (1822-1839). Kaulbach did this mural for the Maximilianeum a big palatial building in Munich. started in 1857. Corresponding to the neo-Gothic style of the Maximilianeum these murals should emphasize a long tradition dating back to the middle ages.
Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners (1887) by the French painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889). The beautiful but cruel Cleopatra watches cold and impassively the effect of poison on some poor prisoners. The painter also makes great efforts with the exotic dress and the Egyptian architecture in the background, which he probably knew by the then very popular prints of the paintings by David Roberts.
The Christianization of Poland (1889) by the Polish painter Jan Matejko (1838-1893). Above all it's a symbolic painting. People are plowing, cutting timber while others are being baptized and all is illuminated by the divine light from above.
A Roman Bath (1858) by the Russian painter Fyodor Andreyevich Bronnikov (1827-1902). Roman decadence was already an important subject at this time and Bronnikov uses it to stage some beautiful girls. They seem to be posing among each other but in the end it's all for the onlooker.
The Battle of Somo-Sierra in Castille, 30 november 1808 (1810) by the French battle painter Louis-François Lejeune (1775-1848). Lejeune was himself with the Napoleonic troops in Spain, so it's quite possible that the battle happened like he painted it two years later.
The Empress Theodora at the Colosseum (c. 1889) by the French painter Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902). Nothing is to be seen of the bloody spectacle in the arena. There is only the empress, cool and relaxed she is watching. But it's no coincidence that the dominating colour is red.
Andromache (1884) by the French painter Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse (1859-1938). Andromache was the wife of the Trojan hero Hector, who was slain by Achilles. When Troy felt Ulysses tried to kill her son and she became a Greek prisoner and slave. So, Rochegrosse gives here an impressive view of what happened in Troy after its fall.
Columbus at San Salvador by the American history painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930). This painting was probably done in the 1920s. Costumes, arms and the backdrop details are much better than on the typical 19th century paintings. But Ferris is already late, he painted in the manner of a bygone epoch. A better decoration didn't make a better painting at this time.
Defending the pulpit in the monastery San Agustín (1884) by the Spanish painter César Álvarez Dumont (1866 – 1945). Another heroic fighting scene from the defense of Zaragoza in 1808/09. The defense of Zaragoza by its population was in Spain probably the most glorified episode of the Napoleonic wars.
Beneath the Arena (1882) by the German painter Karl Theodor von Piloty (1826–1886). Especially compared to the typical arena paintings, which prefered mostly the great spectacle, this is a more silent work. A young Roman patrician looks impressed on a Christian women sleeping while awaiting her death in the arena.
Moorish Guard in the Alhambra by the Austrian painter Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932). Ernst lived in Paris and was one of the best orientalist painters. Here he combined an orientalist harem guard with a historical scene. But it's all the same, pure exotic fantasy.
A Priestess (1893) by the British painter John William Godward (1861-1922). Godward was a protégé of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and painted this Greek/Roman girls in series. I doubt that a priestess in ancient times went like this, but it was what sold good in the late 19th century.
The little Messenger by the French battle painter Joseph Louis Hippolyte Bellange (1800-1866). Bellange was specialized in the Napoleonic wars and depicted here a more cheesy scene with a brave little boy.
The White Company by the great American illustrator N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth (1882–1945). This was the cover for the historical adventure novel by Arthur Conan Doyle which is set during the Hundred Years' War. Maybe it should be mentioned that the real mercenary company with this name never wore white white clothes, the name refered to "white" armour, i.e. plate armour. But anyway Wyeth painted an impressive bunch of cutthroats.
The Foundation of Saint Petersburg by the German-Russian painter Alexander Ewstafijewitsch von Kotzebue (1815-1889). Kotzebue depicted here Tsar Peter the Great as a the visionary founder of the city. Artisans and architects are fascinated at his feet while he is dramatically illuminated.
Battle of Svolder (1883) by the Norwegian painter Otto Ludvig Sinding (1842-1909). Sinding depicted here the decisive battle which resulted in the independence of Norway. Quite normal work that far, but more interesting is that he was much more famous for his landscape paintings of the wild Lofoten Islands. And because of that, I think, his battle painting is much more about the sea in the North and the light there than about that battle itself.
The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers by the Anglo-American painter George Henry Boughton (1834-1905). One of the great foundation myths of the United States. The men are pious but armed, few in a deserted hostile world. Looks nothing inviting at all, their new world.
Faithful Unto Death - Christianae ad Leones (1897) by the British painter Herbert Gustave Carmichael Schmalz (1856-1935). One of that typical cheesy arena paintings where decorative naked Christians are waiting for the lions. Should be a great horror show but in the end it's all about the beautiful girls exposed to the onlooker – of the painting!
Ecce Homo! (1871) by the Italian painter Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891). Ciseri depicts here the moment when Pontius Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd. That's a classical scenery, but really new it isn't a religious painting, with all the architecture, the clothes the dramatic scenery it's pure history painting. It's much more decoration than religion.
Cleopatra by the American artist Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966). Parrish doesn't intend to simulate a far past, Cleopatra looks like a woman of the golden twenties. She's only a symbol for the timeless femme fatale.
Druids cutting the mistletoe (1900) by the French history painter Henri-Paul Motte (1846-1922). Today it looks much more like a fantasy scene from the Lord of the Rings, but then many people thought that their past may have looked like this.
The battle of Legnano 1176 (1831) by the Italian painter Massimo Taparelli, marquis d'Azeglio (1798-1866). Taparelli is glorifying here the moment when the citizens of the Lombard League defend their Carroccio a sacred wagon with the city standard against the knights of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Especially in the 19th century Italian romantics discovered here the roots of modern citizenship.
Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasant who had served under him (1779) by the French neoclassical painter Jean-François Pierre Peyron (1744-1814).
Peyron was one of the most influential neoclassical painters of his time until the rise of David. He shows here the great Byzantine General who defeated Vandals and Ostrogoths but was nonetheless blinded by an ungrateful Emperor. Here the old blind hero is still worshiped by one of his veterans.
A genre painting by the Spanish painter Francisco José Domingo y Marqués (1842-1920).
Domingo y Marqués turned later to Impressionism but first he did many traditional history paintings. There he prefered genre paintings with subjects from the 17th or 18th century, normally depicting a merry colourful past.
The Funeral of a Viking (1893) by the British painter Sir Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853-1928).
Dicksee was a typical Victorian painter who exploited historical subjects in a manner which is still considered as Pre-Raphaelite style even though it has absolutely nothing to do with that.
Here he shows a highly dramatic scene where the Vikings are clad in Gallic armor including the stupid horned helmets invented by Wagnerian stage designers. To to me it seems more than stupid to push a longship through the surf. It is safe to assume that the whole scenery is as false as the costumes, but this didn’t stop the popularity of the work which was used in 1990 as a cover of a heavy metal cd.
Landscape with Aeneas at Delos (1672) by the French Baroque painter Claude Lorrain, (1600-1682).
Lorrain was famous above all for his landscape paintings, mostly showing classical architecture and a seaport. He preferred historical subjects, which gave him the reason to paint his beloved classical architecture.
Vercingétorix surrendering to Caesar (1886) by the French history painter Henri-Paul Motte (1846-1922).
The proud Gallic chieftain is leaving the besieged Alesia in 52 BC to surrender to the Romans. Motte depicted here a national hero surrendering to a foreign superior machinery of war. So it’s probably a reference to the French capitulation to the Prussians in 1871.
Columbus before the Queen (1843) by the German American history painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816–1868).
Leutze depicted here the dramatic moment when Columbus was released from prison to defend his cause before the Catholic monarchs. On the floor are lying still his shackles indicating his imprisonment and the queen has turned her head away ashamed. Besides the magnificent costumes Leutze dedicated a great effort to the architecture on the Alhambra palace in Granada where the meeting took place.
The Delphic Oracle (1899) by the British painter John William Godward (1861 –1922). Godward was a protégé of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadelma and had great success at the end of the 19th century. Here he depicted the Oracle of Delphi, the so called "Pythia", sitting on a tripod breathing the volcanic vapors which are rising from a crack in the floor.
But despite all these historical well done details it’s the gorgeous body of the young girl which attracts the onlooker. So it’s in the end pure exploitation disguised as history lesson.
Thingvellir (1897) by the British painter William Collingwood (1819-1903). Collingwood was a well known watercolor landscape painter and depicted here the Althing (Alþingi) in medieval Iceland, which was probably the oldest parliament in Europe. I think that it’s intentional how people and tents are integrated into the landscape, so that this archaic democratic tradition becomes part of it.
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.