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.
Napoleon Near Moscow, Waiting for a Boyar Deputation (1891-1892) by the Russian painter Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (1842-1904). Vereshchagin depicted here Napoleon in a very symbolic way. Despite the dust clouds may be realistic they illustrate much more the treacherous illusion of Napoleons victory. There was nothing gained and soon all will be gone.
Freja Seeking her Husband (1852) by the Swedish painter Nils Blommér (1816-1853). Blommér was greatly influenced by late German Romanticism and turned to national mythology like so many of this movement.
Here he shows the Nordic goddess of love and fertility Freya in her cart drawn by cats. Despite that’s not surprising for a Pre-Wagnerian artist, the false historical construction reveals itself by the baroque angels, who have nothing Nordic at all, so it’s much more a kind of post-rococo kitsch.
Two book illustrations by the great Russian artist Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876-1942). Bilibin was probably the most influential art nouveau illustrator in Russia. He himself studied under Ilya Repin and was later fascinated with old folkloric Russian art of the Russian North.
Despite there are many historically correct details in his illustrations he never pretended to be "realistic" like so many academic painters at this time. He tired much more to catch the spirit of Russian past.
Saragossa 10 February 1809 by the British painter Harold Hume Piffard (1895-1938).
Piffard depicts here the bloody struggle in a church during the siege a Saragossa. The defending Spanish priests are showing even more bloodlust than their French adversaries. And to me it seems that the priest in center is not praying peace or forgiveness, it looks much like some kind of exorcism.
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.