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.
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.