The culture and politics of the mid-19th century reflects its status as the age of revolution. Today’s human rights ideas born in the nineteenth century, since the Industrial Revolution created new class divisions and movements for citizens’ and workers’ rights. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, which was a discussion of the history of politics from a Socialist point of view. For Marx and Engels, there had been a logical progression through to the bourgeois leadership of the mid-19th century, and the next step would be the overthrow of the bourgeois by the proletariat, leading to all property being held in common and a barter system of exchange. This seemed to be borne out by the revolutions in Europe in 1848, all of which ended up failing. One lasting effect of The Communist Manifesto was the push for more humane working and living conditions for the lower classes.

One of the means of disseminating art and information quickly and cheaply in the 19th century was lithography, a method for mass reproduction of an original illustration, invented at the end of the 18th century. In many ways, this was the first industrial means of artistic production, as the stone could be reused multiple times, for different images. One of the Realist artists who used this to great political effect was Honoré Daumier, who make what would now be called political cartoons for left-wing newspapers in Paris, including Le Charivari. He produced works that were intensely critical of the government of Louis-Philippe, who was turning out to be as repressive as the Bourbons. One of these was Rue Transnonian, 15 Avril 1834, which told the story of an event the government was trying to sweep under the rug. Government soldiers claimed to have been fired upon, and so went through a tenement on Rue Transnonian in the middle of the night, killing all within. The man in the center in his nightgown is meant as a reference to the man in his nightgown in Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Daumier also delighted in comparing Louis-Philippe to both a pear and Rabelais’s Gargantua, the monstrous glutton of the 16th century. This landed him in jail, and got him fined, and led to a major crackdown on the liberal press, to which Daumier also reacted.Rue_Transnonain

Honoré Daumier, Rue Transnonian, 15 Avril, 1834, 1834 (photo Public Domain,

Honoré Daumier, Gargantua, 1831 and Le passé, le présent, l’avenir, 1834 (photos By Honoré Daumier – Olga’s Gallery, Public Domain, and By Honoré Daumier –, Public Domain,

Honoré Daumier, Freedom of the Press-Don’t Meddle with it, 1834 (photo by Honoré Daumier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Daumier also portrayed social injustice in his paintings, showing the differences between classes in a number of works. Many of the painters of the period were both reacting against the Salon and showing how a series of Revolutions in France hadn’t changed the realities of the lower classes. Daumier’s Third Class Carriage can be contrasted with his First Class Carriage, showing the differences in accommodations for each of the classes. In the first class image, there are only a few people, they are clean, and they seem distant. In the third class carriage, the people are packed in the carriage, it’s dirty, and they seem worn and tired.

Honoré Daumier, Third Class Carriage, c. 1862 and First Class Carriage, 1864 (photos By Honoré Daumier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and Honoré Daumier [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

French academic art of the period dominated the Salon, and the academic artists dominated Salon judging. Their work was Poussiniste, with crisp lines and saccharine themes. It didn’t challenge the viewers or speak to the realities of the age, although there was occasionally coded messages within the works, such as with Thomas Couture’s Decadence of the Romans, which, while couched as a painting about the Roman Empire, was really about the corruption of the court of Louis-Philippe right before the 1848 Revolution, which would sweep in the short-lived Second Republic (replaced by 1852 with Louis-Napoleon’s Second Empire).

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Venus Anadyomene, 1848 and Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Fraternal Love, 1851 (photos by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


Thomas Couture, Decadence of the Romans, 1847 (photo by Thomas Couture [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Realist painters reacting against the Salon also painted en plein aire, or outside, creating more immediate, sketchy works. One of the schools of these painters was the Barbizon School, located in the Forest of Fontainebleau. One of the most famous of these painters is Jean-François Millet, who painted the peasants of the small towns around the forest, giving them dignity, but also showing the realities of a life unchanged by 3 Revolutions. The Sower shows a man up early in the fields, sowing his seeds. Millet painted him so that his face is unseen, making him a bit of an everyman, a type of peasant. The three women in The Gleaners are showing in the extreme foreground, with others bringing in the harvest in the back, and the overseer looking at the women all the way to the right rear of the image. These are the poorest of the poor peasants, picking up the leftovers in the field, with their ragged clothes and gnarled hands. These images are an extreme contrast to the Academic images pictured above, with the looser brushstrokes, muted colors, and less glamorous subject matter.

Jean-François Millet, The Sower, 1850 and The Gleaners, 1857 (photos By Jean-François Millet – LgE5YAcQ5OqmZA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, and By Jean-François Millet – CgHjAgexUzNOOw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain,

Rosa Bonheur may have been one of the most interesting artists of this period, not only because she was female, but also because of her upbringing by her Saint Simonist father; ability to legally wear pants in France as a woman (yeah, that was a thing); and the fact that she lived openly with her female partner. Bonheur was known for her realistic paintings of animals that she did after visiting slaughterhouses, and she went on to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, the first woman to do so. Her work Ploughing in the Nivernais has a similar subject matter to Millet’s work, but here the peasants are equated with the land, and the oxen take on the same shape as the hills behind them. The message here is that this is the real France, an important one in 1849. The Horse Fair of 1853 shows the men easily controlling the large draft horses, again heroicizing the peasants in France.

Rosa Bonheur, Ploughing in the Nivernais, 1849 and The Horse Fair, 1853 (photos by Rosa Bonheur [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons and Rosa Bonheur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Gustave Courbet was the painter most directly associated with Realism. He believed that art could not be taught, but that one needed inspiration, fueled by study and observation. His iconography impacted by socialist ideas, and his most famous quote was that he had never seen an angel, and so didn’t paint them. His works are often unflinching looks at the realities of the local peasants and bourgeoisie of his hometown of Ornans, as well as landscapes that capture the rugged beauty of the Franche-Comté. His works often had these lower classes heroicized in the foreground of large-scale, otherwise flattened out works, such as with The Stonebreakers, which, like Millet’s The Gleaners, shows the poorest peasants, here breaking stones for the roads of the French cities. Again, we do not see their faces, making them everymen, but we do see their tattered clothing and worn shoes. Because the background is both flattened out and de-emphasized, the focus of the work is entirely on them. In Funeral at Ornans, Courbet paints the local bourgeoisie, including his father, aunt, and sister, in the foreground, attending a funeral. The background is again flattened out, and the viewer is forced to confront the faces of these ordinary people, a major critique of the work leveled in 1850. Gustave_Courbet_018

Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, 1849 (photo By Gustave Courbet – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,,_Un_enterrement_à_Ornans

Gustave Courbet, Funeral at Ornans, 1849 (photo By Gustave Courbet – Own work Taken on 15 December 2005, CC BY 2.5,

In 1855, Courbet opened his own exhibition, The Pavilion of Realism, across from the Salon, from which all of his works had been rejected. Although it was panned, and was neither a critical or financial success, this was a first for artists. Others had exhibited solo works (Thèodore Gèricault, for example) or even series, with the intent of selling (William Hogarth), none had tried to put on a competing exhibition to the Salon, something that would have repercussions for the rest of the 19th century. One of the works exhibited there was The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summarizing Seven Years of My Life As An Artist from 1848-1855, which was left purposely unexplained by the artist. Courbet wanted the viewer to read their own allegories into the work, although there are some things that can be at least somewhat explained. The nude female model behind the artist in the center and the nude male behind the canvas Courbet is working on represent his rejection of Classicism. The avant garde, including Charles Baudelaire, to the right represent Courbet’s friends. To the left are a group that represent all levels of French society, including Emperor Napoleon III, perhaps a reference to Courbet’s fascination with classism. Courbet_LAtelier_du_peintre

Gustave Courbet, The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summarizing Seven Years of My Life as an Artist 1848-1855, 1855 (photo By Gustave Courbet – Unknown, Public Domain,

Édouard Manet‘s works of the 1860s were consistent with Realism, and he shocked the French public with his affronts to propriety. Manet was known for his works, painted alla prima, that both interrogated the history of art and engaged with it. His works, missing the social consciousness of other Realist artists, focused on making people look at the paintings as paintings. He did not try to hide the 2-dimensionality of his works, instead emphasizing flatness of his outlined figures. This can be easily seen in his painting, Déjouner sur l’herbe (Luncheon in the Grass), where the 3 figures in the foreground are taken from an engraving of a lost tapestry design by Raphael, but the nude female figures with 2 clothed men is also a reference to Giorgione or Titian’s Fête Châmpetre. Here, though, the nude woman is not allegorical, but is completely modern, naked, engaging the viewer directly. She is also one of Manet’s favorite models, Victorine Meurent, and one of the men is his brother, Éugene. The woman in the background is as large as the figures in the foreground, compressing the space. Manet is the painter of modern France and the flâneur, the wanderer, stroller, of this new modern France. A bourgeois man, with a great deal of leisure time, who bought their clothes at the new prêt-à-porter department stores. The realities of modernity is also the theme of Olympia, another image of Meurent, this time as a high class courtesan (Olympia was slang at the time for prostitute). Here, Manet uses the composition of Titian’s Venus of Urbino as his starting point. But, Manet makes some important changes, such as removing the background; changing the dog to a cat; and flattening the space completely. He also adds the Afro-French maid offering flowers to Olympia, who stares out at the viewer who has assumed the role of the next customer of Olympia. Manet was careful to record her name, Laura, and she is almost certainly a reference to the racism of the day, and Social Darwinism. In this theory, people believed that the whiter the skin of a person, the more evolved they were socially, and that darker skinned people were more interested in sex, therefore more sexually available. This was an excuse for overt racism.Edouard_Manet_024

Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon in the Grass), 1863 (photo By Édouard Manet – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,


Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863 (photo By Édouard Manet – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

The English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood looked to the “truthful” crafts tradition of the Middle Ages. These artists wanted to return to before Raphael, or before the Renaissance, and yet they mixed their Romanticism with a Realist attention to detail. One of the leaders of the movement was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was interested in Biblical stories. His works have a distinctly religious feeling, but he tried for some realism, such as using his sister as a model in Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation) and attempting to place the scene in the Middle East. Beata Beatrix shows his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, as Dante’s Beatrice, with a dove of the Holy Spirit, dropping the poppy symbolizing death into her hands. The reference is also to the fact Siddal had just died of a laudanum overdose.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation), 1850 and Beata Beatrix, 1864-70 (photos By Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Public Domain, and By Dante Gabriel Rossetti – [dead link], Public Domain,

John Everett Millais was another of the Pre-Raphaelites interested in the combination of extreme realism and romantic subject matter. Ophelia uses the story from Shakespeare’s Hamlet as its subject. Millais went so far as to find a spot in the English countryside that matched Shakespeare’s description of the scene. His friend Siddal floated in a heated bathtub wearing an antique dress so that he could paint the scene more realistic. Another innovation of the Pre-Raphaelites was the use of white as their under-color, as opposed to black or red. Millais also became known as a portraitist, painting even the influential British critic of the 19th century, John Ruskin. Ruskin was one of the leading influences on British artistic taste for much of the 19th century, until his mental health issues became overwhelming. In Millais’s portrait, Ruskin is in nature, a reference for his love of the sublime, and is dressed impeccably, but stares off unfocused into space.

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1852 and John Ruskin, 1854 (photos by John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

American Realism had a slightly different bent than that of the French or British, although it was influenced by the former. The leading American Realist painter of the late 19th century was Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins, who taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and was also very influential on photographic experiments on showing motion. Eakins was very interested in light, especially the new technology of indoor, gas lighting. His painting, The Gross Clinic, focuses on Dr. Samuel Gross teaching a class at the Jefferson Medical College focused on the new medical study of anesthesia. Here, the lighting is focused on the central scene of the operation, and the only woman in the room, the young man’s mother, is averting her eyes. His paintings of rowers focused on the athletes up close in the process of rowing, with realistic depictions of light and reflection.

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins, The Gross Clinic, 1875–76 and John Biglen in a Single Scull, 1873 (photos by Thomas Eakins [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and Thomas Eakins [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry Ossawa Tanner was the son of a former slave who became the first African American to exhibit at the Paris Salon. He studied under Eakins and traveled the Middle East. In fact, Tanner felt that the racism in France was less extreme than in the US, and ended up moving to Paris permanently. Works like The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor are attempts to upend stereotypes of African Americans prominent in the late 19th century. In these works, Tanner used soft brushwork and hazy light to show the realities of late 19th century African American life. In 1897, Tanner took a trip to the Holy Land, and painted a series of overtly religious works. Works such as Annunciation also focus on Realism, with light symbolizing the angel and the entire scene placed in a realistic Middle Eastern space. Mary also looks more like a Middle Eastern girl than a European one, another of Tanner’s realistic touches.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893 and The Thankful Poor, 1894 (photos By Henry Ossawa Tanner – 1893 painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, via, Public Domain, and By Henry Ossawa Tanner – The Athenaeum: Home – info – pic, Public Domain,


Henry Ossawa Tanner, Annunciation, 1898 (photo By Henry Ossawa Tanner – egH-HjJH-o2B4A at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

Joseph Paxton designed the The Crystal Palace in 1851 for the first “Expo” held in London. His design was selected for the exhibition house, partially because his proposal was less expensive and could be built in time. It was dubbed the Crystal Palace for its extensive use of glass, partially because Paxton had been designing greenhouses. The structure was modular, and so could be easily assembled and taken down. Paxton used some new materials, like cast iron and pressed glass. His design was 1852 feet long, a reference to the fact that the exposition was held in 1852, and the structure held the mechanical and technology exhibitions. The building was moved to a new site, but burned down in the 1930s.

Joseph Paxton, Crystal Palace, London, 1851 (photos by Public Domain, and By J. McNeven –, Public Domain,

In Chicago, the fire of the 1870s led to a new style of building, the Commercial Style. The architects of this style built up, using the new steel and iron, as well as Mr. Otis’s elevators, creating the early skyscrapers. An early proponent of this style was Louis Sullivan, who came up with the maxim that “Form follows function,” meaning that the form of the building should show the function of that building. His structures were usually also clad in such a way that there were floral or botanical elements to add interest, but represented a totally new architectural style that incorporated older elements like pilasters, cornices, and friezes.

Louis Sullivan, Wainwright Building, St. Louis, MO, 1890-91 and Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Chicago, IL, 1899-1901 (photos by Public Domain, and By by Louis Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Realism may not have been possible without the invention of photography, which means “Drawing with light.” This made the creation of multiple images simple, and was the culmination of centuries of experimentation. Two techniques were patented in 1839-1841: Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s daguerreotypes and William Henry Fox Talbot‘s calotypes. The French state purchased Daguerre’s process and made the technical details public, making it possible for anyone to create daguerreotypes. This did not happen with Talbot’s method, making it unavailable for a period of years. The camera obscura, and experiments with it, produced the earliest photographs after years of experimentation. One of the earliest of these was Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce‘s View from His Window at Gras, taken with an 8 hour exposure. The long exposure time made the scene grainy and hard to see, but Niépce’s real breakthrough was determining the way to fix the image and stop development. Daguerre was Niépce’s partner, and after his death, went on to perfect their method of making positive images. These were one-of-a-kind images that involved coating glass or metal with chemicals. Early daguerreotypes required a 15-30 minute exposure time, which meant that it was not possible to show motion. Also, the images had to be taken in the day time, as the invention of photography predated that of gas lighting.

Early 19th century drawing of a portable camera obscura and Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce, View from his Window at Gras, 1826
(photos by By unknown illustrator – 19th Century Dictionary Illustration, Public Domain, and By Joseph Nicéphore Niépce [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Still Life in the Artist’s Studio, 1837 and View of the Boulevard du Temple, 1838 (photos By Louis Daguerre – Société française de photographie, Public Domain, and By Louis Daguerre – Scanned from The Photography Book, Phaidon Press, London, 1997., Public Domain,

Talbot’s calotypes were negatives, which means that they were more reproducible, and eventually lead to the glass-plate negatives used later in the 19th century. These were also a bit more clear than daguerreotypes.Articles_of_Glass_on_Three_Shelves_by_Henry_Fox_Talbot

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of Glass, 1843 (photo By Henry Fox Talbot –, Public Domain,

By the mid-19th century, artists were experimenting with all kinds of new ways to create photographs. One of the most famous of those was Nadar (Gaspar-Félix Tournachon). He was known for his portraits of French avant-garde artists and writers, as well as for his photographs with artificial lighting of the Catacombs in Paris. Nadar also built a balloon, Le Géant, with which he took aerial photographs. Julia Margaret Cameron was the wife of a British civil servant who took photographs of her friends and family. She was allied with the Pre-Raphaelites, and exploited the short focal length of the lenses of those cameras, creating soft-focus images of Arthurian legends and Biblical stories.

Nadar (Gaspar-Félix Tournachon), Georges Sand, c. 1860 and Le Catacombe, 1861-1862 (photos By Nadar – Galerie Contemporaine, 126 boulevard Magenta, Paris – Photographe Goupil [et] C° – Cliché Nadar, 51 rue d’Anjou-Saint-Honoré à Paris.Photographie de George Sand sur le site Gallica.Ministère de la Culture (France) – Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine.Diffusion Réunion des musées nationaux., Public Domain, and By Nadar –, Public Domain,

Nadar, Aerial View of Paris, 1868 (photo by Nadar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Darwin, 1868 and Vivien and Merlin, 1874 (photos By Julia Margaret Cameron – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Public Domain, and Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Some photographers like Matthew Brady combined portraiture and photo-journalism, creating a number of photographs in and around the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln credited Brady’s portrait of him, known as the Cooper Union Portrait after the building in which Brady’s studio was, with winning him the election of 1860. Here, Lincoln seems humanized as he leans on a Bible and other books. Brady also followed the Union Army, taking a series of photographs of the war and battles, and sending them back to newspapers and magazines to be published. Brady often manipulated or posed the images, especially since it wasn’t safe or possible for him to take the image in the heat of battle.

Matthew B. Brady, Lincoln “Cooper Union” Portrait, 1860 and On Antietam Battlefield, 1862 (photos by Public Domain, and By Internet Archive Book Images – book page:, No restrictions,

After the War, a number of American photographers followed the US Geological Surveys West, photographing a number of the sites of the American West. Carleton Watkins was perhaps the most well known of these, even though he had no field training during the Civil War. His photographs of Yosemite and the giant sequoias of the California Coast. These photographs, along with others by other photographers of the West formed the basis of the paintings by Albert Bierstadt.

Carleton E. Watkins, Three Brothers, Yosemite, California, c. 1860s and Section of the Grizzly Giant, 33 Feet Diameter, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite, No. 111, 1861 (photos By Carleton Watkins – 2wG2ot_hMLIATQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, and By Carleton Watkins (American, 1829 – 1916) (1829 – 1916) – photographer (American)Details of artist on Google Art Project – twG7q8HItWs0-Q at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

In all, the Realist movement and photography changed art drastically. This was the beginning of the movement away from linear perspective.



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