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History, Innovation, and Societal Change — Exploring the Charm and Diversity of 19th Century European Art

By OGP Reporters / Members Contribute File Photos

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Nineteenth-century artworks hold a significant position in today's collecting arena. These pieces attract the attention of numerous collectors due to their unique historical backgrounds, artistic styles, and cultural significance. They carry the memories of their era and the heritage of culture, presenting rich and diverse artistic expressions and profound ideological implications, hence garnering considerable appreciation. The nineteenth century was a period of rich diversity in European art history, witnessing the emergence of many important artistic movements and masterpieces. From the vibrant style of Romanticism to the unique play of light and shadow in Impressionism, from the solemnity of Neoclassicism to the realistic depictions of everyday life in Realism, each style reflects the characteristics of society, culture, and thought of the time. These artworks not only caused a sensation in their time but also left a profound impact on the future development of art.

European art in the 19th century showcased diversity and richness, encompassing various movements such as Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and Expressionism. This period marked a significant era in art history, with many influential artists and works representing different movements and styles. Works by William Turner, Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas, and Eugène Delacroix, such as "The Fighting Temeraire" and "The Third of May 1808" by Turner, "Luncheon on the Grass" and "Olympia" by Manet, "Water Lilies" series and "Impression, Sunrise" by Monet, "The Starry Night" and "Sunflowers" by van Gogh, "Mont Sainte-Victoire" and "Still Life with Apples" by Cézanne, "The Dance" and "Woman with a Dog" by Matisse, "The Ballet Class" series and "At the Opera" by Degas, "Liberty Leading the People" and "The Battle of the Giaour and Hassan" by Delacroix, spanned the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Their influence persists to this day, profoundly impacting subsequent artistic developments, making them indispensable figures in art history.

The early 19th century art was primarily characterized by Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Realism.

In the first half of the 19th century, Western history experienced the dual impact of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, bringing profound social change and intellectual liberation. The Industrial Revolution propelled rapid technological and productive development, shaking traditional artisanal methods and altering the material basis and practical function of art. Meanwhile, the spirit of liberation from the French Revolution ignited ideas of individual freedom and equality, marking the rise of the bourgeoisie. The rise of subjective freedom philosophy, such as Kant's ideas, emphasized individual creativity and free will, providing theoretical support for the transformation of art.

With the growing aesthetic demands of the bourgeoisie, the emergence of public art exhibitions and private patronage provided more space for artistic experimentation and innovation. In this environment, Paris became the center of European art, attracting a plethora of artists and intellectuals. The conflict between Neoclassicism and Romanticism became a landmark event in the development of 19th-century art. These two artistic movements engaged in fierce debates and clashes in the art world. Artists explored and debated styles, themes, and aesthetic concepts, fostering the development and diversification of art. This debate also marked the transformation and differentiation of the art world in the mid-19th century, laying the groundwork for the development of modern art.


Neoclassicism revived the ideals and forms of classical art, emphasizing imitation and admiration of ancient Greek and Roman culture, and pursuing aesthetics of symmetry, proportion, and rationality. Neoclassical influence extended across various domains including painting, sculpture, and architecture, with figures like Jacques-Louis David being prominent representatives.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Neoclassicism emerged as an artistic movement. Artists, driven by the lofty ideals of the revolutionary era, drew inspiration from the aesthetic ideals of 17th-century French classicism and the artistic characteristics of ancient Greek art. They embraced these as conscious aesthetic goals, advocating for the portrayal of significant and solemn themes, promoting rationality and ideal beauty, and emphasizing precise delineation and form.

Neoclassicism, represented by figures like Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, epitomized the transition from a focus on revolutionary themes and content to a prioritization of form. During the tumultuous period of the French Revolution, artists sought to embody the noble aspirations of the era through their work. They elevated Neoclassicism to its zenith by shifting the movement's emphasis towards formal considerations while maintaining its commitment to the aesthetic principles of classicism and the artistic legacy of ancient Greece.


Romanticism emerged in the late 18th century, flourished in the first half of the 19th century, and extended into the 20th century, marking a sustained and influential artistic movement. At its core, Romanticism emphasizes the individuality of the artist, highlighting the significance of personal emotions and imagination in artistic creation. It opposed the constraints of academic classicism, heralding the transition of Western art from classicism to modernism.

In Spain, Francisco Goya pioneered Romanticism, blending romantic emotions with a realistic attitude in his works. In Germany, Caspar David Friedrich's "Moonlit Landscapes" and the Nazarene movement's religious mystical paintings exemplify the romantic temperament of German art. In England, Romanticism is reflected in the mystical paintings of William Blake and Fuseli, J.M.W. Turner's romantic landscapes, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and William Morris's "Art and Industry" movement. In France, artists like Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix emphasized movement, color, and passion, becoming representatives of Romanticism.

The rise of Romanticism also signaled a focus on emotions and imagination in artistic creation. Unlike the strict rationality and formality of Neoclassicism, Romanticism sought to express the inner world and emotional experiences of individuals. Romantic artists often explored nature, the supernatural, personal emotions, and the relationship between humanity and nature in their works. This emphasis on emotion and individualism laid the foundation for the development of modern art and had a profound and far-reaching influence.

Romanticism is an artistic movement that opposes classicism, emphasizing emotion, imagination, and individualism. Representing Romanticism are artists like Caspar David Friedrich and Eugène Delacroix.


Realism emerged in mid-19th century France as an artistic movement. The Industrial Revolution and social changes sparked people's attention and reflection on everyday life. Artists began to take an interest in the living conditions, labor situations, and social issues of the lower classes, attempting to reflect these realities through art. Realism emphasizes the objectivity and authenticity of art. Through accurate observation of light, shadow, color, and form, realist artists sought to present genuine and meticulous images, allowing viewers to experience the authentic atmosphere and emotions of the real world. Realist artists also addressed social issues and human nature, offering criticism and reflection on societal realities. By depicting poverty, injustice, and the ugliness of human nature, they called for social reform and introspection of humanity. Therefore, Realism is not just an artistic style but also a caring and calling for social reality.

Realism emphasizes objective portrayal of everyday life and reflection of social issues, focusing on depicting social realities and people's lives while opposing the idealism of Romanticism. Representing Realism are artists like Jean-François Millet and Honoré Daumier.

In the latter half of the 19th century, art was primarily manifested in Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, the Art Nouveau movement, and the sculptures of Auguste Rodin.

Auguste Rodin's sculptures

Rodin's sculptures broke away from traditional sculptural styles, emphasizing the capture of the inner emotions and dynamics of the figures. Through his depictions of postures, expressions, and muscles, his works revealed profound inner worlds and authentic emotional experiences. Rodin's sculptures caused a sensation at the time, seen as a breakthrough in traditional sculptural norms, showcasing a more realistic and vivid portrayal of human figures. His works profoundly influenced subsequent sculpture art, establishing him as one of the pioneers of modern sculpture.

With the vigorous development of capitalism, the Western world experienced alternating periods of economic prosperity and crisis in the latter half of the 19th century. During this period, thinkers like Karl Marx criticized the exploitation and injustices of capitalist society, while scientists like Charles Darwin, with his theory of evolution, brought new insights into humanity's understanding of the natural world. The emergence of these ideas profoundly influenced people's perceptions of society, nature, and human nature.

Against this historical backdrop, two major aesthetic trends, namely scientism and humanism, began to intertwine and influence the development of art. Scientism emphasizes the observation and analysis of objective phenomena, advocating for the objective depiction of the real world and rational thinking. Meanwhile, humanism emphasizes human emotions, morality, and the inner world of individuals, emphasizing human dignity and freedom. The collision and fusion of these ideas led to a more diverse and complex appearance of art in the latter half of the 19th century. Artists began to break free from traditional constraints, no longer limited by factors such as history, religion, or literature, but instead focusing more on the exploration of form and expression. Painting began to exhibit a richer and more diverse appearance, reflecting artists' profound reflections and expressions on human life, natural landscapes, and the inner world.


The emergence of Impressionism originated from objective historical conditions in the 19th century, including the limitations of realism, the emergence of photography, and the development of scientific color theory. These objective conditions prompted painters to reflect on and innovate traditional art forms, leading to the beginning of modern painting. Impressionism advocated for the portrayal of real emotions in moments, using light and color as the medium of painting, emphasizing the importance of visual perception, thereby revealing the direction of modern painting.

Important representatives of Impressionism include Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Pissarro, among others. These artists are renowned for their unique handling of light and color, emphasizing the capture of instantaneous impressions and sensations rather than traditional objective representation. Impressionist works often exhibit vivid colors and light effects, as well as keen observations of nature and daily life. Artists of this period attempted to capture subtle changes in nature on canvas, creating vibrant and realistic works.


The Neo-Impressionists, such as Seurat and Signac, aimed to transform the romanticism of Impressionism into a more scientific art form through the use of more scientific color theories and more separated brushstrokes. They refined the handling of color and light, focusing on capturing subtle changes in light and shadow to create more realistic and vivid images.


Post-Impressionist artists, including Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, abandoned the purely sensory approach of Impressionism and turned to more subjective modes of expression. Cézanne focused on the study of form and structure, expressing inner emotions and spirits through the combination of geometric shapes and colors. Van Gogh, with his unique brushstrokes and use of color, depicted the wildness and despair of his inner world, becoming one of the outstanding representatives of Post-Impressionism. Gauguin fused dreams with reality, creating works full of symbolism and mystery, which heralded the advent of Symbolist art.

Impressionist artists emphasized the capture of light and color, focusing on momentary impressions and sensations. Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, among others, are representative figures of Impressionism. Post-Impressionist artists, building upon Impressionism, emphasized form and structure, focusing on expressing inner emotions and spirits. Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, are representative figures of Post-Impressionism.

In the realm of sculpture, Auguste Rodin's works are renowned for their exaggerated proportions, rough textures, and flowing power. He overturned traditional aesthetic concepts of sculpture, shaping figures to be more lifelike and dynamic. Rodin's pieces often depict the conflicts within the characters' inner worlds and the dynamics of emotions, serving as transitional works between tradition and modernity and pioneering a new artistic style.


Symbolism originated in literature and later expanded into the fields of visual arts and music. Symbolist artists, discontent with industrial civilization, sought to return to the Eden of art, pursuing the truth and philosophical significance behind appearances. They unified philosophy, music, and poetry to present sentimental romanticism and the aestheticism of colors.

Symbolist artists attempt to express inner emotions and thoughts through symbols and metaphors. Artworks are often imbued with mystical and supernatural elements. Auguste Rodin, Eugène Delacroix, and other artists were influenced by Symbolism..

Another significant artistic movement is the Art Nouveau movement, which encompasses art and design and is influenced by the ideas of William Morris. This movement aims to merge human creative spirit with the values of machine production, creating an art style that reflects the trends of the time and marking the transition of art towards modernism. Gustav Klimt of the Vienna Secession is an outstanding representative of this movement in the field of visual arts.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau seeks the integration of art with life, emphasizing curved lines and decorative designs. Its works include architecture, furniture, jewelry, and other fields. Alphonse Mucha, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and others are prominent figures of the Art Nouveau movement.


Expressionism emerged in Europe in the early 20th century as an art style sharply contrasting with Impressionism. Expressionist artists attempted to reflect the inner world and social reality through exaggeration, distortion, and intense emotional expression. This artistic movement is reflected in painting, sculpture, theater, music, and other fields. In painting, Expressionist artists aimed to showcase inner emotions and subjective experiences, often using deformed or distorted figures and radical color applications to depict inner pain, anxiety, and unrest. In sculpture, Expressionist sculptors also attempted to express inner emotions and thoughts through exaggeration, distortion, and a sense of dynamism.

The rise of Expressionism largely reflects the social turmoil and inner chaos of the early 20th century. During this period, artists attempted to break free from traditional artistic forms and pursued more authentic and direct modes of expression, aiming to make art more closely resonate with people's lives and emotional experiences.

Expressionist artists sought to express inner emotions and moods through exaggeration and formal distortion. Figures such as Edvard Munch and Emil Nolde are representative figures of Expressionism.

The 19th century European art scene was a period of profound change and innovation, characterized by diverse artistic movements and styles that explored and expressed unique characteristics. These movements laid important foundations for later modern art and reflected the diversity and complexity of society, culture, and thought at the time.

The "Eternal Love: Classic European Art of the 19th Century Exhibition" is the flagship exhibition of the Hepai Art Museum in 2024. Co-organized by the Hepai Art Museum and the Rodin Art Center (Chinese Pavilion), the exhibition is themed around "Eternal Love" and features a selection of dozens of classic European sculptures, paintings, furniture, and other works from the 19th century. It includes masterpieces by renowned European artists such as Auguste Rodin, Giuseppe Croff, Giovanni Antonio Labus, Carl Johan Steinhauer, Mathilde Morot, and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.

The exhibition meticulously curates sculptures from various artistic styles of the 19th century, ranging from Neoclassicism to Romanticism, Realism, and beyond, showcasing the shaping of art and thought in 19th-century Europe. Among them, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, an important representative of French sculpture, stands out. He was both an inheritor and a rebel of classicism, and his works are renowned for their dynamism and expressiveness. Carpeaux's sculptures, including "Ugolino and His Sons," "La Danse," "The Infant," "The Fiancée," "La Baronne Bellanger," and "The Prince and His Beloved Dog Nero," vividly depict various aspects of human life and emotion.

Another French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, is celebrated for iconic works like "The Thinker," "The Kiss," "The Burghers of Calais," "The Age of Bronze," and "Bust of a Young Girl." Rodin's sculptures blend traditional techniques with modernist concepts, pulsating with vitality and deeply exploring the human psyche. By redefining the expression of sculpture, Rodin infused his works with rich emotions and vitality, establishing himself as one of the most important artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The exhibition also features several representative sculptures by two masters, which are definitely worth seeing. Additionally, the "Bronze Flower Pot" in the exhibition is a large bronze basin ornament titled "The Constellation of the Fairies" completed by Belgian artist Pierre Alfons Bertie in 1883. Standing at 240 centimeters tall, with its octagonal base alone measuring 95 centimeters in height, the massive "enamel box" is the work of Charles Leber, one of the greatest enamel painters of the 19th century. Emmanuel Loze's oil paintings, as well as household artworks from the 18th to the 19th century, with their exquisite and luxurious decorations and contrasting materials, are breathtaking. These works not only showcase the creativity and skill of the artists but also reflect the life and values of European society at the time.

By presenting the rich diversity of 19th-century European art and the variety of social life, the exhibition allows visitors to immerse themselves in the charm of European art. The architectural elements of the exhibition hall complement the artworks, providing visitors with a unique cultural experience, enriching their artistic experiences, and opening the door to exploring European culture and history.

Nineteenth-century artworks hold a significant position in today's collecting arena. These pieces attract the attention of numerous collectors due to their unique historical backgrounds, artistic styles, and cultural significance. They carry the memories of their era and the heritage of culture, presenting rich and diverse artistic expressions and profound ideological implications, hence garnering considerable appreciation. The nineteenth century was a period of rich diversity in European art history, witnessing the emergence of many important artistic movements and masterpieces. From the vibrant style of Romanticism to the unique play of light and shadow in Impressionism, from the solemnity of Neoclassicism to the realistic depictions of everyday life in Realism, each style reflects the characteristics of society, culture, and thought of the time. These artworks not only caused a sensation in their time but also left a profound impact on the future development of art.

Today, nineteenth-century artworks have become objects of pursuit for many collectors.

Here are the significant auction records achieved by 19th-century artworks in 2022:

"Les Poseuses Ensemble" (small version) by Georges SEURAT (1859-1891) sold for $149,240,000.

"La Montagne Sainte-Victoire" by Paul CÉZANNE (1839-1906) sold for $137,790,000.

"Verger avec cyprès" by Vincent VAN GOGH (1853-1890) sold for $117,180,000.

"Maternité II" by Paul GAUGUIN (1848-1903) sold for $105,730,000.

"Birch Forest" by Gustav KLIMT (1862-1918) sold for $104,585,000.

"Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau)" by Lucian FREUD (1922-2011) sold for $86,265,000.

"Small False Start" by Jasper JOHNS (1930) sold for $55,350,000.

"Concarneau, calme du matin" by Paul SIGNAC (1863-1935) sold for $39,320,000.

"Le Roi jouant avec la reine" by Max ERNST (1891-1976) sold for $24,435,000.

"Day Dream" by Andrew WYETH (1917-2009) sold for $23,290,000.

These auction records underscore the allure and value of nineteenth-century artworks in today's auction market. Whether paintings, sculptures, or decorative arts, they showcase the creativity and skill of the artists of that time. The pursuit of these works by collectors is not only an appreciation of art itself but also a reverence for history and culture.

Collecting these artworks is not just an investment but also a tribute to human wisdom and creativity, reflecting on past eras and placing hopes for the future. With the continuous development of the art market and globalization, the collection and trading of nineteenth-century artworks are becoming increasingly active. Auctions, gallery exhibitions, and online art platforms provide collectors with more choices and opportunities, allowing nineteenth-century artworks to be more widely appreciated and disseminated. They are not only treasures in art history but also carriers of cultural heritage, leaving an eternal imprint on the development of human civilization.



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