Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Theatrical Costumes

Cover of The Saturday Evening Post 1934 by the great American artist Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951).

Sure, that’s no history painting, but Leyendecker refers to that kind of history fashion, where stuffy bourgeois went dressed up as Romans. It’s kind of the same fashion that favored painters like Waterhouse or Alma-Tadelma. There are the nice costumes and the great gestures. A really nice cartoon full of Leyendecker’s cutting irony.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fallen from Grace

Mariamne Leaving the Judgment Seat of Herod (1887) by the British painter John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).

Mariamne I was the second wife of Herod the Great. She was famous for her beauty, but because of her conflict with Salome the sister of Herod she was finally convicted and executed in 29 BC. It’s said that Herod grieved for her for many months.

Waterhouse depicts here the queen on her way to prison and the grieving king. But more than in this story he seemed to be interested in the historical details, the marble the magnificent architecture. Academic history painting is already on its way to pure decoration.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bold Americans

Ferdinand de Soto on the banks of the Mississippi by the American artist Herbert Moore (1881-1943). This was an illustration for the book "The Men Who Found America" by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson (1909).

The Spanish conquistador is looking on the endless waters of the Mississippi, where he should die in 1542. The vastness of the landscape and the river underlines the courage of these men, who went so far in unknown territory. And last not least the Spaniard is here claimed as one of the forefathers of the modern US-Americans.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kind of a Goddess

Phryne at the Festival of Poseidon in Eleusin (1889) by the Polish painter Henryk Hector Siemiradzki (1843-1902). Here a print of this popular painting

Phryne was the most famous hetaera of Ancient Greece (390-330 BC) whose beauty was compared to a goddess.

Because of her lovers she was very rich and Siemiradzki shows her here with a lot of servants and admirers. For him it was a good opportunity to depict a lot of historical costumes, items and architecture with every detail. But truth be told, above all it was a possibility to paint a beautiful woman, who is posing effectively in the center.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Good Old Days

A Musical Interlude (1903) by the French artist Adolphe Alexandre Lesrel (1839-1929). Lesrel did a really good job, costumes, gowns, architecture, and furniture, all is well researched and perfectly painted. But nevertheless it demonstrates only the hollowness of academic art at the beginning of the 20th century.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Signing the Treaty

Signing the Treaty with the Indians (c.1890) by the American painter John Ward Dunsmore (1856-1945). Despite it’s a well done history painting, there is nothing special about it. It’s good old European academic style.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alone and Lost in the Forest

The Chasseur in the Forest (1814) by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). Despite it doesn’t look like very patriotic at first glance it’s eminently that. There is a French soldier (one of Napoleon’s occupants) lone and lost in a dark German forest. So the painting is suggesting that there are other powers than simple soldiers that will help to free Germany from her oppressors.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A National Icon

The Prophetess Libuse (1893) by the Czechoslovakian painter Karel Vitezlav Mašek (1865–1927). Libuse is the legendary founder of Prague and the ancestor of the Přemyslid dynasty and the Czech people as whole.

This Art Nouveau painting reminds of stained glass in churches and is therefore a good modern interpretation of a national myth.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beautiful Slave Women

Sex sells! This platitude proves true especially in art history. Already a lot of Renaissance painters improved there incomes by painting gorgeous nudes or adding them to other sceneries.

In 19th century academic painting voluptuous nudes were so endemic that it was necessary to find good excuses for their omnipresence. So they were situated in mythological, biblical and not at least historical sceneries.

One of the most popular practices to place nudes in history paintings was slavery. Paining nudes on an antique slave market was not only a good excuse but also kind of politically correct. Superficially accusing the suppression and exploitation of the poor females the artists could paint gorgeous nudes and exploit them themselves by selling them in the art market.

The White Slave (1894) by the British painter Ernest Normand (1859-1923). Normand was kind of a specialist in mythological and historical nudes.

Roman Slave (1894) by the Brazilian painter Oscar Pereira da Silva (1867-1939). On the sign is written "VIRGO XXI ANNUS NATA" meaning "Virgin, 21 years old". That feigns authenticity, but it’s a poor invention. Beautiful slaves were never sold nude on the streets.

Slave Market in Rome (c. 1884) by the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904). Gérôme did also a lot of paintings of this subject but preferably with an oriental setting which offered even more salacious opportunities.

In the long run nearly all these paintings are cheap exploitation already long before the word was used in that context. I know only one painting which offers another point of view on that subject: A Slave for Sale (c. 1897) by the Spanish painter Aranda, José Jiménez (1837-1903).

There is a young slave girl bowing her head in shame, clearly a victim. She’s not voluptuous like the slaves by Normand or Gérôme, she’s pregnant probably violated. Around here are the feet of lecherous men the possible buyers and above all the voyeurs. This circle can be completed with the contemplators of the painting.
Really a great piece of art!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Lovers of Teruel

The Lovers of Teruel (1884) by the Spanish painter Antonio Muñoz Degrain (1840-1924). Muñoz Degrain depicted here an old Spanish legend. He did with all the drama and perfection of the heyday of history painting, which won him a medal in the national exposition.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cleopatra's Banquet

Cleopatra's Banquet (c.1675) by the Dutch Golden Age painter Gerard de Lairesse (1640-1711). Cleopatra is here dissolving her earring in vinegar and will drink it to prove to the Roman Mark Antony that she can spent ten million sestertia for one supper.

Despite the architecture is pure fantasy it shows that Lairesse already tried to provide his painting with a historical setting.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tragical End of a Hero

Miranda in prison (1896) by the Venezuelan painter Arturo Michelena (1863-1898). Miranda, who was a student of the famous French history painter Jean-Paul Laurens, depicts here one of the founders of Latin American Liberty.

Sebastián Francisco de Miranda was a Venezuelan revolutionary and is considered as a forerunner of Simón Bolívar. After is revolution had failed he died in a Spanish prison.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Victorian Kitsch

A Sick Child Brought into the Temple of Aesculapius (1877) by the British painter John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).

Waterhouse specialized in sugary scenes likes this. Sometimes he choose medieval sceneries, on other occasions classical Greek or Roman ones. But he always provided what the Victorian clients expected.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Heroic Episode

The Combat of the Thirty by the French (1857) painter Octave Penguilly L'Haridon (1811-1870)

Penguilly L'Haridon shows here an episode of the Hundred Years War which happened on 26 March 1351 in Brittany. Thirty English knights (many of them were foreign mercenaries) fought there in a kind of formal joust against 30 knights from the French-Breton side.

It’s a quite well done painting with a lot of good historical details. Like many history paintings in the 19th century it’s glorifying regional history and was therefore achieved by the musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Religious Fanatic

The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 (1889) by the Spanish painter Emilio Sala y Francés (1850-1910)

Several months after the fall of Granada an Edict of Expulsion was issued against the Jews of Spain by the so called Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It ordered all Jews of whatever age to leave the kingdom by the last day of July. The Jews offered then an immense ransom of 600,000 crowns for the revocation of the edict. When the monarchs were ready to accept, Torquemada, the grand inquisitor, dashed into the royal presence and, throwing a crucifix down before the king and queen, asked whether, like Judas, they would betray their Lord for money.
The Jews were expulsed from Spain with fatal consequences for the whole country.

Sala y Francés is depicting here the moment when the fanatic Torquemada is accusing the Jews. It’s one of the highlights of Spanish history painting illustrating one of the darkest moments of her history.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sugary Past

The First Thanksgiving (c1912) by the American painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930).

Ferris shows here a scenery very popular in American culture and iconography. In autumn of 1621 the surviving Pilgrims celebrated their successful harvest and invited the Indians who helped them before with food.

The scene is heavily romanticized. The Indians there didn’t wore feathers in their hair, but they look more "Indian" with that. And as savages that are sitting on the floor, which they wouldn’t have done. So it’s despite all the nice colorful details nothing authentic.

Monday, August 29, 2011

An Early Scientist

The Alchemist Sedziwoj and King Sigismund III (1867) by the Polish painter Jan Matejko (1838-1893).

Matejko depicted here the famous alchemist not as a charlatan but as a kind of early engineer and scientist, which he was. Because Sedziwoj constructed mines and foundries and did a lot of chemical experimentation.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Semiramis constructing Babylon (1861) by the French painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917).

This may be a little surprising because the impressionist artist despised history painting as a typical form of academic art. And Degas ist considered as one of the founders of impressionism.
But at the beginning of his career he wanted to be a history painter like the best artists of this time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A pensative Hero

El Gran Capitán visits the battlefield of Ceriñola (1835) by the Spanish history painter Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz (1815–1894).

Madrazo shows here the famous Spanish military leader after his great victory of Ceriñola in 1503. He is looking at the dead body of Louis d'Armagnac the leader of the French forces. So it’s also a reflection about luck, death and destiny.
Formally the painting is orientated at Velazquez.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Little Luther

Luther singing as a boy before lady Cotty in eisenach in 1499 (1872) by the Belgian history painter Ferdinand Pauwels (1830-1904).

The later Reformer is here aleready a devoted Christian and probably singing like an angel. It’s idyllic and kind of protestant religious kitsch.
Pauwels did a series of his popular Luther paintings.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Classical Love Story

Horace and Lydia (1924) by the British painter John Collier (1850-1934).

Collier one of the most prominent British painters of his generation shows here a fictional .dialogue between the great Roman poet Horace and Lydia.
Despite it’s a well done painting, one shouldn’t forget that it was done in 1924! Meaning it was much more than out of fashion. Collier kept stubborn to his 19th century style ignoring all what happened around him.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heroic History

The Expulsion of the Danes from Manchester 910 AD (1879-93) by the English painter Ford Maddox Brown (1821-1893).

This is a fresco in the Manchester Town Hall. These “illustrations” of great events of the own history were very popular in the 19th century. As frescos in public buildings they gave the illusion of a long important history. Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian-era Neo-gothic building which only pretends to be medieval underlines this circumstance.

It’s interesting that Maddox Brown doesn’t pretend to be realistic, he presented a kind of naïve comic strip. Nice is the archer who seems to be taken from an Italian renaissance painting.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hessian Mercenaries

Hessian Mercenaries by the American illustrator Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980). The illustration was done for the book Everybody's Washington by Alden Arthur Knipe published in 1931.

Despite some may think that’s a simple book illustration, you should notice the brilliant simplifications, the string colors and shadows. That’s Art Deco at it’s best.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celtic Raiders

Two Celtic raiders bythe French painter Evariste Vital Luminais (1821-1896). Luminais was specialized in warriors of the old French past. He glorified them in a dark romantic way.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sweet Middle Ages

A Paige by the French painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889).

Cabanel was one of he most influential artists in 19th century France. He was part of the jury of the important Paris Salon. He and Bougereau were responsible that the later impressionist artist weren’t allowed to exhibit their work in the Salon of 1863.
So a kind of ultra-traditionalist artist he presents here his interpretation of a sweet romantic past: a medieval page. The cheesy work was bought by emperor Napoleon III.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rejecting the tribute

Ivan the Great tearing the khan's letter to pieces (c.1880) by the Russian painter Alexey Kivshenko (1851-1895).

Ivan the Great was the Grand Prince of Moscow who refused in 1480 to pay the customary tribute to the grand Khan of the Golden Horde. And liberated Russia from the so called Tatar yoke.
It’s told that he tered apart the khan’s letter. For every Russian it’s therefore one of the great highlights of national history.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Viking Raiders

The Ravager (1909) by the British artist John Charles Dollman (1851-1934).

Dollman specialized in historical subjects and genre. Besides paintings he did many illustrations for books. Here he depicted a group of Viking raiders with their then so popular decorated helmets. They are advancing over a snow covered plain accompanied by ravens, the vultures of the North.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lost Cause

A Lost Cause (1888) by the British painter Andrew Carrick Gow (1848-1920).

Gow was a well known history painter. Here he shows James II fleeing to France after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which ended the catholic claim to the throne and brought the protestant William of Orange to power. It’s therefore a tragic scene, hopes and dreams are buried and many, many Irish will follow their prince into exile.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Bard

Boyan (1910) by the Russian painter Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926).

Vasnetsov son of a priest and played a leading role in the evolution of Russian art from 19th-century realism towards Art Nouveau with a national historical slant. He was also very important in utilizing historical subjects to create a kind of national Slavic myth.
Here he shows Boyan a famous bard from the times of Yaroslav the Wise (c. 978–1054) one of the great rulers of the old Rus. Old noble Rus warriors are listening to their bard, who’s is probably telling them patriotic stories of their glorious past.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cain's Clan

Cain (1880) by the French painter Fernand-Anne Piestre Cormon (1845-1924).

Cormon depicted Cain and his family fleeing through a desert. There are desperate people in a desperate situation. The strong long shadows have the effect that the whole clan is haunted by the light, meaning the wrath of God.
But despite the biblical subject the painting is above all an anthropologic study. It shows how the artist imagined prehistoric people. So Cain’s folk look more like a horde of Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon, which had been discovered not long before the painting was done.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sturdy Knights

An illustration of the book The Boy's King Arthur (1922) by N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth, one of America's greatest illustrators (1882–1945).

Unlike the 19th century artists historical accuracy was no objective for Wyeth. He was aware that history always would be a construction. So he painted two bullish, powerful knights wearing their armor like a skin.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Recruiting the Poor

Listed for the Connaught Rangers or Recruiting in Ireland (1878) by Lady Butler (1846-1933).

Lady Butler leaves no doubt about the origins of the British soldiers. Here are the poor and homeless recruited to defend the empire. It’s a kind of anticipation of her later painting Evicted (1890).

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Palace Guard

The Palace Guard (1902) by the Austrian painter Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935).

Deutsch was a very successful orientalist painter and spent most of his career in Paris. To achieve highly detailed scenes he travelled various times to Egypt, took a lot of photographs and had a large collection of tiles, furniture, arms, pipes, fabrics, and costumes.
But nonwithstanding that he was very exact in the details of architecture and costumes his paintings are pure invention. They are glorifying an exotic oriental past, which never existed. But especially because of this combination Deutsch can be considered as one of the ancestors of modern fantasy art.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A dead King

Edith Finding the Body of Harold (1828) by the French painter Horace Emile Jean Vernet (1789-1863).

Vernet depicts here the day after the battle of Hastings (1066) when the queen of the fallen Anglo-Saxon king Harold found the body of her husband. It’s dramatically illuminated and the gestures of the monks indicate grief and disaster.
But above all the painting illustrates the low level of historic knowledge in the early 19th century.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Patriotic Sacrifice

Malasaña and his Daughtery (1890) by the Spanish painter Eugenio Álvarez Dumont (1864-1927).

Eugenio Álvarez Dumont was a very popular painter in his time. Here he presents he scenery from the uprising in Madrid in May 1808 against the Napoleonic occupation, with is better known by the paintings by Goya.
Here the butchered daughter lies on the street like a martyr, while her father tries to avenge her death against a much better but yet scared French cuirassier.
Despite it’s a very well done painting it indicates also already the decline of history-painting, because it’s too well done, too constructed. At the end of the century people didn’t believe much longer in this kind of art.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Patriotic Self-Sacrifice

The Oath of the Horatii (1784) by the French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748- 1825).

David was probably the most influential French painter in the Neoclassical style and started a kind of new era in history painting. His art is mere political propaganda. A reduction of forms and space to the essential. His Oath of the Horatii is an appeal to masculine self-sacrifice for one's country and patriotism.
Disgusting from a modern point of view!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Modern Roman

A Roman officer by the Peruvian American artist Boris Vallejo (born in 1941).

Despite the nearly photorealistic setting it’s all but historic. The women with their eighties tangas, their metal bikinis and their contemporary hairstyle. So it doesn’t matter that the model for the Roman was Vallejo himself.
History has lost all it’s only a exotic decoration for fantasy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Joan and Michael

The archangel Michael appears to Joan of Arc (1876) by the French painter Eugène Thirion (1839-1910).

Different from many other paintings Joan is here no warrior. She’s a poor girl spinning wool when the archangel appears. In the back is a heroic bugler to be seen.
So it’s above all a patriotic call to arms, which has to be put into the context of the lost war against Prussia in 1871.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Art Deco Cleopatra

Cleopatra by the American Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951).

Leyendecker was a brilliant illustrator of the Art Deco movement. His Cleopatra here is pure ornament and decoration. A historical person is converted into an icon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sicilian Vespers

The Sicilian Vespers by the Italian painter Francesco Hayez (1791-1882).

Hayez was the most important Italian Romantic painter in the 19th century and probably the most important history painter too. Here he shows the rebellion in Sicily in 1282 against the French rule. The Italians slaughtered then all the French on the island. Here a French seeks protecting beneath the cross, but in vain.
Hayez was fascinated by the subject because between 1821 and 1846 he painted a whole series of it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Adventurer

The Adventurer (1882) by the Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901).

Despite is nearly perfectly painted with very realistic details, it’s no realistic painting at all. The whole scenery and pose are constructed. The parting ship, the bones, the lonesome knight all are symbols.
Böcklin doesn’t pretend to show a real scene of history, it’s much more an idea, a dream.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Facing Death

The Last moments of Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico by the French painter Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).

Laurens shows here the farewell of Maximilian before his execution. Different from his friends he’s the only one showing real strength, he’s going to die like an Emperor.