The Most Amazing & Famous Spanish Historical Paintings Of The 19th Century

IN THIS CLASS, we will marvel at the master painters who took the historical genre of painting to an amazing level of complexity and personality. We will be amazed at their narratives and be charmed by their romantic flare. The techniques of these artists are determined by realism and impressionism and blended into an eclectic mix. These are truly the most amazing and famous works of 19th-century historical genre. You will also learn about Spanish history as themes from Spanish legendary stories and tales are recreated for our pictorial pleasure! 

* Instructor: Karla Ingleton Darocas, Hons. B.A. Fine Arts 

In the second half of the 19th century, Historical paintings reached their highest levels. This was because, in part, of the National Fine Arts Exhibitions, created because of the lack of Spanish representation in various international exhibitions mainly due to the disappearance of the old patronage system and the loss of the Church’s purchasing power.

According to the precepts of Academic art, a 'hierarchy of the genres' would reflect an inherent moral force for each genre. Hence, an artist could communicate a moral message much more clearly through a historical picture, a portrait, or a genre painting, rather than a landscape or still life.

These national competitions were instituted by the Royal Decree of Isabel II on December 28, 1853. They were the largest official exhibition of Spanish art attended by living artists and became one of the most decisive socio-cultural events of the 19th century in the art world, thus justifying their official protection. 

They were initially structured in five sections: painting, sculpture, engraving, architecture, and decorative arts. However, the painting section was the main attraction.History painting began at the turn of the 19th century with neoclassical painting, which showed Roman and Greek antiquity themes. However, the War of Independence had a wide impact on History painting throughout the nineteenth century. Romantic artists had a constant source of inspiration in this conflict, peering into it with a certain melancholy and nostalgia, portraying the people as true war heroes. 

The monumental figure of Francisco de Goya brought a sense of individualism and developed an early concept of romanticism, a prelude to modernity with loose brushstrokes, which was considered a window where the artist's personality could shine. Several followers of Goya also dealt with the historical genre, such as Vicente López, Leonardo Alenza or José Aparicio.

By mid-century, the influence of the French academy began to arrive with its precise brushwork, chromatic coldness, and classicist taste, however, increasingly charged with a romantic spirit. It launched a new genre of pure pictorial romanticism and/or retrospective realism.

Plus, the choice of themes was increasingly romantic, marked by the embodiment of the fleeting, the sublime, and the intimacy of the characters. The perspective towards the themes was also transformed. No longer were narratives portrayed as allegories, odes, and examples of virtue, but works became profound, psychological, complex, and sometimes even critical of caricature.

In the 1860 exhibition, what is known as the First Generation of History Painters is defined. In this generation, two trends appear: on the one hand, the academic purist, with great importance awarded towards drawing with precision. Antonio Gisbert Pérez and Casado del Alisal are the protagonists. 

On the other hand, a realistic trend appears that claims the atmospheric and the freedom of the brushstroke, linking itself to the great example of Velázquez and on the other hand to the French romantics. The most prominent painters of this style are Eduardo Rosales from Madrid and Mariano Fortuny from Reus.

In the Bourbon Restoration, the second generation of history painters appeared. This generation is marked by a decorative realism, in which the influence of Rosales's vivid colours and "Spanish" brushstrokes are tempered by the profusion of details in the objects. The influence of photography begins to be felt in the images and the poses. In this generation, Francisco de Pradilla, José Moreno Carbonero, Ulpiano Checa and Salvador Martínez Cubells stand out.

The end of the hegemony of history painting in the national exhibition of Fine Arts and in the taste of the time occurs at the turn of the century. However, in the Valencian school, which largely marks the end of the 19th century, we find authors who deal with the historical genre, especially in their youth, and who, as they mature, take on traditional themes, with influence from the French avant-garde. 

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Resource Books written by
Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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