Before the nineteenth century, artists mainly worked for particular individuals or organizations like churches. They were contracted to do a particular piece of work, and there was no spontaneous art as such. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century however, Art saw a great revolution. From this time on, artists began expressing their lives through drawings. Modern art thus marked a paradigm shift from the old way of doing things. Artists now embraced experimentation as a way of artistic representation of people, places and even ideas, in different colors, genre, as well as forms. A story is told of a soccer player in the nineteenth century England, who against the set rules, to use his hands in soccer. This allegedly marked the beginning of rugby. Artists in the nineteenth century were in similar way revolutionaries in bringing change into the world of art. It is referred to as modern because it brought into the artistic world, new trends in thought. It arose also as a result of dissatisfaction with the traditional forms of life, such as art, literature, and architecture. This study will explore the representation of modern life in the art of the nineteenth century. Images and themes relating to the modern life will be explored. The major movements in this period will be of great interest to this study. Some of the themes that will be discussed include Romanticism, Realism, and Neoclassicism.


In the nineteenth century, artistic depictions of images emphasizing on the importance of emotions were very common. Romanticism as a movement marked a shift from Rationalism which had prevailed in the previous century (Clay 1981). Self-determination became the sole goal of the time. People were able to say what they felt through art, rather than rationalize emotions (Berlin 1999). Everything during the first half of the nineteenth century centered on feelings, and this was the primary focus of art. This movement was characterized by such attitudes as great appreciation of beauty, the emphasis of the senses rather than the intellect, self examination, emotional development, passions and other things affecting the person in ways that differed from the rationalistic tendencies of the eighteenth century. Romanticism also had a great influence in the shaping of the mind set of the Central European people. Creativity and imagination during this period were greatly encouraged (Condon 1983).

One famous French artist was Eugene Delacroix. His paintings were so popular that they resonated even into the late nineteenth century with. He greatly impacted on the Impressionists and even the likes of Pablo Picasso of the modern art (Jobert 1997). He thrived at a time when the French revolution was looming over most of France. His Liberty Guiding the People was a reflection of the importance of liberty, especially after the revolution.

This image reflects on the plight of the people during the revolution. It was a perfect expression of the political situation of the time. Delacroix was in this image expressing what was happening at the time when people were seeking liberty, which is characteristic of not just modern time but even contemporary time. A closer look at the image shows that several people are already dead, and heaped together, perhaps characteristic of the bloodshed that was the price of liberty. It shows a half naked woman, with a gun in her hand, a show of the realistic depictions of the time. This image not only depicts the situation as an imagination of the artist, but a depiction of the experience of the artist, both as a National Guard, and as a participant in this struggle. Romanticism is said to have ushered in the Neoclassicism.


This movement focused on art from the classical period, mainly from Greek and Rome of old. These artists in this movement concerned themselves with the ideal. They bring new blood into the traditional classical work (Witcombe 2009). The Neoclassicists focus on particular classical arts and bracket all else. A great example of a neoclassicist is Ingres Jean-Auguste-Dominique. He was an exemplar in neoclassicism (Arikha, A (1986). The image below depicts the apotheosis of Homer (Witcombe 2009).

This piece of work expresses great precision in the work of this artist. The scene is a temple in ancient Greece, and the large crowd comprises of great men who are paying homage to Homer. The portrait of Poussin from the year 1650 was of influence in this image. Homer is being crowned by the Universe, with incense burning as was the custom (Witcombe 2009). Some of these practices, such as the burning of incense and coronation have found their way even to the present day as expressed in religion, and political practices.


The late nineteenth century was a time when Realism became widely acknowledged. This movement came as a rejection of romanticism. As a movement it focused its attention more on the realities of life. Truth was central to it (West 1996). Realism as a movement came at a time when people were fighting for democracy. Artists in this movement showed this through their works, which mainly focused on the workers. The things that surround everyday life needed closer scrutiny according to the realists, and as a result they tended to be more objective. Realism agreed more with the scientific approach to reality (Witcombe 2009). It however does not come up with new architectural styles. One of the famous artists of the time, who illustrated modernity in a realistic way, was Honore Daumier (Witcombe 2009). He was a French artist. The works of Honore Daumier have drawn great interest over the years, from both artists and non artists alike. He was very well known for his style of caricaturing the political class, but mostly for his concern for the lesser privileged in society.

In this image, Daumier was concerned with a poor family that was in a train, of course in the third class carriage (Witcombe 2009). The family comprises of a grand mother, a mother and her boy. This image shows the plight of humanity, majority of who are poor people, who cannot afford to travel first class. This image also shows the challenges that women have to go through in their role of caring for families. This image does not show the man of the family, pointing to the condition of the family in the modern times. The three persons with three different ages signify three generations which have all been plagued by all sorts of hardships. This is very well demonstrated by the poses of the mother and the boy (Witcombe 2009). Considering that his works were mainly aimed at criticizing the government, this image also seems to be showing the failure by the government to consider the plight of the working citizens.

In England, the movement was also strong with great figures like Sir John Everett Millais. Some of his works were very controversial, especially “Christ in the House of His Parents” (1850).

This painting was very controversial because it had a religious dimension to it. It showed the family of Jesus Christ as being a working class family in a workshop (Olga’s Gallery 2009). This was opposed as being disrespectful to Christ. However, this image portrayed the toils of the poor people at the time. The working class did most of the work and yet earned very little. This was also a paradigm shift from the traditional, because the world did not expect that anyone would depict Christ in such a way (Artcyclopedia 2009). Previous movements were afraid of facing the reality as it is. That is why a more peaceful approach was the better option, but the realists confronted the reality as it is, sometimes earning the wrath of the powers that were.


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