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By medium: literature of the 19th century - visual arts of the 19th century

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Train wreck at Montparnasse, France, 1895

Olympia , 1863 - Edouard Manet (Oil on canvas, 130.5 x 190 cm, Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

Eiffel tower, Paris


The 19th century continued and expanded the industrial revolution which had begun in the preceding century. It was a century of widespread invention and discovery, and one in which social, cultural, and economic systems were heavily affected by science and technology and the business models built on them, such as a shift from independent artisans and craftspersons to wage laborers employed by large factories as the primary means of production. It was the heyday of capitalism, but it was also the century in which the major opposing ideologies, socialism and communism, arose. The successes up to that time in building mechanical devices and in discovering the natural laws of the universe led to a widespread belief by the end of the century that the world ran predictably as by clockwork and that all of its mysteries would soon be solved by modern science; and, similarly, all of the social problems of human society could be solved too by application of scientific principles. These beliefs were soon dashed by 20th century developments such as relativity and quantum physics, and by the wars and genocides of that century. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/19th_century#Overview [Jun 2005]

19th Century literature

The 19th century was perhaps the most literary of all centuries, because not only were the forms of novel, short story and magazine serial all in existence side-by-side with theatre and opera, but since film, radio and television did not yet exist, the popularity of the written word and its direct enactment were at their height. [Jan 2005]

Titles: Frankenstein (1818) - Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821) - The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) - Le Rouge et le Noir (1831) - Gamiani, ou Une Nuit d'Excès (1833 - Viy (1835) - Histoires Extraordinaires (1840s) - Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) - Les Fleurs du mal (1857) - Madame Bovary (1857) - Artifical Paradises (1850s) - Artifical Paradises (1860) - Salammbô (1862) - The Painter of Modern Life (1863) - Notes from Underground (1864) - Le Spleen de Paris (1869) - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) - Venus in Furs (1870) - Carmilla (1872) - The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874) Les Diaboliques (The She-Devils) (1874) - Anna Karenina (1877) - Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1877) - Flatland (1884) - À rebours (1884) - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) - Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) - The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) - La Bête Humaine (1890) - Hunger (1890) - New Grub Street (1891) - The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) - Jude the Obscure (1895) - The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) - Dracula (1897) - The She Devils (1898) - Torture Garden (1899)

19th Century French art

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars brought great changes to the arts in France. The program of exaltation and mythification of the Emperor Napoleon I of France was closely coordinated in the paintings of Gros and Guérin.

Meanwhile, Orientalism, Egyptian motifs, the tragic anti-hero, the wild landscape, the historical novel and scenes from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, all these elements of Romanticism created a vibrant period that defies easy classification.

One also finds in the early period of the 19th century a repeat of the debate carried on in the 17th between the supporters of Rubens and Poussin: there are defenders of the "line" as found in Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and the violent colors and curves as found in Eugène Delacroix. The comparison is however somewhat false, for Ingres' intense realism sometimes gives way to amazing voluptuousness in his Turkish bath scenes.

The Romantic tendencies continued throughout the century: both idealized landscape painting and Naturalism have their seeds in Romanticism: both Gustave Courbet and the Barbizon school are logical developments, as is too the late 19th century Symbolism of such painters at Gustave Moreau (the professor of Matisse and Rouault) or Odilon Redon.

Birth of the Modern

Walter Benjamin called Paris "the capital of the 19th century". In order to understand the amazing diversity of artistic expressions which Paris gave birth to from the 1860s to the 1940s, one needs to understand both the unique experience of this city and the financial, social and political experiments that it was host to.

Baron Haussmann's massive renovation of the city created amazing perspectives and broad boulevards, but also replaced poorer neighborhoods and created fast routes to move troops through the city to quell unrest. Yet there was also a second Paris at the limits of Haussmann's city on the hill of Montmartre with her windmills, cabarets and vineyards. Café culture, cabarets, arcades (19th century covered malls), anarchism, the mixing of classes, the radicalization of art and artistic movements caused by the academic salon system, a boisterous willingness to shock — all this made for a stunning vibrancy. What is more, the dynamic debate in the visual arts is also repeated in the same period in music, dance, architecture and the novel: Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Proust, Nijinski, etc. This is the birth of Modernism.

Édouard Manet represents for many critics the division between the 19th century and the modern period (much like Charles Baudelaire in poetry). His rediscovery of Spanish painting from the golden age, his willingness to show the unpainted canvas, his exploration of the forthright nude and his radical brush strokes are the first step toward Impressionism.

Impressionism would take the Barbizon school one further, rejecting once and for all a belabored style (and the use of mixed colors and black), for fragile transitive effects of light as captured outdoors in changing light (in part inspired by the paintings of J. M. W. Turner). Claude Monet with his cathedrals and haystacks, Pierre-Auguste Renoir with both his early outdoor festivals and his later feathery style of ruddy nudes, Edgar Degas with his dancers and bathers.

Some of these techniques were made possible by new paints available in tubes. These painters were also to a certain degree in a dialogue with another discovery of the 19th century: photography.

From this point on, the next thirty years were a litany of amazing experiments. Vincent van Gogh, Dutch born but living in France, opened the road to expressionism. Georges Seurat, influenced by color theory, devised a pointillist technique that controlled the Impressionist experiment. Paul Cézanne, a painter's painter, attempted a geometrical exploration of the world (that left many of his peers indifferent). Paul Gauguin, the banker, found symbolism in Brittany and then exoticism and primitivism in French Polynesia. Henri Rousseau, the self-taught dabbler, becomes the model for the naïve revolution. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_art_of_the_19th_century

19th century Europe

After the defeat of revolutionary France, the other great powers tried to restore the situation which existed before 1789. However, their efforts were unable to stop the spread of revolutionary movements: the middle classes had been deeply influenced by the ideals of democracy of the French revolution, the Industrial Revolution brought important economical and social changes, the lower classes started to be influenced by Socialist, Communist and Anarchistic ideas (especially those summarized by Karl Marx in the Manifesto of the Communist Party), and the preference of the new capitalists became Liberalism (a term which then, politically, meant something different from the modern usage). Further instability came from the formation of several nationalist movements (in Germany, Italy, Poland etc.), seeking national unification and/or liberation from foreign rule. As a result, the period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Even though the revolutionaries were often defeated, most European states had become constitutional (rather than absolute) monarchies by 1871, and Germany and Italy had developed into nation states. The 19th century also saw the British Empire emerge as the world's first global power due in a large part to the Industrial Revolution and victory in the Napoleonic Wars.

The first revolution to occur in Europe after the French Revolution was the Serbian Uprising of 1804, and the Second Serbian Uprising of 1815, which resulted in the proclamation of autonomous Serbia by the Ottoman Empire. The political dynamics of Europe changed three times over the 19th century - once after the Congress of Vienna, and again after the Crimean War. In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, the major powers of Europe managed to produce a peaceful balance of power among the empires after the Napoleonic wars (despite the occurrence of internal revolutionary movements). But the peace would only last until the Ottoman Empire had declined enough to become a target for the others. (See history of the Balkans#Rise of Independence.) This instigated the Crimean War in 1854 and began a tenser period of minor clashes among the globe-spanning empires of Europe that set the stage for the first World War. It changed a third time with the end of the various wars that turned the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Prussia into the Italian and German nation-states, significantly changing the balance of power in Europe. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_history#The_19th_century [Dec 2005]

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