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19th Century Art Movements, Styles & Examples


Samantha has a Master’s degree in Art History with an emphasis in Museum Studies from the University of Denver. She has seven years of experience working as an academic tutor specializing in Art History and Writing.

Learn about 19th-century art movements. Explore definitions and examples of romanticism, impressionism, realism, and other significant art movements of the period. Updated: 03/24/2023

19th Century Art Movements

When considering what an art movement is, it is not always clear what defines or constitutes a movement. Generally, the concept of art movements is a westernized notion within art history that is defined by a specific period of time or a certain style or theme that span across a few decades, but some outliers span centuries. Western art history presents a wide variety of art movements, and many significant movements occurred during the 19th century.

Historical Context

Across Europe and North America, the 19th century was a period of profound and rapid change. The century was coined the "age of the machine" due to the birth of modern science and technology, leading to a monumental Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution impacted almost every aspect of life, resulting in swift social changes and hasty urbanization.

Communication and transportation across Europe and North America increased greatly, thus allowing new artistic influences and ideas to spread quickly. The 19th century was a period of notable change in art as styles and preferences. Movements seemingly transitioned from one extreme to another, which reflected the ever-changing attitudes of society.

Art Movements of the 19th Century

Unlike in the previous century, when artists mainly produced works for patrons or institutions, artists began to explore their own interests and creativity and produced art for their own benefit. These artistic freedoms allowed the art movements of the 19th century to transition briskly from one style to another. The bulleted list outlines some of the most prominent art movements of the 19th century in western art history.

  • Romanticism (1780-1830) challenged the ideals of the Enlightenment, in order to emphasize emotions (as opposed to order and reason) and individual imagination.
  • Realism (1840s-1880s) is often regarded as the first movement of Modernity, rejected traditional art, and extended the conceptions of what constituted as art.
  • Impressionism (1862-1892) is one of the most important movements of the century, and artists painted a specific moment in time.
  • Symbolism (1880-1910) officially marked the end of traditional representations in art as artists suggested meaning through symbols, form, shape, line, and color.
  • Neoclassicism (1750-1850) artists were influenced by the recent archeological discoveries in Rome and aimed to instill Classical Greco-Roman ideals into their work.
  • Post-Impressionism (1880s-1914) comprises a wide range of artistic styles but commonly responds to the opticality of the Impressionism movement.
  • Art Nouveau (1890-1905) aimed at modernizing design and found popularity amongst the decorative and graphic arts.

No one movement of the 19th century was like the previous. Over the course of roughly 100 years, art shifted with the preferences and attitudes of its time. Thus, resulting in art movements that reflected specific points and tastes of the time.

Romanticism in the 19th Century

The Romanticism movement (1780-1830) truly emphasized the visual conveyance of emotion as an artistic reaction to the ideals of the Enlightenment. It focused on how senses and emotions were equally important as reason and order to experience and understand the world. It also was closely tied to the rise of newly founded nationalism across Europe and the United States and offered visual imagery that incited national pride and identity.

Casper David Friedrich, After the Storm, 1817

A ruined ship about to sink is battered by storm waves, near rocks, with a cloudy sky

Romanticism celebrated the artist's individual creativity and sensitivity as many artists began to practice "plein air" painting (painting outdoors), turning their attention to subjects of nature, current events, local folklore, and landscapes. Well-known Romantic artists, such as Francisco Goya, Casper David Friedrich, Théodore Géricault, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, adopted looser and less precise brushstrokes to help evoke emotion, mood, and feeling through widely varied subject matters. Some of the best-known works from the Romanticism movement are The Third of May 1808 (1814) by Francisco Goya, La Grande Odalisque (1814) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (c. 1818) by Caspar David Friedrich.

Realism: 19th Century Art Movement

The Realism movement (1840s-1880s) is commonly known as the first artistic movement of Modernity. Spreading from Europe to the Americas, Realism rejected traditional forms and notions of art and expanded upon what constituted as art. Working within the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Realist artists moved away from the idealistic imagery of traditional art and emphasized real-life events that often highlighted the "ugly" margins of society.

A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet 1849 to 1850

A somber crowd gathers around a burial hole while a priest reads from a book

Artists, such as Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, Jean- François Millet, Pelegrín Clavé, and James Whistler, brought everyday life into their works. Despite variations in style from artist to artist, Realism commonly rejected traditional techniques of perspective and commonly opted for earthy, dark color palettes. Their rejection of traditional ideals and depictions of real life created an early presentation of Modernity. Some of the best-known works of Realism are A Burial at Ornans (1849-50) by Gustave Courbet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1862-1863) by Édouard Manet, and Symphony in White, no. 1 (1861-62) by James Whistler.

Impressionism Movement

The Impressionism movement (1862-1892) is often regarded as one of the most prominent movements of the 19th century. Across Europe and the Americas, Impressionism centered around capturing a fleeting moment in time, often in "plein air" (outdoors). The Impressionists focused on the world as they saw it and shifted art away from depictions of idealizations, history, mythology, and the lives of great leaders. Some of the most famous pieces from the movement are Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet, In a Park (1874) by Berthe Morisot, Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) by Gustave Caillebotte, and Girl with a Hoop (1885) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet 1875

A woman with a parasol stands on a grassy hill in a dress with the wind blowing the fabric

There are many well-known Impressionists, such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Joaquín Clausell, John Russell, and Édouard Manet. While all vaguely similar in style, these artists sought to capture the effects of light through looser and lighter brushstrokes. The Impressionists truly marked the development of Modern Art and the philosophy associated with the avant-garde (art that is innovative and explorative in nature).

Symbolism in 19th-Century Art

The Symbolism movement (1880-1910) marked a dramatic shift in the art world, essentially "ending" traditional representations and rather a preference for the avant-garde. Emphasis was given to the paint's surface, and artists expressed thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas through symbols, forms, colors, lines, and shapes. Symbolism became the forefront of modernity.

Jupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau in 1895

A man sits on a multitiered throne holding a half-clothed woman surrounded by columns

Artists of the movement firmly believed that they could create art for "art's sake" and rejected its utilitarian purposes. Paul Gaugin, Edvard Munch, Gustave Moreau, James Whistler, and Odilon Redon were key figures of the movement and promoted the idea that art did not have to reflect or relate to everyday life. Some of the most well-known pieces created in the Symbolism movement were Jupiter and Semele (1895) by Gustave Moreau, Death and the Masks (1897) by James Ensor, and The Dance of Life (1899-1900) by Edvard Munch.

Neoclassicism in the 19th Century

The Neoclassicism movement (1750-1850) aimed to emulate the ideals and standards of Classical Greek and Roman art in Europe and the Americas. Much of the movement's origin sparked as a reaction to the previous Rococo movement (1702-1780) that emphasized vanity, court culture, and exuberance. Neoclassicism rejected many of these ideals and instead returned to the study of reason, order, science, math, anatomy, and history.

The Arc de Triomphe c. 1806-1836 designed by Jean Chalgrin

A rectangular, triumphal arch with two large, rounded arches and two smaller is decorated with sculptural relief

Neoclassicist artists firmly believed that art should contain a moral message, instill ideal virtues, and transform and enlighten society. Thus, Neoclassicism incorporated subject matter from Antiquity and can be characterized by symmetry, simplicity, somber colors, and strong lines. Artists, such as Jacques-Louis David, Angelica Kauffman, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Benjamin West, Francesco Boffo, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, created well-known Neoclassical works during the movement. Some of the most famous Neoclassical pieces of the 19th century are Achilles Receiving the Ambassadors of Agamemnon(1801) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Monticello (1772-1809) by Thomas Jefferson, and the Arc de Triomphe (1806-1836) by Jean Chalgrin.


The Post-Impressionism movement (1880s-1914) is stylistically varied but revolves around the artist's reaction to the previous Impressionism movement (1862-1892) and their individual vision. Post-Impressionism ushered in the new concept of art being a window into the artist's soul and mind. This avant-garde approach to art had a profound impact on the art world and its future.

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh c. 1889

Blue swirls create a night sky with a crescent moon, stars, and a village below with a tall tree in the foreground

Although there was a wide variety of artistic styles during the movement, most Post-Impressionists utilized abstract forms, lines, and patterns within their works. Artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Cézanne, were a few key artists of the movement. Some of the most well-known artworks are Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886) by Georges Seurat, Vision After the Sermon (1888) by Paul Gauguin, and Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh.

Art Nouveau Movement

The Art Nouveau movement (1890-1905) was a popular movement in Europe and the United States that aimed to modernize design. Gaining popularity within architecture, graphic, and decorative arts, it is sometimes also referred to as the "Jugendstil" or "Glasgow Style." Design reform emerged with the previous Arts and Crafts movement (1850s-1920s) and took off instantaneously as people sought to escape the eclectic, historical styles of the Victorian Era (1837-1901).

The Tassel House Stairway by Victor Horta c. 1892-1893

Interior image of a house featuring a stairway with a thin post, curving railing, and organic decorative curves on the wall

Art Nouveau artists, such as Gustav Klimt, Victor Horta, Aubrey Beardsley, Hector Guimard, Ethel Reed, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Alice Russell Glenny, and Alphonse Mucha, found inspiration within organic forms, geometric shapes, botany, and flowing lines. Often, these artists put emphasis on linear contours over color. Some of the most well-known artworks from the movement are La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge (1891) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Peacock Skirt (1894) by Aubrey Beardsley, and The Budapest Museum of Applied Arts (1893-1896) by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What type of art was popular in the 19th century?

In the Western art world, the 19th century brought many different styles, attitudes, and preferences toward art. Despite each movement differing visually from one another, one main overarching theme was visually conveying the artist's individual reaction to the changing world around them.

What art movements were in the 19th century?

Many significant art movements across the Western art world existed throughout the 19th century. Some of the most well-known movements include Romanticism, Realism, Symbolism, Neoclassicism, Impressionism, Art Nouveau, and Post-Impressionism.

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