19th Century Arts: Romanticism, Music, and Art

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  • 0:02 19th Century Arts
  • 0:40 Literature
  • 2:31 Music
  • 3:59 Art
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the arts and popular culture of the 19th century, from the Romanticist trends in Western literature to the growing concert halls and changes in the art world.

19th Century Arts

What's your favorite music artist right now? Is it the same musician, band, or rapper as it was a few months ago? Likely that answer has changed over time for you, as it does from time to time for pop culture at large. Artists' popularity changes according to a multitude of factors, from current events to trends within the artistic world itself. Despite the tastes of the time being far different than today, 19th-century popular culture was no different. From books to the arts to music, the 19th century experienced significant shifts both in what forms of pop culture were popular and in how they were enjoyed.


In Western literature, the early 19th century was dominated by Romanticism. Romanticism was a trend in poetry and literature that championed human emotions and the examination of the human heart to try to best understand life's truths. The Romantic Movement occurred because some felt the ideals of the Enlightenment had taken humanity and human agency out of mankind's view of the universe.

Romanticists felt regardless of mankind's greater and growing understanding of the basic, mathematical laws that govern the universe, the most important truths for humans still remain in what we can learn from the analysis of human emotions and the human experience. Nature and the natural world were important, but only insofar as how humans interacted, appreciated, and were shaped by nature. As one might suspect, poetry was an important part of the Romanticist movement, and poets like Lord Byron and William Wordsworth became exceedingly popular in the early 19th century.

In the second half of the 19th century, literature went in several different directions. Some writers chose to continue writing upon Romantic themes, while others reacted against it. Indeed, many of these later writers chose to write on themes more central to the plight of the everyday person. In the midst of the extreme social change that occurred in the period as most of the world rapidly industrialized, writers like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote books concerning conditions in working class neighborhoods and in factories, and about other developing social dilemmas.

These writers are generally classified as Realists, though exactly who is a Romanticist and where Romanticism ends and Realism begins are still topics of significant debate. For example, some scholars consider Dostoevsky a realist, while others consider him a Romanticist or post-Romanticist.


The 19th century also saw a marked shift in both style and the way music was enjoyed. Prior to the 19th century, musicians had largely made a living through the patronage of wealthy, aristocratic families who could afford to pay for the musician to do nothing but create music and perform for the family's pleasure. However, as the Industrial Revolution swept across Europe, it created a middle class with disposable income that was larger than Europe had ever seen before. As a result, the audience base for music grew beyond the typical aristocratic circles, and composers began filling large concert halls and auditoriums.

In time, 19th-century composers, like Beethoven, began to compose and craft certain musical pieces specifically to be played in these large venues. The movement led to composers achieving celebrity status across the continent, as classical music grew more and more popular across a wider portion of the population.

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