Art has been regarded as one form of expression and representation that requires a lot of creativity. This is especially having in mind that it is supposed to be passing a certain message to those who get a chance to see it. This message may be about occurrences in the past, the present or even the future as the artist sees it. However, it is noteworthy that art has not been spared the dynamism that has come with changing times. In the 19th century, quite a number of artists produced memorable artworks that propelled them to an entirely new level of mortals. It is noteworthy that, as much as those artworks incorporated some realistic part it also incorporated some ideal or rather exaggerated part, testament to the painters’ creativity. The changing expectations, experiences and audiences, encouraged the artists to try out new approaches for representing history. It is noteworthy that quite a large number of paintings of modern events were used as weapons of political propaganda, as well as instruments of social reform and political critique. In quite a large number of instances, the artists distorted truth and used familiar formulas to as to convey favorable associations. Two pieces of art that stand out in their representation are the Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet and Third of May by Francisco Goya.

Gustave Courbet, Burial at Ornans, 1849. Oil on canvas, 315 x 668 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The Burial at Ornans refers to a wonderful painting that incorporated numerous elements aimed at making a statement and disturbed the acceptable norms of France in mid 19th century. At the time of making this piece of art, there were norms that were considered acceptable as far as the way the Parisians wanted their beliefs to be incorporated in the paintings about the countryside was concerned. It is noteworthy that they expected paintings to incorporate order and harmony with nature, as well as make representations pertaining to the catholic piety. It is, therefore, understandable that the painting attracted a lot of criticism as it revolved around an insignificant subject, the burial of an unknown peasant. This, however, was the realistic part of the painting; that it presented an everyday event, where a group of peasants all in black are standing a newly-dug grave before the burial (Rosenblum and Janson, 56). Rather than capturing the actual ceremony’s culminating moment, Courbet chose to concentrate on the moments prior to its taking place thereby making the viewer to feel part of the ceremony.

One issue that is ideal in the piece of art is the concept of the burial ground. It is noteworthy that peasants did not have proper burial grounds like these at this time. In fact, this concept aroused a reaction from the people who criticized the idea that peasants deserved to have formal burial grounds.

One element of realism that comes out clearly is shown by the directions where the viewers are looking. In most cases, classical art is known stage and balance everything pertaining to such occasions. In such cases, the viewers would have no problem knowing where to look as everything would be directed to it. However, this painting depicts a lot of confusion, realism and dynamism. It is noteworthy that real processions look this way, where everyone would be coming up, and gathering around slowly, as well as concentrating on varied directions.

In the painting, a cross is clearly visible above the mourners’ and religious officials’ head. A gentleman in white gloves is holding Christ’s figure on a staff. This, however, looks like an entirely separate entity in the hilltop. It is noteworthy that the occasion depicted here is a religious ceremony, in which case religion is quite crucial here. However, Courbet seeks to undermine the church authority. Church officials are depicted as the beadles, the figures in red who helped at religious functions. When the viewers inspect them closely, the beadles seem to have red cheeks and bulbous noses, which attest to their drunken state. This is obviously extremely offensive to the city dwellers who would not want the church leaders to be less than idealized as it was the case at the time (Rosenblum and Janson, 78). This, therefore, speaks of the real picture or nature of the church officials at that time, something that not many people would have illustrated so openly.

Francisco Goya, Third of May, 1808, 1814-1815. Oil on canvas, Museo del Prado.

Goya set himself apart as far as using his brushwork to stress the realistic rather than the idealistic or classical. In essence, it is not surprising that his painting, christened The Third of May 1808, takes on a relatively realistic approach or depiction. This piece of art incorporates blazing color, as well as broad, fluid brushwork coupled with a dramatic nocturnal light that illuminates the figure of a terrified man just about to be executed(Justus 84). This painting was made in 1814 after Spain was liberated from the French occupation by Napoleon during the Peninsula War. Goya explained that he wanted to use his brush to illustrate the most heroic and notable scenes and actions of the most glorious insurrection against Europe’s tyrant. This piece of work was essentially the commemoration of the arrest and the eventual execution of the people of Madrid on 3rd May 1808 carried out by the Napoleonic army after a civilian revolt.

In the picture, a lantern lights up the dark scene, bringing about a dramatic contrast into the compressed composition. This lantern highlights the kneeling Spaniard who is the picture’s focal point. Realism comes out clearly in the depiction of the church, standing silently in the background, just as it took the backseat as the French invaders exerted cruelty on the Spaniards. It is noteworthy that, the ground in the foreground is stained by the blood of the Spaniards who have already been executed something that speaks of realism at the time of the French invasion.

However, this piece of art incorporates idealism in the form of the man who awaits his execution. The man fearlessly faces his executors, and throws out his arms in a manner to suggest that he is throwing his entire life to the murderers’ faces. He is, therefore, some political martyr, which is ideal in any human society (Justus, 87). Goya, however, has been able to distil the horrors that many people witnessed during the occupation into a breathtaking image depicting the war’s reality.

In conclusion, artworks evolved due to the changing perceptions, expectations and audiences that they targeted. Most of them, however, incorporated a realistic and an idealistic part, with the theme guiding the prominence of one representation. Both of the paintings covered here illustrated the events in the way they occurred or happened, while offering criticism to the accepted social norms. They also showed the things that many people would have shied away from depicting.

Works cited

Rosenblum, Robert and Janson, Horst Woldemar. 19th century art. New York: Abrams, 1984. Print

Justus, Kevin. “Art and Culture II.” Arizona: Tucson, 1992. Print


(Rosenblum and Janson)