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European Paintings

The social, political, and philosophic history of Western culture is summed up in painting, beginning with the Northern and Italian Renaissance and proceeding onward. European courts relied on tapestry as their primary propaganda device through the first half of the 1700s; then, painting became the most important medium.

During the Baroque period, Louis XIV fashioned France into a tastemaker for European art. To the north, the Dutch Golden Age produced small paintings for domestic spaces of a burgeoning merchant class.

In the Rococo and Neoclassic periods, an academic approach prevailed. Large history paintings were the most treasured, and the most difficult to sell. There were also genre paintings, showing scenes of ordinary life; still life paintings; and animal paintings.

By the 19th century, art and political movements had become conflated. No artist lacked a social agenda. In the 1900s, paintings quit pretending to be three-dimensional worlds, and became simply paintings with line, color, and geometry. Later, abstract expressionists caused painting to leap off the canvas into the viewer’s world.

Quick Facts

  • In July 1998, Sotheby’s London sold a small painting to New York art dealer Richard Feigen for £12,075. Feigen discovered that the panel, attributed to Zanobi Strozzi, is actually part of an alter piece by Renaissance master Fra Angelico, worth approximately $5 million
  • In the 1980s, wealthy Japanese businessmen bought a large number of Impressionist paintings. Many of the works were of inferior quality, saleable at a high price because of the economic “bubble"
  • Most of the major French Impressionist exhibition paintings are now in museum collections. A rare work in private hands, Édouard Manet's "Le Printemps," 1881, was bought by the Getty Museum through Christie’s New York in 2014 for $65 million

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