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History Paintings

For hundreds of years, history painting was the highest and most exalted form of painting. It usually served to carry the message of the state. Jacques-Louis David made a history painting of "The Coronation of Napoleon," 1807, to preserve the moment as a historic event.

Major European capitals each had an academy of the arts that provided the training in what is termed the “academic” tradition. History painting was the highest of the categories recognized by the academies. The lesser categories included portraiture, genre scenes, and still life.

History paintings required extraordinary expertise in planning and refining the image, as well as in painting the image with the highest degree of finish possible. The figures were idealized, consistent with precedents set by the Greeks and Romans, and refined from the Italian Renaissance to the then-present day. History paintings were enormous, and could only be purchased by the state or by a person with exceptional wealth.

Today, artists still paint generally historic subject matter. An American painter might show a scene of cowboys in the old American West, for example. Such paintings are widely available.


Quick Facts

  • History paintings almost never come to auction, but can be seen at the major museums, such as the Louvre, the National Gallery (either the American gallery in Washington, or the English in London), and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien in Vienna
  • In 2002, Sotheby’s London sold "The Massacre of the Innocents," 1611, by Peter Paul Rubens, for £49.5 million
  • History painting can draw on mythology, such as "The Apotheosis of Homer," 1827, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Recommended Items at Auction

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ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR BY BIEDERMAN CURTISS P-1 HAWK
Jun 29, 10:00 AM EDT
ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR BY BIEDERMAN CURTISS P-1 HAWK
by Milestone Auctions
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
CIVIL WAR ARTIST A. C. REDWOOD REV WAR WATERCOLOR
Jun 29, 10:00 AM EDT
CIVIL WAR ARTIST A. C. REDWOOD REV WAR WATERCOLOR
by Milestone Auctions
Est: $1,000- $2,000
$5000 Bids
ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR BY BIEDERMAN MARTIN B-10 WW2
Jun 29, 10:00 AM EDT
ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR BY BIEDERMAN MARTIN B-10 WW2
by Milestone Auctions
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids
Bavarian officers of the Max Joseph Era on Manoeuvre, circa 1824
Jul 09, 12:00 PM CEST
Bavarian officers of the Max Joseph Era on Manoeuvre, circa 1824
by Hermann Historica GmbH
Est: €0- €0
€6000 Bids
Karl Grünwedel - a German painting of a 1824 grenadier, 1852
Jul 09, 12:00 PM CEST
Karl Grünwedel - a German painting of a 1824 grenadier, 1852
by Hermann Historica GmbH
Est: €0- €0
€600 Bids
RUSSIAN SOVIET CHARCOAL PAINTING BY SEMION PAVLOV
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
RUSSIAN SOVIET CHARCOAL PAINTING BY SEMION PAVLOV
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
A N. DOLGORUKOV SOVIET WWII ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
A N. DOLGORUKOV SOVIET WWII ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
A N. DOLGORUKOV SOVIET WWII ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
A N. DOLGORUKOV SOVIET WWII ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
WWII ARMENIAN SOVIET ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
WWII ARMENIAN SOVIET ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
WWII ARMENIAN SOVIET ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
Jun 22, 10:00 AM EDT
WWII ARMENIAN SOVIET ILLUSTRATION PAINTING
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$500 Bids
Alexandre Victoire de Lassus - Mourning for Napoleon, dated 1831
Jul 09, 12:00 PM CEST
Alexandre Victoire de Lassus - Mourning for Napoleon, dated 1831
by Hermann Historica GmbH
Est: €0- €0
€4800 Bids
[FOLK ART PAINTING] (American, 20th century). A Group of Si...
Jun 26, 10:00 AM CDT
[FOLK ART PAINTING] (American, 20th century). A Group of Si...
by Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.
Est: $400- $600
$2000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell History Paintings


Hermann Historica GmbH

Hermann Historica GmbH

Milestone Auctions

Milestone Auctions

Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.

Potter & Potter Auctions Inc.