19th century / around 1900

The 19th century brought fundamental changes to sculpture. Especially the rejection of naturalistic representation, which paved the way for the modern sculpture of the 20th century, was of great importance. The important art epochs of the 19th century were Classicism, Impressionism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau.

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19th Century / around 1900

The 19th Century in Sculpture - Tradition and Vision

The 19th century saw significant advances in sculpture, just as it did in painting. The development of sculpture in the 19th century is particularly interesting because, at the beginning of the century, there was a partial return to very traditional forms of design from antiquity. However, towards the end, visionary ideas prevailed, which consequently set the course for the modern sculpture of the 20th century. The most important art epochs of this period are Classicism, Impressionism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau. Some of these 19th-century styles even stretched into the 20th century.

Return to Antiquity: Classicism

In the second half of the 18th century, Classicism replaced Baroque and Rococo. However, its influence continued far into the 19th century. The sculptors of Classicism had liberated themselves from the very expressive and emotional design of the preceding epochs. Although they continued to orientate themselves on the real forms in the depiction of the figures, they worked somewhat less playfully and opulently and depicted the figures more objectively. A clear recourse to the millennia-old stylistics of antiquity was recognisable in this somewhat reduced style.

The Dawn of a New Mode of Representation: Impressionism

From around the middle of the 19th century, Impressionism was the first style to break with some of the fundamental and hitherto universally valid rules of painting and sculpture. The essence of Impressionism consisted of the idea that reality was no longer to be depicted as perfectly as possible in the work of art. Rather, artists strove to incorporate their subjective and fleeting impressions of the moment into their works. Today, Impressionism is mainly perceived as a phenomenon of painting, but there were also discernible changes in sculpture during this artistic epoch of the 19th century. Artists began to use other materials, such as wax, in addition to the classic marble. Moreover, they no longer worked their sculptures to perfection down to the very last detail and even allowed traces of work to peak through. Impressionism significantly changed not only the art of the 19th century but also that of the following decades and provided decisive impulses for many styles of modernism.

A Touch of Modernism: Symbolism and Art Nouveau

Alongside Impressionism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau are among the influential art epochs of the 19th century. Both styles developed around the turn of the century and shared the fundamental rejection of naturalism and realism in art. However, the artists of Symbolism and Art Nouveau had different emphases in their concepts and modes of representation. For the Symbolists, art did not serve to depict reality but to represent content with the help of allegories and metaphors. Their motifs did not originate from reality but from the artists' imagination. In contrast, the essential element to which the artists of Art Nouveau referred was nature. But they, too, avoided a realistic depiction and often used only a few set pieces. The stylistic idiom was inspired by natural forms and structures; their typical features were floral ornaments, flowing lines and geometric shapes.