Creating National History and Myths

Great Britain

Although many felt like this, Great Britain was the only real "winner" of the Napoleonic wars. Her ships ruled the sea and her industry the world market. In sharp contrast to many continental nations, who still had to form nation states and furnish them with national identities, British historical painters show little enthusiasm for the Middle Ages or even earlier epochs. They seem fully occupied reproducing the great victories of recent times. happened sufficiently exotic wars with heroic battles in the broad expanse of the Empire, that there was not much reason reason to look in times long passed by.

The reverse of the medal was that no other country got to feel the negative consequences of the industrial revolution as early and as radically like Great Britain. Mass poverty, social polarization, environmental degradation and the decline of traditional values became therefore here at first key issues. And it's definitely no coincidence that the very modern Britain engendered the Pre-Raphaelites with all their anti-modern medieval enthusiasm. While the new nations on the continent were mainly searching the past for national greatness, it became at first in Britain a romantic ideal, a vanishing point.

Alma-Tadema, Lawrence (1836-1912)

Collier, John (1850-1934)

Millais, Sir John Everett (1829 -1896)


Sweden's heyday was relatively short, from her independence from Denmark in the 16th Century until her wars as a major European power under Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII. In the 19th century Sweden lost first Finland and later Norway which emphasized only the loss of her former position as a great power. Domestic politics were dominated by the conflicts between liberals and conservatives, and then the onset of the industrial revolution.

Many history paintings focus therefore on the great the warrior-kings of the past, the Reformation, the great freedom fighters Sten Sture and Gustav Vasa, and at last increasingly on subjects from Nordic mythology.

Hellqvist, Carl Gustaf (1851-1890)

Winge, Mårten Eskil (1825-1896)