Religion and Spirituality
Science and Technology
Art, Literature and Music
Daily Life
Key Personalities

Painting, Sculpture and the Graphic Arts

Art movements of the Victorian era include Classicism, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism. Classicism and Neoclassicism, were based on the artistic principles of Greek and Roman antiquity. Classicism was viewed as the opposite of Romanticism, a style popularized in the late 18th century through mid-19th century, which focused on spontaneous expression of emotion over reason. Paintings of the Romantic school often depicted dramatic events in brilliant color, as epitomized in Eugene Delacroix's renowned Liberty Leading the People. Impressionism, a school of painting that developed in the late 19th century, was characterized by transitory visual expressions that focused on the changing effects of light and color. Impressionist painters include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pisarro. Reacting to the limitations of Impressionism, painters such as Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin developed a style which was later categorized as Post-Impressionism.

In the midst of these artistic movements, painters Dante Rossetti and William Holman Hunt formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. The avant-garde artists banded together with the common vision of recapturing the style of painting that preceded Raphael, famed artist of the Italian Renaissance. The brotherhood rejected the conventions of industrialized England, especially the creative principles of art instruction at the Royal Academy. Rather, the artists focused on painting directly from nature, thereby producing colorful, detailed, and almost photographic representations. The painters sought to transform Realism with typological symbolism, by drawing on the poetry and literature of William Shakespeare and their own contemporaries. John William Waterhouse was among the most prominent pre-Raphaelite artists.

Literature and Poetry

The Victorian era ushered in great literary and poetic works from writers such as George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, William Butler Yeats, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry James in England. At the same time, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Mark Twain published their masterpieces in the Americas. Aestheticism, a movement emphasizing artistic values over social or moral themes and popularized by Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire, became a notable force in literature of the time. Baudelaire's work also exemplified the Decadence Movement in France, which focused on the autonomy of art, the rejection of middle-class values, and unconventional and morbid experiences.


The "music hall" in Victorian England had its origins in entertainment provided in saloons of public houses in the 1830s. These venues replaced earlier semi-rural amusements provided at traditional fairs and suburban pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall Gardens and the Cremorne Gardens. These latter became squeezed out by urban development and lost their former popularity. The saloon was a room where for an admission fee or a higher price at the bar, singing, dancing, drama or comedy was performed. By the middle years of the 19th century, the first purpose-built music halls were being built in London. The halls created a demand for new and catchy popular songs that could no longer be met from the traditional folk song repertoire. Professional songwriters were enlisted to fill the gap.

The musical forms most associated with music hall evolved from traditional folk song, becoming by the 1850s a distinct musical style. Subject matter became more contemporary and humorous, and accompaniment was provided by larger house-orchestras as increasing affluence gave the lower classes more access to commercial entertainment and to a wider range of musical instruments, including the piano. The consequent change in musical taste from traditional to more professional forms of entertainment arose in response to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of previously rural populations during the industrial revolution. The newly created urban communities, cut off from their cultural roots, required new and readily accessible forms of entertainment.

The emergence of a distinct music hall style can be credited to a fusion of musical influences. Music hall songs needed to gain and hold the attention of an often jaded and unruly urban audience. In America from the 1840s, Stephen Foster had reinvigorated folk song with the admixture of Negro spiritual to produce a new and vibrant form of popular song. Songs like "Golden Slippers" and "The Old Folks at Home" spread round the globe, taking with them the idiom and appurtenances of the minstrel song. Other influences on the rapidly-developing music hall idiom were Irish and European music, particularly the jig, polka, and waltz. By the 1870s the songs had cut themselves free from their folk music roots, and particular songs also started to become associated with particular singers, often with exclusive contracts with the songwriter, just as many pop songs are today.