The Arts and Life in Europe

by Maggie O'Rourke


Music: General Style

The style of 18th century music was largely dictated and dominated by the work of Bach and Handel, as discussed below. As the two were both interested in Italian music, they both incorporated elements of it into their work and therefore shaped the style of the century to be more Italian.

Simultaneously, however, Germany was forging its own tradition of music. Cantatas and other more chorale-based arrangements became popular. This arguably reflected German society's love of order, in that chorales are both complex and neatly organized— interesting to listen to but not overly thrilling or suspenseful.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most influential composers of this time, was born on March 21, 1685 in Thüringen, Austria. Some of his works include the Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations, and the easily-identifiable Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (see file below).


Toccata And Fugue In D Minor, BWV 569 by sterl0601

George Frederick Handel

George Frederick Handel, another massive composer during this time, was born on February 23, 1685 in Halle, Germany. Three of his works include the famous operas and oratios Messiah (hear one scene from it below), Solomon, and Rinaldo.
Handel: Messiah, Ev'ry valley shall be exhalted (Sir Colin Davis, Mark Padmore, LSO)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, another prolific and prodigious composer, was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. Some of his many works include the two operas The Marriage of Figaro and Die Zauberflöte (or The Magic Flute, see below), as well as the famous Linz symphony.
Beginning of 'Die Zauberflöte'

Art: Baroque Style

Baroque-style artworks were supposed to be realistic and clearly show innocence and religion being upheld according to Catholic church. Though some artists followed this guideline, others turned towards naturalism, showing things that were more emotionally intense but often not discussing God or religion directly.

Art: Rococo Style

Rococo- style artworks were more carefree, personal, sometimes erotic compared to those of the Baroque style. The Duke of Orleans, who ruled at the time, was quite hedonistic in that he admired and sought out little but beauty and pleasure. "Art for art's sake" began to truly come about at this time, though the concept of art without an explicit purpose was first introduced in the Baroque era as artists resented the church's demands for clear religious symbolism.

Life of the Peasants

Peasant life was certainly not easy when compared with the grandeur of nobility. They were mostly farmers, though some worked their own land and others were serfs working under landlords. In some peasant communities, a sort of camaraderie developed between serfs in the face of their shared fates. This later facilitated greater change through revolts. Peasants ate coarse meat, cheese, or bread. Fruits and vegetables were a luxury, and high-quality meat was not always available to them. They had few options for entertainment, but those with money could enjoy theatrical performances, attend circus-like fairs, or stroll in beautiful arboretums.
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Works Consulted

  • "The Ten Best Bach Works – a Beginner's List |" James Jolly. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "The J.S. Bach Home Page." The J.S. Bach Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "A Biographical Introduction." N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Handel: His 10 Best Pieces of Music - as Chosen by Classic FM Presenters." Classic FM. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Wolfgang Mozart." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Top Ten Works by Mozart." Sinfini Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Baroque." Baroque. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "18th-Century France Rococo." 18th-Century France: The Rococo and Watteau. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Baroque Composers – Overview, Individual Biographies." Baroque Composers – Overview, Individual Biographies. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • Fragonard, Jean Honore. The Stolen Kiss. Digital image. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • Sterl0601. Toccata and Fugue in D MInor. N.d. Soundcloud. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Elizabeth Aaker." Community among 18th Century French Peasantry. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Types of Food in 18th Century England." Types of Food in 18th Century England. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "UNIT IV: The Old Regime." Mr. Freebird's History Village. Freebird, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Handel: Messiah, Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exhalted (Sir Colin Davis, Mark Padmore, LSO)." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
  • "Beginning of 'Die Zauberfloete'" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

1800's (art styles)

Romanticism (1750-1850)

Romantic artworks rebelled against the Enlightenment's focus on reason and logic by focusing instead on nature, beauty, and emotions. Writers often commented and explored aspects of modern or historical society. The "romantic hero" in writing was often a mysterious, melancholy person who felt like an outsider in society, which was very different from those of previous artistic movements. In painting, artists used bold brush strokes and bright colors to show heavy emotion, action, and beauty in their subjects.

Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbor by J.M.W. Turner (pictured above) is an example of Romantic art. Turner showcased the power and beauty of nature through his bold colors and broad brushstrokes.

Several movements below took place during or in addition to the Romantic movement, which spanned over so many years.

Realism (mid 1800's)

Realism sought to portray the world for what it was, often highlighting its injustice and harsh truths. Many artists of this movement wanted to solve these problems, and tried to facilitate discussions about it through their art. This was the beginning of the modern novel format, including works such as Oliver Twist and Germinal. Dramatist Henrik Ibsen commented on the injustice he saw in society through his plays, which influenced the Western world widely.

The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (pictured above) is a great example of how realist art was used to portray people's struggles. Instead of painting beautiful or fantastical things, he painted simple pictures of a man and boy breaking stones, in plain clothing and a plain scene.

photography (1840's)

New technology allowed photographs to be taken. At first it was used for stiff family portraits, but it soon grew to a greater form of art. Like other mediums, it was used to showcase a variety of things. Some chose to photograph far away places, reflecting more romantic values, while others used photographs as evidence for the plights of war and lower-classes.

Mathew B. Brady took photographs of the American Civil War, one of which is pictured above. He presented vivid records of the brutality of war.

Impressionism (1870's)

Impressionist works gave, as the name implies, only vague impressions of their subjects. It focused less on the details of the work and more on the general sense of it. Painters like Claude Monet would brush strokes of color side by side rather than mixing them, since the human eye would perceive them as mixed. This movement took root in reaction to the invention of photography. It seemed pointless to strive for realism when the same effect could be achieved with a photograph.

Claude Monet's Bridge over a Pond of Water Lillies (pictured above) shows how his lack of mixed colors gave a more blurry image.

post-impressionism (1880-1905)

Artists after the impressionism movement, likewise called post-impressionists, had myriad styles that also strove to give impressions of subjects rather than strict details. Georges Seurat used pointillism to give the impression of people at a lake, while Vincent Van Gogh used broad and contrasting brush strokes to illustrate different scenes and people.

Georges Seurat's painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, done in a pointillist style, is pictured above.

works cited

  • Wikipedia. "Snow Storm." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  • Wikipedia. "The Stone Breakers." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  • Brady, Mathew B. "Ruins of Richmond, VA." Fold3. Fold3, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Claude Monet." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  • Wikipedia. "Georges Seurat." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.



Cubism was a revolutionary style that came about before the first world war. It was characterized by fragments of three-dimensional objects arranged on different angles and planes, warping traditional reality. The style deconstructed the subject of the artwork to the point where it was often difficult to recognize the topic of the art. This was a huge shock to the art world, and helped shape lots of styles in the future.

Above is a piece entitled Figures by Georges Braque, one of the first cubist pioneers. The piece is clearly taking after cubism because of its conflicting planes, shapes, and detailed subjects. Looking at the painting, one can see seemingly infinite shapes and designs within the work, though the artist probably intended to show two people. Its complexity and angularity make it a perfect example of cubism.


Abstract artwork, similar to cubism, was another alternative view of reality. Abstract works were very spare compared to cubist ones, as they were only composed of simple lines, shapes, and colors. The subject of the art was rarely apparent.

Squares with Concentric Circles by Vasily Kandinsky, shown below, clearly shows the essence of abstract art. Its simple but colorful pattern, and its lack of a clear subject, demonstrate what most abstract art pieces strove to be.


During and after WWI, the dada movement took over Paris' art scene. Dada was an anarchist revolt against organized society and civilization. These artworks were often intended to shock, disturb, or otherwise make the viewer uncomfortable, much like the dada beliefs.

Max Ernst's Temptation of St. Anthony is an obvious example of dada-style art. The painting's vulgar, frightening creatures and chaotic atmosphere reflect the ideals of dadaists, and bring about the desired reaction of fear or disgust.


Surrealism was a compilation of styles like cubism and dada. Similarly, surreal artworks often seem strange or unsettling. They specifically strove to show the unconscious mind at work. Artwork sometimes aligned itself with the works of people like Sigmund Freud.

Salvador Dali is one of most famous surreal artists. His Persistence of Memory, featuring several melting clocks, shows the inner-workings of our subconscious. Specifically, it discusses how we retain memories.


Painters weren't the only ones to reject traditional art forms. Architects from the Bauhaus school in Germany blended science and technology with their designs, revolutionizing the field. Bauhaus designers also believed that a building's function determined its form, and so used few materials for the purpose of aesthetic design.

Frank Lloyd Wright used Bauhaus values to construct his buildings. One of his most famous constructions, entitled Fallingwater, uses the natural waterfall to enhance the building's design and function. The result is a completely unique and almost organic design that looks sleek, modern, and simple.


Radios made music more accessible to the general public, and gave smaller artists greater opportunities to spread their sound. Specifically, jazz dominated the music scene of the 1920's. African American musicians combined western harmonies, African rhythms, and improvised melodies to create incredibly popular but undeniably original music. The style spread not only throughout America, but to Europe as well. This time is often referred to as the 'Jazz Age'.

One talented jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was extremely popular, and is still well known today.

Miles Davis & John Coltrane Solo