How did the invention of the camera affect the kinds of paintings that artists did in the nineteenth century?

The 19th century was dominated by technical progress and extensive realignment of society. Liberated from all patrician and clerical ties, artists were free to follow their individual convictions and artistic ideas. Their creations reflected atmospheric landscapes, rapture of colors, real life, every day beauty, romantic and realistic paintings. Their divergent style movements emerged with increasing rapidity and art became a commodity on the open market. The most well-known artists on the 19th Century are: E. Delacroix, Vincent Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, C.D. Friedrich, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet,Adolf van Menzel, Francisco de Goya, Edouard Manet, Claude Manet, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and many others. In the 19th Century, Romanticism introduced subjectivity, intuition and emotion into arts. Set free from the traditional repertoire of imagery, artists realized their own ideas. The revolutions of 1848 in European countries and advancing industrialization worldwide led to the beginning of a new art creation and society, called Realism. The painters of realism broke away from religious, mythological and literary models and they reflected upon everyday reality with a true and honest commitment to nature and beauty. The beginning of a modern art started with the Impressionism, with brilliant colors, loose brush strokes, happy elements and no political overtones. Self-Impressionism marked the beginning of classic modern art when artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Gustav Klimt freed themselves of exact replication and stressed the inherent laws of art. My favorite artist of all times is the Spanish painter called Salvador Dali and his visions full of inexplicable portents and allusions defined the beginning of a new realistic trend, called Surrealism. This amazing artist had a rough time selling his work, being discovered or getting any awards, but to the fact that after the world war one many artists countered ecstatic expressionism and spiritualized abstraction with the depiction of tangible objects. While Salvador Dali was spending hours on a surrealistic painting, Edward Hopper described the loneliness of modern city people in pictures and photographs.


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After the World War two, abstract art dominated the art world. However in the 1960s, new artistic markets as well as Pop art widened the concept of art. But pop art did not last too long, due to the new creation of the contemporary art that included video projectors and digital photographs.

The art of painting lost its predominance in the 1970s with the triumphant entry of the conceptual and “performance art,” and also photographic and video art, whose pioneer was the Fluxus artist Nam June Paik. The photography and other technical innovations led to the development of a new repertoire of imagery and the birth of Fashion avant-garde.

The photo-camera and its discovery closed a chapter in our culture and opened a new gate to a faster and easier technology.  The new media and old paintings are two different conceptions of art. The old paintings have true talents, painters, originality, exquisite and expensive pieces of art. The new media has a very promising future. The practitioners of the non-painting art form want to create a space for experiences that stimulate new ways of observing, feeling, and thinking. Photographers Gerhard Richter and Cindy Sherman created artistic photographs by adding blurring effects, adding mirror reality to their work or dramatized the role of women in the self portraits.

The 21rst Century is the post modern era of the artists that borrow from the old heritage of art and mixed media categories, styles, and techniques as their creativity desires. New photographic companies (like Fuji, Logitech, Kodac, Canon and Nikon) started selling a new creation and improved camera. This is the digital camera and the beginning of a new era.


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The Economist Magazine describes the digital camera as “freed from the constraints of film, digital cameras can assume a bewildering range of new shapes and sizes (such as credit-card sized cameras that slip invisibly into a shirt pocket) and do all kinds of new tricks (such as sepia-toning a photo, or applying other special effects). New services and accessories for digital-camera users are proliferating, from high-street and online print-making services to printers for home and portable use” (p.1). Digital cameras have been created at the best time in our artistic generation. There were no more amazingly talented painters when the digital cameras first started selling. The economy in the world was suffering and people could not afford buying any of the classical paintings.  The New York Times newspaper announced that “nine valuable Impressionist paintings, including a masterpiece by Claude Monet that gave the late 19th-century art movement its name, have been recovered in Corsica five years after they were stolen from the Marmottan Museum in Paris”(p.1). The economy was down and the paintings were too famous to sell, each painting was valued at nearly $20 million and some of the work would not be salable on the open market. There’s never been mentioned of any photographer that sold any work for that amount of money or that has a place in the artistic history, but yet digital cameras have replaced the old painting era and affected the kind of work that the painters from the 19th century created. New generations are focused into photography more and neglect the existence of the classic art.

A famous photographer of this century is Markus Klinko and his work is by far the most known and well-paid out of many photographers, but his work does not have the prestige of a 19th century painter. Markus Klinko’s photographs of celebrities, musician’s album covers and actor’s magazine covers only brought fame in the United States and Europe. Being a photographer is easy nowadays and many people consider themselves photographers. Dong-Woo Lee described that the “digital technology has transformed the nature of photography and its cultural significance” and the digital camera is “as a tool to register personal experiences in physical space as well as a currency for communicating in digital space, has affected people’s sense of physical place and thus has contributed to the ongoing hybridization of physical and digital experiences” (p.2)


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The camera has replaced the old paintings and has brought a new style of art to life. As the technology speeds and produces new artistic objects, people are open to the new wage. These new inventions have been created not to replace the real talents of the 19th century, but to give a chance to the new talents of a new generation. Unfortunately there aren’t very many of those. Photography is a much more expensive hobby or career, even though it is a very easy to produce form of art.

The Economic Magazine noted that “in the early days of digital photography, it was obligatory to own a PC, just as early photographers needed their own darkrooms. But high-street shops now offer to transfer images from the camera’s memory card to a CD from which future prints can be ordered, and many cameras can now plug into printers directly” (p.3). However for a better quality of work, one photographer needs to own a studio with several lights and backdrops, Photoshop program or other digital programs for improving the quality of the photograph, for correcting the lighting, for creating the flawless skin of the model or for adding their watermark on their work. All these expenses could help to create an amazing photograph, but the photograph will not become a memorable piece of art in our history.

In the past decades, a large variety of styles and techniques have developed. Contemporary artists have no limits, whether in style, material or themes. However the painting has not completely disappeared. Artists like Francis Bacon and Richter would not or could not let go despite all anti-painting trends.


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash



Works Cited

“Digital Cameras Zoom in;” The Economist Mar 13 2004: 16-S21. ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2011 <>.


Dong-Hoo, Lee , “Digital Cameras, Personal Photography and the Reconfiguration of Spatial Experiences.” Information Society 26.4 (2010): 266-275. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.


Riding, Alan. “Impressionist Paintings Recovered in Corsica.” The New York Times,  Section C,  page 33,  (1990).



Catalina Magee

Founder / Owner of Trend Prive Magazine. Romanian-born American, "seasoned" in Italy, "cooked" in Germany and currently serving in Israel. NCIS Special Agent in Charge EA.

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