In the early nineteenth century Turner and Constable applied Romantic ideals to landscape painting, previously a minor art form despised by the establishment, and made British art of international significance. Turner travelled extensively in Britain, France, Germany and Italy; Constable, in contrast, focussed principally on his native Suffolk. But both developed new approaches to the process of translating intense observation of nature, particularly effects of light, into expressive and revolutionary styles of painting that influenced the whole of the century, even the Impressionists.

Three years before Turner’s death the Pre-Raphaelites burst onto the scene, revolutionaries who wanted to return art to its pre-Renaissance purity, simplicity and moral earnestness. Painting religious, historical and contemporary subjects with the same intense colours and fine detail, they inspired young artists across the country. The second generation of Pre-Raphaelitism culminated in the decorative aestheticism of the late nineteenth century.

Contemporary art boomed as newly rich industrialists patronised contemporary artists rather than collecting old masters. These artists often turned out large numbers of scenes of everyday life, sanitised versions of seventeenth century Dutch landscape and peasant subject pictures. Although the Royal Academy still dominated the artistic establishment, the end of the century saw rival artists’ societies exhibiting a wider range of work.