Classical civilisation had provided many themes for painters since the Renaissance, and this was particularly spurred on during the 19th Century by the discovery of classical sites such as Pompeii, and the vast amounts of classical antiques brought back in triumph to the great museums of Britain and France.
In England, the greatest of the Victorian Classicist painters (called by some 'the Olympians') were Lord Leighton, E. J. Poynter and Alma Tadema. Leighton and Poynter were both long-serving Presidents of the Royal Academy, and had great standing and influence, and Alma Tadema was one of the three or four most successful of all the Victorian painters. Both Leighton and Poynter produced epic scenes of battle, Greek and Roman gods and heroes. Alma Tadema showed more intimate daily-life scenes from Egypt, Greece and Rome.
J. W. Waterhouse and later Herbert J. Draper made more enigmatic, in some cases symbolist, pictures. G. F. Watts, an important artist influenced by no fashion, had always painted heroic classical figures in a sculptural, monumental style. Albert Moore represents the aesthetic movement's Classicist, and Edward Coley Burne-Jones a uniting of Pre-Raphaelite, Classicist and aesthetic themes.
The enormous success of these artists gave rise to a whole movement of fellow-travellers, followers and imitators. They include Val Prinsep, William Blake Richmond, Evelyn de Morgan, Robert Fowler, and a whole sub-movement following Alma Tadema, including J. W. Godward, the Hon. John Collier and T. R. Spence. Mention can also be made of the American painter Elihu Vedder.
Top of page