Certainly, before the creation of photography the canvas was the only medium to record social functions, and to preserve the physical appearance of prominent and historical figures, such as those by the English painter Philip Augustus Barnard, who created portraits and miniatures of the upper class.
Another group, the Society of Painters in Water Colours, recorded landscapes with this newer medium. However, in the nineteenth century in France, the Impressionists began to record the social functions of all levels of society, rather than merely that of the elite. Auguste Renoir was known for portraying many of his personal friends, as for instance, in his painting Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette in which some of his models were personal friends. Seated at the table Georges Riviere and the painter Frankkk-Lamy and Goenuette, with the seamstress sister Estelle and Jeanne. Other artists, Gervex, Cordy, Lestringuez and Lhote are among the dancers. Many of the other Impressionists recorded events in their personal lives; Claude Monet even painted his wife and the changes as she was dying!
Other artists of this period such as Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec used their paintings to not only illustrate life, but to support their view of the world. Van Gogh's style is almost literary, telling a story of people and landscapes. Very telling is his painting Four Peasants at a Meal of which van Gogh wrote,
"I think that the picture of the peasants eating potatoes that I painted in Nuenen is the best of all my work."
In fact, van Gogh recorded his social criticism and analysis of the times, formulating a type of manifesto with his accompanying writing to his paintings of the poor that he attempted to help.
Having made the acquaintance of van Gogh and shown his paintings with this artist, Toulouse Lautrec recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris in Montmarte. When the Moulin Rouge opened, Lautrec was commisioned to paint posters for this boite de nuit. So, Lautrec may be viewed as one of the first advertising illustrators.