Did “kitsch” as we understand it today — ingratiating, death-denying sentimentality and tendentiousness — exist in the late 19th century?
Sure. It was born then. In art, it went by names like Bouguereau, Cabanel, and Gerome. Paintings by these slick purveyors of the etiolated academic tradition had lost almost all connection with modern reality. Their art pandered to fantasists and revanchists — the complacently rich.