The term is also used of the many architects of the 19th and early 20th centuries who designed buildings in a variety of styles according to the wishes of their clients, or their own. The styles were typically revivalist, and each building might be mostly or entirely consistent within the style selected, or itself an eclectic mixture. Gothic Revival architecture, especially in churches, was most likely to strive for a relatively "pure" revival style from a particular medieval period and region, while other revived styles such as Neoclassical, Baroque, Palazzo style, Jacobethan, Romanesque and many others were likely to be treated more freely.
Eclecticism came into practice during the late 19th century, as architects sought after a style that would allow them to retain previous historic precedent, but create unseen designs. From a complete catalogue of past styles, the ability to mix and combine styles allowed for more expressive freedom and provided an endless source of inspiration. Whilst other design professionals (referred to as 'revivalists') aimed to meticulously imitate past styles, Eclecticism differed, as the main driving force was creation, not nostalgia and there was a desire for the designs to be original.
Eclectic architecture first appeared across continental Europe in various countries such as France (Beaux-Arts architecture), England (Victorian architecture) and Germany (Gründerzeit), in response to the growing push amongst architects to have more expressive freedom over their work.
The École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, considered to be one of the first professional architectural schools, trained students in a rigorous and academic manner, equipping them with skills and professional prestige. Teachers at the École were some of the leading architects in France, and this new method of teaching was so successful, that it attracted students from across the globe. Many of the graduates went on to become pioneers of the movement, and used their beaux-arts training as a foundation for new eclectic designs.
Whilst the practise of this style of architecture was widespread (and could be seen in many of the town halls constructed at the time), eclecticism in Europe did not achieve the same level of enthusiasm that was seen in America—as it was assumed that the presence of old, authentic architecture, reduced the appeal of historical imitation in new buildings.