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Romanticism Collage

Romanticism

Started: c.1780
Ended: 1830
Romanticism Timeline
If by romanticism one means the free manifestation of my personal impulses, distancing myself from the rules set in schools, and my distaste for the recipes of the academy, I must confess that not only am I a romantic, I was from the age of 15.
Eugène Delacroix Signature

Summary of Romanticism

At the end of the 18th century and well into the 19th, Romanticism quickly spread throughout Europe and the United States to challenge the rational ideal held so tightly during the Enlightenment. The artists emphasized that sense and emotions - not simply reason and order - were equally important means of understanding and experiencing the world. Romanticism celebrated the individual imagination and intuition in the enduring search for individual rights and liberty. Its ideals of the creative, subjective powers of the artist fueled avant-garde movements well into the 20th century.

Romanticist practitioners found their voices across all genres, including literature, music, art, and architecture. Reacting against the sober style of Neoclassicism preferred by most countries' academies, the far reaching international movement valued originality, inspiration, and imagination, thus promoting a variety of styles within the movement. Additionally, in an effort to stem the tide of increasing industrialization, many of the Romanticists emphasized the individual's connection to nature and an idealized past.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • In part spurred by the idealism of the French Revolution, Romanticism embraced the struggles for freedom and equality and the promotion of justice. Painters began using current events and atrocities to shed light on injustices in dramatic compositions that rivaled the more staid Neoclassical history paintings accepted by national academies.
  • Romanticism embraced individuality and subjectivity to counteract the excessive insistence on logical thought. Artists began exploring various emotional and psychological states as well as moods. The preoccupation with the hero and the genius translated to new views of the artist as a brilliant creator who was unburdened by academic dictate and tastes. As the French poet Charles Baudelaire described it, "Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling."
  • In many countries, Romantic painters turned their attention to nature and plein air painting, or painting out of doors. Works based on close observation of the landscape as well as the sky and atmosphere elevated landscape painting to a new, more respectful level. While some artists emphasized humans at one with and a part of nature, others portrayed nature's power and unpredictability, evoking a feeling of the sublime - awe mixed with terror - in the viewer.
  • Romanticism was closely bound up with the emergence of newly found nationalism that swept many countries after the American Revolution. Emphasizing local folklore, traditions, and landscapes, Romanticists provided the visual imagery that further spurred national identity and pride. Romantic painters combined the ideal with the particular, imbuing their paintings with a call to spiritual renewal that would usher in an age of freedom and liberties not yet seen.

Overview of Romanticism

Detail of <i>The Ancient of Days</i> (1794), designed by William Blake

When he was four years old, William Blake had a vision of "the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty!" Later, expressed in his poetry and visual art, his prophetic visions and belief in the "real and eternal world" of the imagination resulted in the unknown artist being acknowledged as the "father of Romanticism."

Key Artists

  • Francisco Goya was an eighteenth-century Spanish painter, and is considered by many to be "the father of modern painting." Informed by the Baroque style and the Classicists, Goya's art was part of the Romanticism movement, but also contained provocative elements such as social critiques, nudes, war, and allegories of death. He is considered a major influence on the works of Manet, Picasso, and Dali.
  • Ingres was one of the last painters of the French Neoclassist tradition, whose charismatic portraits opened the path to the more passionate and modern Romantic movement.
  • Friedrich was a German Romantic landscape painter, and considered by many academics to be the finest German painter of his time. Like his contemporaries JMW Turner and John Constable, Friedrich's paintings portrayed the awesome power of nature with sublime, divine presence.
  • Géricault was a French painter and lithographer during the early nineteenth century. Heavily influenced by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens and the Baroque paintings of Velasquez, Géricault became a pioneer in the Romantic period of French painting - as highlighted in his master work: Raft of the Medusa.
  • J.M.W. Turner (Joseph Mallord William Turner) was a mid-nineteenth-century British painter and watercolorist. Considered a key forerunner to the French Impressionists and the American Hudson River School of painters, Turner is known in history as "the painter of light." His trademark land- and sea-scapes are categorized as Romantic and Naturalist, given the artist's expressive and poetic application of natural light. Turner was among the last great pre-modern painters.
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Do Not Miss

  • Looking back to the arts of Greece and Rome for ideal models and forms, Neoclassicism was a major art period that set standard and redefined painting, sculpture, and architecture.
  • Realism is an approach to art that stresses the naturalistic representation of things, the look of objects and figures in ordinary life. It emerged as a distinct movement in the mid-nineteenth century, in opposition to the idealistic, sometimes mythical subjects that were then popular, but it can be traced back to sixteenth-century Dutch art and forward into twentieth-century styles such as Social Realism.
  • The Hudson River School was a nineteenth century American art movement that celebrated the wilderness and great outdoors. The Hudson River School artists were influenced by the Romantics, using dramatic scenes of nature to express the American ideals of their time: discovery and exploration.

Important Art and Artists of Romanticism

The Nightmare (1781)

Artist: Henry Fuseli

Fuseli's strange and macabre painting depicts a ravished woman, draped across a divan with a small, hairy incubus sitting on top of her, staring out menacingly at the viewer. A mysterious black mare with white eyes and flaring nostrils appears behind her, entering the scene through lush, red curtains. We seem to be looking at the effects and the contents of the woman's dream at the same time.

Fuseli's ghastly scene was the first of its kind in the midst of The Age of Reason, and Fuseli became something of a transitional figure. While Fuseli held many of the same tenets as the Neoclassicists (notice the idealized depiction of the woman), he was intent on exploring the dark recesses of human psychology when most were concerned with scientific exploration of the objective world. When shown in 1782 at London's Royal Academy exhibition, the painting shocked and frightened visitors. Unlike the paintings the public was used to seeing, Fuseli's subject matter was not drawn from history or the bible, nor did it carry any moralizing intent. This new subject matter would have wide-ranging repercussions in the art world. Even though the woman is bathed in a bright light, Fuseli's composition suggests that light is unable to penetrate the darker realms of the human mind.

The relationship between the mare, the incubus, and the woman remains suggestive and not explicit, heightening the terrifying possibilities. Fuseli's combination of horror, sexuality, and death insured the image's notoriety as a defining example of Gothic horror, which inspired such writers as Mary Shelly and Edgar Allan Poe.

The Ancient of Days from Europe a Prophecy copy B (1794)

Artist: William Blake

The Ancient of Days served as the frontispiece to Blake's book, Europe a Prophecy (1794), which contained 18 engravings. This image depicts Urizen, a mythological figure first created by the poet in 1793 to represent the rule of reason and law and influenced by the image of God described in the Book of Proverbs as one who "set a compass upon the face of the earth." Depicted as an old man with flowing white beard and hair in an illuminated orb, surrounded by a circle of clouds, Urizen crouches, as his left hand extends a golden compass over the darkness below, creating and containing the universe. Blake combines classical anatomy with a bold and energetic composition to evoke a vision of divine creation.

Blake eschewed traditional Christianity and felt instead that imagination was "the body of God." His highly original and often mysterious poems and images were meant to convey the mystical visions he often experienced. Europe a Prophecy reflected his disappointment in the French Revolution that he felt had not resulted in true freedom but in a world full of suffering as reflected in England and France in the 1790s. Little known during his lifetime, Blake's works were rediscovered by the Pre-Raphaelites at the end of the 19th century, and as more artists continued to rediscover him in the 20th century, he has become one of the most influential of the Romantic artists.

Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa (1804)

Artist: Antoine Jean Gros

This painting depicts Napoleon I, not yet the Emperor, visiting his ailing soldiers in 1799 in Jaffa, Syria, at the end of his Egyptian Campaign. His troops had violently sacked the city but were subsequently stricken in an outbreak of plague. Gros creates a dramatic tableau of light and shade with Napoleon in the center, as if on a stage. He stands in front of a Moorish arcade and touches the sores of one of his soldiers, while his staff officer holds his nose from the stench. In the foreground, sick and dying men, many naked, suffer on the ground in the shadows. A Syrian man on the left, along with his servant who carries a breadbasket, gives bread to the ill, and two men behind them carry a man out on a stretcher.

While Gros' teacher Jaques Louis David also portrayed Napoleon in all of his mythic glory, Gros, along with some of David's other students, injected a Baroque dynamism into their compositions to create a more dramatic effect than David's Neoclassicism offered. Gros' depiction of suffering and death, combined with heroism and patriotism within an exotic locale became hallmarks of many Romantic paintings.

The use of color and light highlights Napoleon's gesture, meant to convey his noble character in addition to likening him to Christ, who healed the sick. Napoleon commissioned the painting, hoping to silence the rumors that he had ordered fifty plague victims poisoned. The work was exhibited at the 1804 Salon de Paris, its appearance timed to occur between Napoleon's proclaiming himself as emperor and his coronation.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Romanticism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 25 Sep 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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