Romanticism

Romanticism Collage
Started: c.1780
Ended: 1830
Main
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.
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Eugène Delacroix Signature
The source of genius is imagination alone, the refinement of the senses that sees what others do not see, or sees them differently.
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Eugene Delacroix
I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.
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John Constable Signature
The things one experiences alone with oneself are very much stronger and purer.
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Eugene Delacroix
With the brush we merely tint, while the imagination alone produces color.
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Théodore Géricault Signature
Amid those scenes of solitude... the mind is cast into the contemplation of eternal things.
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Thomas Cole Signature
The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel'd to heaven is no artist.
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William Blake Signature
Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.
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William Blake Signature
The eye altering, alters all.
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William Blake Signature
Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of source of their wonders.
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Francisco de Goya
I must stay alone and know that I am alone to contemplate and feel nature in full; I have to surrender myself to what encircles me, I have to merge with my clouds and rocks in order to be what I am.
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Caspar David Friedrich Signature
Every true work of art must express a distinct feeling.
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Caspar David Friedrich Signature
A painter should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within himself.
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Caspar David Friedrich 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

Key Artists

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."

Important Art and Artists of Romanticism

Henry Fuseli: The Nightmare (1781)

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.

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

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.

Antoine Jean Gros: Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa (1804)

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.

Useful Resources on Romanticism

Books

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"Romanticism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments Ideas added by Valerie Hellstein
Available from:
First published on 25 Sep 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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