romanticism painting

History Of Romanticism In Art

What Is Romanticism?

The Romantic period came as a response to two issues within history. The first was the thinking behind Baroque Art and Classicism did not fit the common mans shift to Romanticism.

A break away from the Age of Enlightenment was desired by many. Romanticism in art was a natural evolution as the result.

The second trigger which fostered this movement can be found within the French Revolution of 1789. While Romanticism would have no proper recognition until nearer to 1800, its birthplace being as a result of 1789 is clear.

What Key Influences Caused Romanticism To Spread?

While the birth of Romanticism is linked to the French Revolution its popularity and spread is another matter. In the period between 1780 to 1837 there was a lot of political, economical, and social change.

The fuel which kept the fire of Romanticism burning focused on issues surrounding these three key areas. An agricultural revolution led to many leaving the countryside to seek jobs within the Industrial Revolution.

It was here that the foundation for what would bring an end to the Monarchist system would be laid. While this end would not be seen until after World War 1, criticism of the aristocratic society as a whole swept across Europe.

In this time focus was also placed on ending slavery. Slavery which was born from colonization impacted many peoples across the world.

The impact of this thought could be felt from Asia to Europe. Within Britain the fuel of this fire could be felt on issues between the Irish and British. The Irish rebellion of the 1790s were inspired by the French Revolution and ideals which began to spread.

These social tremors would begin to shake the world. The age of Romanticism lit a tinder box on fire which was ripe for bringing change.

Which Arts Were Impacted By Romanticism

Among the visual arts it would be painting that would be the most used within Romanticism for artistic communication. Other forms would be explored within Romantic Art, yet not to the same degree.

Here you see the seeds of what would become Figurative Art being sown. While it would still require Impressionism and more time to mature, the foundations were being laid.

The 1827 Salon of Paris is notable for how painting came into its full maturity within Romanticism. The Death of Sardanapalus by Eugène Delacroix and the Apotheosis of Homer by Jean Ingres display this maturity.

Both artists had come from the Davidian school of thought, yet each work uniquely subverted the Davidian model. Among the core tenet beliefs of Romanticism is that an artist should hold true to originality.

The artists had taken what David had given to recreate the Romantic ideals to their own vision and embodied them within the art.

If there were another art form which was greatly impacted by Romanticism it would be Literature. Renowned names such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne held great influence in this regard.

Much of the literature which focused on expressing the ideals of Romanticism would place emphasis of the art within criticism of the past.

In turn they would edify respect for nature, focus on women and children, and break into understanding human psychology.

Where Did Romanticism Come From?

The artists who practiced Romanticism early on in France all came from the same school of art. Jacques Louis David fostered the ideas of what this era would hold.

While Jacques David was originally trained as a Neoclassical painter, his life and beliefs would drive him to other paths. He was imprisoned after the fall of his friend Robespierre, and later supported Napoleon.

At heart David was revolutionary to the old world of thinking. This would translate into his artwork through his artistic expression.

Those who claim that Romanticism focused on the individual are not entirely wrong. Yet by contrast so did Classicism and Neoclassicism. The difference was in how this individuality was approached.

The Neoclassical mindset sought to focus on the ideal without emotion or expression. Romanticism broke away from this tradition and sought to focus on the ideal by using emotion and expression.

Each would place emphasis on an individual albeit through two very different philosophies.

The Philosophy Of Romanticism

The art theory which surrounds Romanticism is interesting when one considers the history of its birth and time. As the world began to seek out individualism not all roads to the individual were equal.

The greater focus of French individuality had always been that of a collective nature. In other words the collective individuality of common men rather than the common singular man.

There is a great difference between those two ideas. The art forms which surrounded Romanticism reflect this difference.

The subject matter within Romanticism was often grounded in more spiritual ideas of enlightenment. This is a contrast to the Neoclassical period where intellect ruled over emotion.

Certainly Romanticism is credited with the enlightenment of intellect, yet its foundation was always that of emotion rather than truth. Today our present culture is riding along this same track of thought.

Often art symbols would be used within Romantic Art in order to aid in conveying the meaning to the subject matter and its composition.

The symbols which were selected would follow this general pattern using nature, animals, color theory, and other elements of art.

What Was The Focus Of Romanticism Within Art?

The focus of Romanticism would be placed upon extremes. Cataclysm and unpredictability held more influence through the beauty of raw power than the previous traditional arts.

Classicism had always been consistent in its desire to create order. Romanticism sought to break that order and introduce the disorder of life and the world.

It is for this reason that much Romantic Art gravitated towards scenes of nature or incorporated nature into the composition. It would play a role in creating the atmosphere and message the artist wished to convey.

Instead of embracing the gods of the past, many artists would depict the struggle of mankind against their desires. Likewise would be displayed mankind’s struggle against nature itself.

With this it should be noted that for many the art being “spiritual” should be taken with one understanding. It was the edification of men in their struggle irrespective of the “order” of anything which surrounded them.

In a more real sense, the canvas became a vehicle for the artists of this time to express the psychological and emotional states of human nature. This relied upon symbolism to achieve the desired effect.

Animals could be used as symbols or metaphors to depict human tendencies or behavior. The setting would often be within a darker side of nature.

The Setting Of Romantic Art

There is a certain irony to what Romanticism was. While it railed as a counter culture to the past it also evoked and elevated certain elements of it.

This can be seen within the paintings and writing of the time. The works would often bring the Medieval period back to life and into their present day.

Alternatively artists would take on a persona much like Lord Byron’s character Don Juan. Some sought to be the “bad boys” of their time and in their own ways.

When the artists were not bringing back these older times or seducing women, their eyes were often set on far distant places.

Artists such as Jean Ingres became fascinated by the Orient and some of his work portrayed these ideals. His art though was created by nothing more than his imagination. He personally never traveled beyond Italy.

Delacroix would travel to Morocco, and other artists would visit places such as Algeria. These travels aided in fueling the Romanticism of that time within the mind of artist and audience alike.

The impact of Romanticism would not remain constrained to Europe alone. James Fenimore Cooper who became known for his work The Last Of The Mohicans would be from America.

Cooper’s novel displayed the prime characteristics to what Romanticism was within its time. These ideals were portrayed throughout the struggle of the characters caught in a war between two superpowers.

Romanticism Held Different Meanings Among Nations

If one lived within Germany then the Romanticism of this time would be very different than Great Britain. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe sought to bring nationalism to Germany through his work.

The people of Britain would initially be suspect of any artists which partook within Romantic Art. The fear was that these individuals would be sympathizers of the French Revolution.

Likewise by the time Romanticism had spread to America the nature of what it was held a different meaning. It was expressive to the core tenants of American ideals and freedom.

Within the United States the War Of 1812, which by many was called the Second American Revolution, had been won and a very different light of Romanticism was in view.

It is for this reason that Romanticism itself is difficult to classify by meaning. The meaning by its origin is not the same as where it matured, and then ended.

As Romanticism spread throughout the developed world it would be shaped by the people of that culture. No longer would it be as it was before.

Despite these differences there were a few core beliefs which held true among all nations. The greatest influence which can be seen is the artistic expression which artists used to convey their ideals.

Romanticism Within The Victorian Era

Romanticism and the rise of the Victorian Era would go hand in hand. It is not possible to look at one and not see the other.

It would be through Victorian structure that Romanticism would be shaped for British minds and beliefs. This would hold a contrast to what Romantic Art was by its origin in France.

Romantic Literature may have been the greatest vehicle of the period within Great Britain. Names such as Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley are icons to the age.

Romanticism though did not grow roots in the same way here as it did in other places. As with all things British, there was great debate and a divide within thinking.

Author Jane Austen is a prime example of this through her more traditional and conservative views. Her work set her apart from her Romantic contemporaries.

This can be further seen by the fact that Byron, Shelly, and also Keats work gained more attention and fame abroad than at home. It would be later in the years which passed that their writing would be appreciated in England.

Romanticism within the Victorian Era would fit to the culture to a certain extent. If one bent too far to its ideals and the artist could be labeled a firebrand or be seen as extreme.

Ultimately it would be Victorian thought that would surpass the Romantic ideals which were born in France.

Romanticism Moved The World To A New Order

Romanticism was born out of revolution and change. It was unbridled and largely undefined. Its context was to express what otherwise was not allowed to be expressed.

It is for this reason that it fit into any culture which it found, and then was shaped to the purpose of that people. The idea of what Romanticism is cannot be quantified nor classified by any specific region or nation.

In many ways it was less about the art and more about the culture or society within which it was found. Art was merely the vehicle for the ideals that it carried.

It is here that we find one of the greatest reasons to define the importance of art. Art is not merely art for the sake of it being aesthetic. Art represents a people and their beliefs.

While the merits of art theory can be debated academically for many today, the people of the Romantic Period lived it. Some died for what they believed in.

To me this is the true power of this era. We see art hold an influence among many nations with people who sought to bring about a better world.

Whether or not that world they achieved was better or not history can debate. Nevertheless the deeper point here is that art is not merely art. Art is about life.

Romanticism in this regard sets itself apart from other periods. It is more than an archaeological snapshot in time of a culture. Rather art became the vehicle for that culture to seek change.