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On Romanticism

Updated on May 27, 2016
Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of clouds
Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of clouds
Constable - Stonehenge
Constable - Stonehenge


Romanticism, an artistic, literary, and philosophical movement, began in the late 18th century, earliest in Germany, moving on to England and the rest of Europe in the 1790s. Romanticism eventually influenced America in the 1820s. Some say it was kicked off in 1798 with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Lyrical Ballads", though there were other earlier literary works such as "Songs of Innocence" by William Blake in 1789.

In these early works, Romantics declared freedom from set rules, reacted to reject neoclassicism and the Enlightenment, and began to think subjectively rather than objectively. They set emotion over reason and favored to paint anything they were interested in. Romanticism brought about completely different ideals than the previous age. It emphasized imagination, individuality, spontaneity, inspiration, intuition, and idealism. These are seen to reject the balance, rationality, and objectivity of Classicism and Neoclassicism in general.

A huge theme of this movement was the idea that guidelines or a rubric was not needed to create a piece of art. Art did not have to be a certain way or style, it just had to fit the satisfaction of the creator. Art from this period expresses the emotions of the artist in the piece because artists painted whatever they felt like, without any restrictions. Full expression of the artist led to such masterpieces as Caspar David Friedrich's The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa, and Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.

Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa
Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa
Turner - The Burning of the Houses of Parliament
Turner - The Burning of the Houses of Parliament

There were two general types of categories of Romantic art, landscape and other. The "other" category includes themes mostly of historical events, but imaginative and mythological scenes were also used. A lot of the paintings can tell a story by the scene captured, and many paintings show an event in full action such as 3rd May, 1808 by Francisco Goya, Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, or The Death of Sardanapaulus by Eugene Delacroix. Romantics were greatly amazed by nature. The beauty of nature is often depicted in landscape paintings, while storms and the other side of nature can be seen in many pieces such as Shipwreck by William Turner. Some of the most notable landscape works are by Caspar David Friedrich and John Constable, which depict calm country sides, still nights, or occasionally intense storms, fascinating over the beauty of nature.

The Romantic movement created a new nature of the artist. From then on, artists would be seen as original, evolved, and very imaginative. Romantics were the first to say, “I paint because it is my own joy, not to try to appeal to the public.” This is the most important idea of Romanticism, relating to individuality, that sets Romantics above the rest, pursuing their own interests and ideas ahead of anything else.

Tidemand and Gude - Bridal journey in Hardanger
Tidemand and Gude - Bridal journey in Hardanger
Girtin - Bamburgh Castle
Girtin - Bamburgh Castle

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