Romanticism Art

Towards the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th, a new era for the arts was discovered, focusing more on individualism and emotions. The Romantic era was first implemented in Europe, perhaps the biggest art capital in the world during the time. This art movement, known as Romanticism, also highlights and glorifies the past and nature. Most often, Romanticism art prefers the medieval settings rather than the classical era. It revived medievalism as a way to cope with the Industrial Revolution and the growing population and urban areas. The old, medieval elements created an escape against the developing world.

Romanticism Art Context and Beginnings

The Romantic era first began during the late 1700s and reaching its peak throughout the early to mid 1800s. However, it varied from various countries.

The term Romanticism was first used in Germany by August  and Friedrich Shclegal when they wrote a romantic poetry. It also reached France with the help of Madam de Staël. By 1815, William Wordsworth, an English poet, became a major voice for the Romantic era.

The movement was based on the German Sturm und Drang which translated to “storm and stress.” It was in fact noted as the prototype of Romanticism.

Romanticism was first showcased in literature and music. Deeply influencing human emotions, it soon found its way to art — sculptures and paintings would have the same theme, focusing on love, passion, horror, anger, and awe.

William Blake and Francisco Goya were dubbed as the “fathers” of the Romanticism art movement.

It is also believed that Romanticism formed as a reaction towards the Age of Enlightenment and its excessive rationalism. The movement’s close relationship towards the French Revolution is also highly deemed as important. This relationship can be closely related to the number of war paintings created during the Romantic era that depicted lost hope, grief, and hopelessness.

Romanticism Art Concepts and Styles

Human emotions

The key concept of Romanticism art is the human emotion. Most of the time, Romantic art pieces and literary works capture the true feelings of an individual, may it be in love or in rage. They go through certain emotional cycles from elation to awe or anger to sadness or desperation.

In literature, stories such as “The Stories of Young Werther” (1774) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe captured the attention of the people. It was a story of a young artist who ultimately took his own life when the love of his life is in love and engaged to his best friend.

The raw emotions of the protagonist made it extremely popular that men would wear the same clothes as the young artist in the story. There were even copycat suicides that led to the banning of the book.

Meanwhile, painters were able to capture the human emotion with how they paint the images. A portrait could easily show which emotion it evokes. But scenic views, often with an individual, are also prevalent. These types of paintings highlight these individuals who are known as Byronic heroes rather than the view.

The Effect of War

In France and in Spain, Romantic artists would create images from the Napoleonic war which would trigger emotional response from the audience. Paintings have a darker undertone to help evoke the feelings of death and grief.

Among the most prominent Spanish Romantic artists was Francisco Goya. He was an official painter for the Royal Court, but he later on created paintings based on irrational and imaginary depictions of the human behavior in war.

Among his paintings was the “The Third of May” in 1814. This painting is deemed as one of the most powerful paintings of the modern era. It depicted nothing but victims, bloody executions, and nothing but the disastrous effect of war.

Goya also painted the “The Disasters of War” which was a series of prints from 1812 to 1815. Another series known as Black Paintings (1820-182) were also powerful images of terror left in the inner recesses of the human psyche.

Man and Nature

Painters found another way to clearly interpret human emotions and psychology. They looked at the past eras including the Medieval times to see how peaceful men were when they are more in sync with nature and with each other.

At the time, the norm was to recreate life and images during the Neoclassical era. However, Romanticist artists preferred the Middle ages and the early Italian Renaissance.

Landscapes would become an allegory of the soul and an endlessness and freedom of the mind and soul. This type of genre was more common for the English Romantics. Soon enough, it found its way into American Romanticism which brought the movement to life in this side of the world.

Famous American Romantic painters included Thomas Doughty whose works were an epitome of peacefulness in nature; as well as Thomas Cole whose works fill their audience with awe because of  its portrayal of the vastness and greatness of nature.

Other American Romantic painters included Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, and Asher B. Durand.

These painters initially painted the majestic views of the Northeast but soon, they expanded to the South and Latin landscapes. Back then, it was normal for these artists to sketch the place on a piece of paper and would soon paint it on a canvass. However, they would synthesize their creations with various other scenes with a result of what may look like as an imaginary location.

Byronic Hero

A Byronic hero is a Romantic figure that that is named after Lord Byron, an English poet. Based on both Byron himself and the characters in his writings, a Byronic hero is often a character that is distressed, moody, and deeply flawed — yet are passionate and charismatic with strong ideals. Today, they are also known as Anti-Heroes.

These characters also grew in popularity during the Romantic period. They are depicted through mostly in literature such as in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” Readers have perhaps characterized one of the leading male figures, Heathcliff, as a Byronic hero.

Perhaps one of the main reasons they blew up during the Romantic era is because of their aversion or question to the norm of the society.

Byronic heroes don’t only exist in literature. They have also been depicted in paintings and sculptures.

Gothicism and Orientalism

As said, one of the key themes of the Romantic era and art movement was the Medieval times. During the peak of Romanticism, Gothicism was also alive. Mythical creatures such as fairies, monsters, witches, and demons would be recurring elements when creating art pieces and novels.

Gothicism offered the mysticism and the uncanny. This is often when artists would allow themselves and their imaginations to take flight.

Besides Gothicism, Orientalism also became a trend during the Romantic era. Starting in France, painters Eugene Delacroix and Jean-Leon Gerome created various genre paintings of North Africa. These paintings highlighted the horrors of tragedies and contemporary events.

Painters also depicted images of the Orient. In Asia, the most prominent images were that of Middle Eastern culture and life.

Romanticism also got into the world of Architecture. Architectures during the time rebelled against the Neoclassical designs. Various styles from different time periods and regions from around the world. The architectural designs from the Romantic era was a mixture of nostalgia for the past and mysticism.

However, most designs were either Oriential or Gothic Revival.

Realistic approach

Probably what makes Romantic art a great success during the 1800s is it depicted images with great clarity. Its realistic approach made every art piece look like a reflection of real life in the mirror. Every detail was accounted for to guarantee it conveys the feelings well.

The Romantic era soon faded into Realism, especially when photography, industrialization and urbanization have begun to take place. Soon enough, the world was taken by storm by Realism. Still, the hyper-realistic approach was still a signature of many known, aspiring, and rising painters.

Romanticism Art Notable Paintings

With hundreds of artists who followed and helped develop Romantic art, there are several paintings that were deemed as the most prominent.

The following are notable paintings of the Romantic era.

The Desperate Man (1845)

The Desperate Man by Gustav Courbert

This self portrait by painter Gustave Courbet was an oil on canvas painting. Unlike the normal self portrait, Courbet’s was more unconventional. As the artist wanted to break away from the norm (ultimately influencing and paving the way to Impressionism), he created a portrait of himself with the way he saw art.

The painting depicts him staring straight at you with wide eyes and clutching his head, seemingly tearing his hair from his scalp. His portrait very clearly shows him in his desperate moments, thus the name.

La Grande Odalisque (1814)

La Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

This painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres showcases a reclining naked woman, peeking at the audience through her shoulders. Despite her nakedness, there’s a sense of luxury as she holds a fan from peacock feathers and as she reclines on pools of expensive-looking textiles.

With a European nude woman clearly a part of a harem, a Middle Eastern custom, this Romantic art piece is a good example of Orientalism.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818)

Painted by Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog shows an aristocrat standing on rocky ledge looking at the scenery in front of him. Before the man is a sea of fog, with tall pinnacles and a mountain range over the horizon. But despite the overwhelming scenery in front of him, the aristocrat remains the central point of the painting.

This is a representation of a Byronic hero, a Romantic era character based after the characters from Lord Byron’s books. A Byronic hero is a character with strong ideals and passion but are deeply flawed and is far from the archetype mainstream society.

The Nude Maja (1800)

“The Nude Maja” or the “La Maja desnuda” was a Francisco Goya painting that depicted a nude woman posing and reclining on a bed of pillows. Art historians believe that the painting was commissioned by the Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy. Meanwhile, the identity of the model was not certain but there are prime candidates such as Maria Cayatana de Silva or Pepita Tudo.

“The Nude Maja” became a revolutionary work because of its nudity and how it was able to portray the female pubic hair without any sort of negative connotations. It was also Western’s art first ever female nude.

Another painting was made by Goya which had the same model in the same clothes, only fully clothed. Aptly name, the painting was known as “The Clothed Maja.”

The Nightmare (1781)

Painted by one of the leading Swiss painters of all time, Henry Fuseli was well-known for adding supernatural elements on his paintings. “The Nightmare” was no exception.

The painting involves a woman deep in sleep with her head and hands thrown back. Sitting on her chest is a hairy ape-like Incubus, staring at the audience with menacing eyes. Incubus are these demons that engage in sexual activities with their female victims during their sleep. Peering through a lush red curtain is a black mare.

When it comes to interpretations, there are plenty. However, the simplest and most straightforward of all is that we can see the contents of the woman’s nightmare. Nonetheless, critics believe that the sexual theme of the painting was supposed to represent the female orgasm.

Because of its fascinating but horrific imagery, “The Nightmare” has gained quite a lot of interpretation. It has inspired many artistic works and painters but has also been a basis of several literary pieces.

Notable Artists

From musicians to novelists, there are many people who contributed in making Romanticism art a huge thing in the art world. However, artists and painters also contributed in spreading the style through their own works.

Here are some of the most notable Romantic artists and paintings they are most known for:

  • Francisco Goya – Well-known for “The Second of May 1808” and “The Third of May 1808”
  • Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – Painted “La Grande Odalisque”
  • J.M.W. Turner – Best known for landscape paintings such as “Venice from the Porch of Madonna della Salute”
  • Caspar David Friedrich – Best known for “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”
  • Theodore Gericault – His most well-known painting is “The Raft of the Medusa”

omanticism Art Resources

Wikipedia. Romanticism. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. La Maja desnuda. Retrieved from

Romanticism: Definition and Key Themes. Retrieved from

TV Tropes. Byronic Heroes. Retrieved from

Gallery Intell. Gustave Courbet. Retrieved from

New World Encylopedia. Romanticism. Retrieved from

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