Romanticism on the global scale
Visionary and surreal, frightening and melancholy, turbulent and tranquil-Romantic artists blended emotion and imagination to create fascinating and fearsome pieces that are still revered today. Each country had its own version of Romanticism. In France, Théodore Géricault's mastery of the brush contrasted light and dark tones to evoke strong emotions such as suffering, isolation and vulnerability, both of which Romantics believed were indispensable to the human condition. Eugène Delacroix conveyed the sublime through the strong senses of violence, fear, and horror evoked from his paintings. In Germany, Caspar David Friedrich's fixation on light and landscape highlighted the melancholy and vastness of the sublime. Nature's triumph and power over man, a common theme among Romantics, is often present in Friedrich's oil paintings. The Nazarenes, a school of German romantics, attempted to recover medieval religious art through the painting of mythology and fairy tales. Their attempts would be continued by a later school of Romanticism, the Pre-Raphaelites. In England, landscapes dominated; Samuel Palmer, John Constable, and J.M.W. Turner defied conventional principles of landscape painting. Constable breathed feeling into the ordinary with his impressionistic strokes. Turner is often known as the first impressionist; although his early work reflected the calm and majestic landscapes of Claude Lorrain, the blur of energy and light that arose from the painting of a locomotive foretold of Monet and Van Gogh. In the United States, the Hudson River School painted forests and mountains with grandeur and feeling. The late romantics constituted of the Barbizon school in France which continued the painting of landscapes and the Pre-Raphaelites in England which utilized the style of the Nazarenes. Romanticism did not only touch painting; Rodin communicated power and emotion through his bronze sculptures. Evidently, the unconventional, non-conforming and individualistic spirit of the Romantic movement influenced impressionism, symbolism, expressionism and surrealism.
Rebellion and Disillusionment: Themes
Painted in melancholy, brooding tones, Romantic art conveyed the dreary hopelessness that came with increased progress in science. Also, everyone was quite sick of reason and order. Denis Diderot remarked: "Everything changes, everything passes away. Nothing remains but the Sum. The world endlessly begins and ends... Alive, I act and react en masse... Dead, I act and react in molecules (Clay 8)." Disillusioned by the finality of science, and daunted by emptiness and the absence of God, Romantic artists sought to provide themselves with an alternate answer. Hints of existentialism arose in philosophy. In 1790, French-Swiss political writer and novelist Benjamin Constant reflected a grim and not-so-reassuring conclusion: "God... died before finishing his work... We are like clocks without hands, clocks whose mechanisms, endowed with intelligence, continue to work until worn out (Clay 11)." A diversion came full force as the macabre gained increasing popularity in the Paris Salon in 1775, replacing the paintings of ruins that were in vogue in the middle of the 18th century. Artist struggled to paint the emotion of fear, as fear was the source of the sublime (Clark 20). British writer and politician Edmund Burke perceived beauty in delicacy and harmony and the sublime with vastness, obscurity, and horror (Encarta par. 2). Another solution came through the most liberal use of sexuality (as demonstrated by the Marquis de Sade), magic, and drugs (seen through the writings of De Quincey and Baudelaire). These three elements were used as part of the aesthetic quality of art. Its purpose was simple: to counteract and offer an escape from the most-dreaded emptiness.
Yet science was a necessary evil. Feelings among the Romantics were at best mixed. One painter's interest in astronomy yielded the "moonscape," which blended science and beauty. On the other side of the panel, artists set their minds on the aspects of nature they could see and touch. Thus a garden was intended to make one forget, the country was believed to be "natural," and the city was seen as wicked or evil (Clay 12). Also, revolution and reform brought a welcome change. During the upheavals in France, most writers and artists favored the provisionary government and its protector General Cavaignac over Robespierre and Babeuf during the Revolution. The heroism displayed in the revolution immediately became part of the subject matter of art. Delacroix described the Empire and the age of Napoleon as healthy and beneficial: "The life of Napoleon is the event of the century for all the arts (Clay 15)." But Delacroix was wrong. During the time of the Empire (1810-1813), according to Delécluze, the period was ridden with "stale narrations" and "countless bad pictures" (Clay 15) The French Revolution also caused a revival of different periods in history-elements of the classical, medieval, Egyptian, and Gothic periods emerged in architecture and art.
The industrial revolution brought technology and industry to English paintings. The smoke of the railroads and factories, the conformed, iron structures of bridges and the Crystal Palace, the whirrings and whistlings of the textile mill-all were portrayed in 50 odd pictures as wonderful and awesome. Yet the French Romantics ignored industrialization. Gautier publicly proclaimed the fact that industry regulated life. Delacroix went as far as insulting the English and their abominable interest in their lifeless contraptions. At the same time, the Romantics were ignorant of the dangerous working conditions and greed that industrialization brought. Only Lord Byron realized that it was such, and in vain, spoke of it in the House of Lords in 1812. Only realists would paint the picture accurately. They dared to depict the poverty and filthiness of the working class, however unpleasant and unheroic it might be. Another horror that went unquestioned was the African slave trade. Turner's watercolor, Slavers Throwing Overboard the dead and Dying- Typhoon Coming On (1840), and Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814) were two such of the few Romantic works that dared to depict it.
Changes in the art form became questioned with the invention of the daugerreotype, which was perfected in 1837. It, along with wax museums, provided an objective, realistic view of art. Also, the increasing instability of the life of an artist urged more artists to become more original. Artists were considered geniuses, prophets, and their intuition considered indispensable. But by 1847, the effusion of originality ceased and art became more restrained. An artist's ideas were unbalanced by revolution and social and religious reforms.
Clay, Jean. Romanticism. New York: The Vendome Press, 1981
(art)," Microsoft® Encarta® Online
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved