Romanticism refers to an artistic trend specific to the art produced between 1750 and 1850 in Europe and North America.

The Romanticism movement originated in Western Europe as a reaction to the aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period, and a revolt against the strict rules of classicism.

Also opposed to rational objectivity and the realisation of nature in art and literature at the time, the Romanticists used their art to glorify nature, folk art and custom, and express themselves with emotion and intuition.

Romanticists showed intense emotion to be a source of new knowledge, self-identity, and aesthetic experience, emphasising such sensations as freedom, fear, horror, and the awe experienced in confronting the sublimity of nature. In doing so they promoted patriotism, the adoration of the senses over reason and intellect, and the rediscovery of the artist as a divine creator.

History of Romanticism

The term Romanticism was derived from the late 18th century passion for medieval adventure tales. These were called “romances” because they were written in such romantic languages as French and Italian rather than Latin.

John William Waterhouses, Lady of Shalott best reflects the Romantic gothic mode in his depiction of a neo-medieval subject drawn from Arthurian Romance.

Similarly in the United States, the romantic gothic makes an appearance with Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

In these images, heroic simplicity is emphasised and fervent exotic landscapes are made to appear mystical and spiritual.

Influences of Romanticism

The Romantic art movement was heavily influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, medievalism and the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution.

The movement highlighted the successes of misunderstood heroic individuals, expressed a sound alternative to historical and natural inevitability, and treated imagination as the key source of artistic freedom.

Romanticism became an art style characterised by the rejection of classical forms and rules, an emphasis on emotions, sentiment and spirituality, nostalgia for the natural simplicity of past ages and a fondness for exotic themes.

All in all the declared aim of the Romantics was a “return to Nature – nature the unbounded, wild and ever-changing, nature the sublime and picturesque.”

Romanticists worshipped liberty, power, love, violence, the Greeks, and the Middle Ages. In fact, anything that aroused an intensely sufficient emotional response.

Romanticism in Painting

While Romanticism could be related to any sort of artistic medium, painting provided the most personal and dramatic expression of nature worship.

For example, painters like Turner and Constable made the status of landscape painting monumental by giving heroic overtones to natural scenes. As a result, man and nature were seen to be touched by a divine, supernatural force. In many respects this is said to result from the precise techniques adopted by Romantic artists to produce certain associations in the mind of a viewer.

In conveying verbal concepts, Romantic artists would give inanimate objects human values. This idea can be related to the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich who used wild trees and shimmery moonlight to portray the infinity of human longing.

Similarly, landscape gardening was used to express the romantic aesthetic for the way it imitated the picturesque qualities of nature. Romantic artists such as Gericault, Herny Fuseli, Arnold Bocklin, the English Pre-Raphaelites and the German Nazarenes are said to show this in their art.

Downfall of the Romanticism Movement

Despite the great success of Romanticism in the fields of visual arts, poetry, architecture, literature and philosophy, by the 1880s Romanticism was being pushed aside by psychological and social realism.

The literature of Poe, Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was replaced with that of Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville and in the visual arts, the exultation of untamed America found in the paintings of the Hudson River School had taken the art world by storm.

Other Art Movements

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