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What is Romanticism?

Romanticism originated in Europe during the late 18th century and continued into the 19th—a time when Europe was undergoing major cultural shifts. Prior to this, the Enlightenment period pushed rationality and science as the only way to understand the world. Romantics believed that in order to get the truest sense of reality, however, one must feel and experience deep emotion. Romantic artists broke apart from tradition and the neoclassical style and created art that played to the senses—producing highly dramatic scenes of human expression. The main purpose for all Romantic art is to create feeling. Artists hoped that depicting emotion would create a sensational reaction from the viewer.

There are three major themes within Romantic painting that characterize the movement: depictions of human emotion, current events, and scenes from literature. Romantic artists, who felt that emotion expressed truth, created paintings of figures in deeply emotional states. They experimented with mood and facial expression to convey different emotions. Some artists, like Francisco Goya, depicted figures sleeping and imagined the sensation of having a dream or nightmare. Many Romantic artists depicted scenes from literature because they felt it was rich with emotive narrative. Painters like Eugene Delacroix, translated these texts into theatrical scenes that could recreate the same emotion. Delacroix also applied emotion and allegory to current events—dramatizing reality to create a sense of national pride and freedom. His painting, Liberty Leading the People, is a prime example of this goal. Using the allegory of Liberty as a powerful woman leading the masses, he infused the reality of France at the time with an emotional charge to keep fighting for justice.

The Romantic movement can also be understood as the first artistic shift towards individualism. Artists were beginning to break away from the academic tradition because it was too restrictive and limited any sort of expressive quality. This movement paved the way for Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and all the rebellious art movements happening in the 21st century.

Notable Works:

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830. 1830. Oil on Canvas.

Eugene Delacroix, Dante and Virgil in Hell. 1822. Oil on Canvas.

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare. 1781. Oil on Canvas.

Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808. 1814. Oil on Canvas.




By: Get Inspired