The Romanticism movement began at the end of the 18th century and lasted through the mid-19th century. The term "romantic" was applied to all the fine arts and labeled a movement of expression, emotion, imagination and nature. The movement redefined the way people thought about themselves and their world or culture. The notion that people should transform the way they perceive nature and other human beings is a mainstay of the Romantic period that still affects contemporary art.
Romanticism began as a movement against social and political norms in Western Europe, and it picked up momentum during the Industrial Revolution. Romanticism was an intellectual process best brought to life by music, literature and visual art. It was a counter reaction against the Age of Enlightenment; instead of placing value on reason and logic, Romantic artists prized imagination and feelings. While it began in Europe, the Romantic movement spread throughout the world, and it coincided with the American and French revolutions. Romantic artists set out to transform the theory and practice of art.
Themes present in Romantic art include pure nature, emphasis on women and children, criticism of the past and originality of the artist. Romanticism is said to be the opposite of Realism or rationalism, and Romantic artists had more interest in the subjective or individual view. Romantic art investigated human personality, ethnic origins and foreign cultures, inner emotional struggles and moods and the mysterious or the occult. Romantic art is often painted in a dramatic manner to evoke melancholy or other moods. Paintings usually included bright colors and large brushstrokes.
The Romantic period is difficult to define because there were many styles and concepts about art that existed. Imagination is perhaps the most important model, and artists actively used their creative power. Symbolism was used to suggest that objects or beings in nature could reference many things. Romantic art set out not only to depict the world but also to explore an emotion, representation or idea of the world within. Romantic art also depicts the everyday world as well as the exotic.
Theodore Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" depicts a shipwreck, and the horror and emotional intensity displayed in the painting made it an iconic work of the Romantic era. Landscape paintings were also a staple of the period, and Gericault's "Evening: Landscape with and Aqueduct" shows classical ruins that suggest a melancholy mood. J.M.W. Turner's landscape paintings show an incredible depiction of light and darkness, and the characters in his paintings are often dwarfed by the enormous landscapes. John Constable's depiction of the English countryside shows a subjective view of the landscapes. Other important artists of the Romantic period include William Blake, Henry Fuseli, Francisco de Goya, Eugene Delacroix and Friedrich Overbeck.
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