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Romantic Art Period: A Time of Individual, Energetic Expression

Romantic Art Period: A Time of Individual, Energetic Expression
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Trying to define the period of Romanticism in historical art terms is equivalent to trying to hold sand. The harder you try to grasp one set definition of the idea of what the romantic art period was, the more it slips through your fingers. Unlike Expressionism or Impressionism, Romanticism didn’t have one set style because the artists focused on personal expression rather than fitting into specific ideals. The romantic art period spread from France and Italy across a majority of Europe and found its way to the United States. Romantic art isn’t all visual arts either as it includes music, fiction, poetry, and philosophy.

No “romance” in Romanticism

Hearing the word “romantic” in Romanticism can evoke thoughts of star-crossed lovers and colorful sunsets, but Romanticism isn’t about that type of romance. Romanticism is about individuals who believe in the rights of themselves and others to express intense, uplifting and deep emotions. As Quent Cordair, of Quent Cordair Fine Art, says: “Romanticism, as a product of the Enlightenment, rejected the staid formulas, forms and behaviors acceptable to the state or group, and championed instead the individual’s own personal values, passions and interests, his mind and spirit now freed from repressive institutional restraints. The arch-Romanticists took that freedom as far and high as they could, for their day.”  

Romanticism can also mean having a strong, spiritual connection with nature as expressed by poets such as William Wordsworth. Famous romantic works of art aren’t paintings at all or even symphonies or poems. The most famous romantic works include books by Victor Hugo and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The books protest against the inhumanity of man and amplify that inhumanity for everyone to see.

Art with a heart

The art of the romantic period revolved around showing people how to care about each other, which is one of the reasons it was so historically significant. Sometimes termed “art with a heart” romanticism and those artists who embraced and expressed it promoted individual liberty, an end to slavery and independence and democratic movements. A prime example of this was French painter Delacroix’s work entitled “The Massacre at Chios” that brought to light the horrific price the Greeks were paying as they struggled for liberty from the Turks in the 1820’s. His painting moved Europeans to sympathize with the Greek cause. Fellow romantic artist, the poet Lord Byron also took up the cause by using his talents with the written word and earned him recognition as a Greek national hero.

Expressing higher reality

Along with their quests to improve political and social conditions, romantic artists went on personal, inward quests to discover and express a higher reality that held a different truth than the reality they dealt with daily. Some of these poets and painters transformed into a type of Romantic spirituality prophet, as they believed socialization had buried the basic goodness of men and women, and according to romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau, trapped them in chains when they were born free. Rousseau believed that humans were by nature honest and good but that society turned them bad. Social Contract by Rousseau spurred a “back-to-Eden” movement and fostered the idea that a noble savage such as Tarzan was honest, free, good, and natural when unpolluted by socialization.

From its inception, many saw Romanticism as the opposite of classical. The classical ideals of calm, order, and serenity do not fit with the Romantic period ideals that were energetic, meaningful, passionate and indicative of something spiritual and wild.

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