Romantic Art(s)

Susan Pojer's Romanticism PowerPoint as context for the Romantic Era (in art and other areas)

[ Constable and Turner ] [ Gericault and Delacroix ] [ Goya and Caspar and Blake and Brown ]

Romanticism had its roots in a reaction against the cold, rationalism of the French Enlightenment. Led by that great rebel, Rousseau, Romantics praised emotion, feelings, urges, and instincts over reason: intuition, impulse, imagination, creativity, and spontaneity rather than calculation. According to the Romantics, "Dreams, hallucinations...and other phenomena...suggested a world beyond that of empirical observation..." (Kagan, et al. 643). They were individualists who traced much of their inspiration to Rousseau, the classic outcast and loner. Romantic artists were also escapists--into nature and its "sublime" untamed wildness (649), the past, the exotic. They idealized an idyllic, rural life (with which they had little direct experience); they loved the Middle Ages (so long ago.) They rebelled against the strictures of the academy. Romantic themes included "revolution, the hero, nature, and love" (Witt, et al. 295). Romantics rejected the Enlightenment's emphasis on order, harmony, balance, and rationality. "Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the sponteneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental" (Pioch, "Romanticism" 1). Read carefully Kagan, et al., pp. 582-584 in 10th ed.

19th century music pulsed with Romantic emotion--
I hope some of it touches you emotionally!
Beethoven launched the Romantic Movement in music with his 3rd Symphony,
the Eroica. Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
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To hear the inestimable Vladimir Horowitz play Chopin's Polonaise in Aflat Major, Opus 53, visit
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Chopin's Revolutionary Étude by a 16-year old music student
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And the incomparable Horowitz
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Puccini and Verdi literally "wrote the book and the music" for 19th century opera.
You will recall that Japan had been recently "opened" by American Commodore
Matthew Perry, triggering a fascination with all things Japanese (and Chinese, too)
among the elites of Europe.
Listen to the haunting aria ("One Fine Day") that Cio Cio San sings for
Lieutenant Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly
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From Verdi's Rigoletto, listen to the tenor Luciano Pavarotti sing
the Duke with Joan Sutherland (perhaps the greatest soprano of all time?)
sing the quartet
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And finally, although there are many, many more (suggestions welcome)
Listen to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture evoking the invasion of Russia, with
echoes of the "Marseilleise," the Russian National Anthem ("God Save the Tsar,")
and the cannon booming in the background--listen to parts 1 and 2 for
the full effect
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Or go to finale
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See definition above
Consider Wordsworth and Byron
Consult your English teachers!

John Constable (1776-1837)
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John Constable ranks with Turner as one of the great English landscape artists who helped to introduce Romanticism to English audiences. "Inspired and awed by nature's beauty and majesty...[the Romantics]...responded emotionally to nature, and sought a mystical union with it" (Perry, et al. 535). Long an imitator of artists such as Gainsborough and Claude Lorrain, Constable began to turn away from conventional representations of nature. He painted out-of-doors (en plein air) seeking to portray "atmospheric effects" and"the sound of water " as he depicted his deep love for his Suffolk and Hampstead countrysides (Pioch). At the same time, he believed that "Landscape painting...must be based on observable facts..." (Janson 469). He was so successful, though not in his own lifetime, that these areas are known as "Constable Country." "Hampstead Heath" to your right.

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Constable's landscapes concerned themselves more with intangible qualities of sky, light, and atmosphere than with "the concrete details of the scene" (Janson 469). Like other Romantics, he wanted to capture "fleeting" moments or effects (469,) as seen in "Hampstead Heath Looking Towards Lincoln."

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"The Haywain" (1821) was Constable's most famous painting and coincided with his election to the Royal Academy. Géricault was blown away and contributed to the development of Constable's popularity in France. "The Haywain" won a gold mental at the Paris Salon in 1824.

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Constable, unlike his great contemporary, Turner, addressed his landscape canvases to "the studious observation of quiet nature" and "rustic environment" (Tansey and Kleiner 952). They are "careful studies of nature rendered in the local colors of woodland, meadow pond and stream, hill and sky..." (952,) as seen in "Stour Village and Dedham Village." See Kagan for Constable on nature and his "Salisburgy Cathedral from the Meadows."

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Joseph M. W. Turner 1775-1851
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Art critic Roberta Smith says of Turner, "In the history of Western painting,
Turner looms large as a prodigiously gifted,productive and innovative figure....
His paintings...are early examples of the natural sublime.... [they] presage the Romantics,
the Realists, the Impressionists and even the Abstract Expressionists" (Smith B21, B24).
For a slide show on Turner from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition, visit
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Joseph Mallord William Turner was an almost unbelievably prolific Romantic landscape painter, and a contemporary of Constable. Like Constable, he portrayed the moods of nature, "using a skilled interplay of light and color" (Spielvogel 607). Unlike Constable, his paintings were filled with passion and hectic color (Janson 952,) as seen in "The Ship Wreck," which he painted in 1805. It is in Turner that the idea of a sublimely wild nature is expressed.

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In "Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps" (1812,) Turner emphasized the destructive power of nature. He "used watercolor techniques with oil paints, created lightness, fluency, and ephemeral atmospheric effects."

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"...Turner's seemingly effortless watercolours and sketches were based on impressions of nature...[but they]...transcend ordinary appearances, conveying a visionary sense of the forces at work in the universe" (Olga 1). "Fire at Sea" (1835) provides an example.

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"The Slave Ship" (1839) might be Turner's most famous painting. It describes a 1783 event when the captain of a slave ship, the Zong, threw "sick and dying slaves overboard in hopes of collecting insurance" money on them (Tansey and Kleiner 950). The Captain claimed to his investors that they had been lost at sea. "The horror of the event is matched by Turner's turbulently emotional depiction of it. The sun is transformed into an incandescent comet amid flying, scarlet clouds that swirl above a sea choked with the bodies of the slaves jettisoned from the ship by its ruthless master" (950) Here Turner released color from it defining outlines to express the force, power, and awesomeness of nature.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY (incomplete)

Janson, H. W. History of Art. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963.

Kagan, Donald, et al. The Western Heritage, 9th ed., vol, C. Upper Saddle River: Pearson/
Prentice Hall, 2007.

Mataev, Olga, et al.Olga's Gallery . Online Available.
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Perry, Marvin, et al. Western Civilization, 6th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 2000.

Pioch, Nicholas. "Romanticism." WebMuseum, Paris. Online available.
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Smith, Roberta. "Storm-Tossed Visionary of Light." The New York Times,
July 4, 2008.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization, 5th ed., vol. C. Belmont, et al.:
Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2003.

Tansey, Richard and Fred Kleiner. Gardner's Art through the Ages, 10th ed., vol. ii.
Fort Worth, et al.: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.

Vogel, Carol. "Turner and a Few Others Succeed at Slow Sales." The New York Times,
January 30, 2009.

Witt, Mary Ann, et al. The Humanities, 5th ed., vol. ii. Boston and New York:
Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1997.