The International Movement Surrounding Romanticism English Literature Essay

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Romanticism (romantic era) was an international movement, founded in Europe, in eighteenth and nineteenth century. The movement gained strength in reaction to industrial revolution. It embraced philosophy, visual arts, literature, politics and religion from formal orthodox and neoclassicism. It also impacted majorly on education, historiography and natural history. Partly, it was a reaction against scientific justification of nature and a revolution against social aristocratic and political norms of the Enlightenment age.

The movement displayed strong emotion as genuine source of aesthetic experience. It placed new emphasis on such emotions as terror, trepidation, and horror especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities. It elevated ancient custom and folk art to something noble, made of spontaneity.

In various ways, Romanticism can be summed up as the collapse of a faith in larger conventions, vocabularies, traditions, and communal orders. The break-up with all notions of tradition, historical continuity, and shared conventions left artists adrift and fragmented in new ways, holding to their increasingly private and disconnected personal visions. To a great extent, Romanticism lost faith in the cultural and historical glue which had made secure, communal identity possible and which had allowed artists to speak in a shared language with larger audiences (William, 1994).

Artistic sensibility of Romantic aristocracy made Romanticism and later on, modern art enormously appealing to aristocrats and second-generation millionaires eager to display their contempt for the common herd by investing in difficult art. Needless to say, Romantic artists were the first to clash frequently with the general public and with the guardians of its traditional standards, sensibilities, and morality (whether courtly, religious, or bourgeois). They were the first to face what would emerge as a growing problem: public incomprehension, indifference, or even hostility toward the latest art.

There were several successful romantic groups and artist in history.

German Romanticism (1800-1850)

It was a very influential movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it emerged relatively late compared to British romanticism. Its formation coincides with German Classicism or Weimar classism. Contrary to the seriousness of British Romanticism, the German variety valued humour and wit and beauty.

Caspar David Friedrich, a 19th-century German romantic painter, is considered as the most important German artist of his generation. He is famed for his landscape paintings which featured contemplative figures silhouetted against barren trees, night skies, gothic ruins or morning mists.

Spanish Romanticism (1810-30)

Francisco Degoya (1746-1828) was the unrivalled leader of the Romantic art movement in Spain. He demonstrated a natural flair in works of terror, irrationality, fantasy and imagination. Close to 1789, he was firmly established as official painter to the Spanish Royal court

French Romanticism (1815-50)

French Romantic artists did not restrict themselves to occasional genre painting and landscape, but also explored history painting and portrait.

Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835). He had a significant influence on both Gericault and Delacroix, although he was also associated with the academic style of painting.

Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) was a pioneer of the Romantic art movement in France.

Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), was an avid student of colour painting, particularly in the interaction of colour and light. He founded that flesh only has its true colour in the open air, and particularly in the sun.

British Romanticism (c.1820-1850)

John Constable (1776-1837) a traditional English Romantic that rejected compositions marked by a heightened idealisation of nature, such as those of Caspar David Friedrich, in favour of the naturalism of 17th century and also that of Claude Lorrain (1604-82). Detailed observation of nature made him to disregard the conventional importance of line, and construct his works from free patches of colour.

William Turner (1775-1851). Arguably the greatest of all British painters of Romanticism. The modality of his paintings was created less by what he painted than by how he painted, especially how he employed his paint-brush and colour (David, 2001).

Characteristics of Romanticism

Love of Nature:

  Great emphasis on importance and beauty of nature helped urban man know his true identity.


Romantics placed human feelings, emotions, intuitions and instinct above everything else. While the poets in the former era followed the rules and regulations in selecting a subject and writing about it, the Romantic writers trusted their emotions and feelings to create poetry.


The Romantics developed the idea of the absolute originality and artistic inspiration by the individual (artist). The romantic poets' believed in the institution of originality.


Romanticism works was influenced by the ballads and folklore that were created by the common people or the masses, rather than from the literary works that were popular. The Romantics became interested and focused on developing the culture, folklore, language, customs and traditions of their own country (Arnold, 1999).


  Along with Nationalism, the Romantics even developed the love of the exotic. Hence, in many of the literary as well as artistic works of that period, the far off and mysterious locations were depicted. It is also one of the prominent characteristics of Romanticism in art, along with spirituality and sentimentality.

The reason for this is that just like the exotic locations, the people did not know about the folklore of their places before, and so they seemed to be as vague as the faraway places

Examples of romanticism art

Fishermen at Sea, by JMW Turner, 1794. Turner was captivated by the mood of nature, her ever changing effects.  He used to sketch clouds, the sky, and his natural surroundings. Turner was majorly captivated by the power of the ocean and said that he had once asked to be lashed to the mast of a ship in order to "experience the drama" of a mighty storm at sea.

Romantics believed that nature was evidence of God's presence and existence. Turner believed light was a divine procession and played with it in pictures to evoke that truth (Architectural Design, 1995).

Abbey in an Oak Forest, by Caspar David Friedrich, 1810.  It is a wonderful painting by Friedrich illustrating the ruins of an abbey church which had become a graveyard. It captures several distinct Romantic elements simultaneously. In this master piece, nature has reclaimed man's handiwork.

The Course of Empire

Painted by Cole in 1833-36, The Course of Empire illustrates five phases of civilization; a city builds to grandeur and then decays. These paintings symbolized the Romantic fear that the advancements of modern life were encroaching on the idyllic ways of the past and would end up deteriorating the fabric of civilization.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Thomas Moran, 1827. American landscape painters helped inspire the movement to preserve the most beautiful parts of the country's wilderness and to create a national park system in order to do so. The sketches made by Thomas Moran when he accompanied a geological survey team into the then unknown Yellowstone area were later used to convince Congress to turn Yellowstone into a national park (Kurt, 1973).

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking Towards the East Window, by JMW Turner, 1794. Tintern Abbey was a monastery founded in 1131, abandoned in 1536 and rebuilt in the 13th century. It was left to decay for two centuries. After visiting the site twice, William Turner was inspired to paint this piece which put together the smallness of man alongside and wildness of nature, the unstoppable power of which has reclaimed this man-made structure.