European Painting Of Romanticism

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The Romantic School draws on the spiritual values of affirmation and praise, and strives for individual liberation and human rights as the ideological principle. In painting, it advocates individuality, characteristic depiction and expression of emotion. The composition is rich in change, the color contrast is strong, and the brush strokes are unrestrained and smooth, which makes the picture have strong emotional color and exciting artistic charm.

Analysis of Background & Features

As early as the middle and late 18th century, romanticism appeared in the field of literature. By the beginning of the 19th century, romantic style began to become popular. The preface to Victor Hugo’s poem ‘Cromwell’ is regarded as a declaration of romanticism. In the preface to the poem, he opposed the laws of classical opera and advocated Shakespeare to be more free and more realistic. The creation of works of art. Hugo’s view is the core element of the later development of romanticism. In the 1920s, romantic painters began to actively learn from medieval legends and the writings of Dante, Byron, Goethe and others.

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Literary works provide a crucial golden key to romantic painting, namely, sentimentalism. Following this principle, Romanticism lays its own ideological foundation: ‘Artists must cross the limits of logical thinking and rational stipulations in order to create works that provoke a soul.’ Meanwhile, this maxim reveals the anti-rational creative attitude unreservedly. Come out and let romantic painting and classical painting open a distance. Interestingly, this anti-rational view is the result of the Enlightenment. The painter began to regard human emotion and intuition as the key mystery of artistic creation. Romantic painters believe that the rationality of the mind is beyond the understanding of conventional reason. This reorientation of rational thought became the basis of romantic opposition to neoclassicalism.

In the performance of the works, the Spanish painter Goya showed the romantic temperament especially. His masterpiece, the singular collection of ‘Images’, explores rational and irrational problems in a puzzling picture. One of the works’ El sueño de la razon produce monstruos’ (1) is famous. The protagonist in the painting is buried on the table and seems to fall asleep. Owls, bats, and cats hide behind him, and the right side of the picture is a bit messy, adding a touch of uneasiness in a mysterious atmosphere. All three animals are spiritual, and they are in medieval legends. The commentary in the painting is also quite puzzling. It can be understood as the recognition of reason, that the abandonment of reason will lead to disaster, and it can be understood as the rejection of reason, which means that solving human problems in a rational way can only produce endless nightmares. But in any case, these weird pictures and obscure words themselves represent an anti-rational tendency, which we can understand as Goya tries to express an anti-rational mood by portraying the state of dreams.

At the end of the 18th century, Rousseau and others set off a ‘return to nature’ movement. They regard the simple and beautiful pastoral scenery as a supplement to human urban life, and realize that only when people are far away from the hustle and bustle of political controversy in the city and turn into the embrace of nature can they truly purify the soul. This concept of returning to nature has had a profound impact on society at the time. Just like the hermits in ancient China, in the 19th century Europe, the elites who lost power in politics also began to popularize this kind of retreating thoughts that escaped real life. In art, this trend of thought is expressed in the romantic landscape of natural landscape painting.

In the paintings of John Constable, we can find that the romantic catharsis of romanticism and the faithful portrayal of nature are perfectly combined. In his work ‘The Hay Wain'(2), he captures the changes in nature and weather with his keen eyes. There are floating white clouds floating in the clear sky. The sun shines through the leaves and shows different brightness and color on the grass, bushes and swamps. Colorful clouds and swaying leaves form a fickle reflection on the water surface of the pond. The original ordinary rural scenery brought infinite imagination in the hands of the painter, and it was so intoxicating. Contrary to Constable’s precise description of nature, landscape painter Turner is more romantic and emotional. To a certain extent, Turner gave up the realism and figuration of the picture, thus giving the inner world feelings a greater performance space for the background and characteristics of the birth of romantic art.

The description of history and politics is another characteristic of romanticism after the depiction of literature and nature. It began with the disappointment and dissatisfaction of the people towards the bourgeois autocratic rule after the French Revolution. The suffocating horror of Robespierre, Napoleon’s dictatorship of freedom and democracy, and the mad war of aggression declared the bankruptcy of the Enlightenment bourgeois idealism. In Goya’s ‘The Third of May 1808′(3) Napoleon’s evaluation was far removed from the image of David’s wise impression. The painting depicts a repression of the rebels during the invasion of Spain by the Napoleonic army in 1808. In this painting, the Spanish painter Goya showed her sympathy for the insurgents and the hatred of the French invaders. She also used the brush in her hand to counterattack the image of Napoleon, which was officially praised by the French at the time.

However, the disappointment of Napoleon did not return the romantic painter to the ranks of the feudal power advocates. As a progressive art trend at the time, romanticism was very firm against the feudalism and the bourgeois revolution. This is particularly evident in Eugène Delacroix’s work ‘Liberty Leading the People'(4). The enthusiasm for freedom, victory, courage and forwardness, and the strong patriotism, mixed with war and smoke, are scattered in the picture, reminiscent of the positive and revolutionary atmosphere in the early days of the Great Revolution, making this work a new era of romanticism. A masterpiece of the bourgeois revolution.


In general, romanticism is incompatible with classicism from the essence of creation to the way of expression. Romantic painting is a counterattack against the rational thinking of neoclassical painting. The author’s strong emotional changes are hidden behind its rich picture. Some people say that classicism is like a cup of coffee, full of charm and keeping people objective and rational; and romanticism is like a glass of spirits, strong and intoxicating. Watching romantic paintings can best create a collision and blending with the author himself, which is a fascinating passion and classicism in paper.


  1. Edouard Manet’s five versions of the Execution of the Emperor Maximilian MoMA
  2. ‘Constable’s Studies for the Hay-Wain’. Paintings & Drawings. Victoria and Albert Museum. Archived from the original on 26 July 2009. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  3. Romanticism in France Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People From smarthistory.


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