Romanticism emerged in France at the turn of the French Revolution at the end of the 1800s. Romanticism fought against the ideas of the Enlightenment period and the Neoclassical period. The Enlightenment period focused on reason and individualism, Romanticism fought against that by putting the focus on nature or human action. This was to rebel against the idea of order and instead put the focus on the chaos happening in the real world. The Romantic Era peaked between the 1800s to the 1850s. During this time, the world was in turmoil, especially in France. It was post revolution in France but still reeling in the Napoleonic Era. When he was emperor, Napoleon sanctioned a turn back to the Neoclassical style which focused on order and praise for the past. Even though Napoleon was pushing this classical style forward, the new ideas of Romanticism were still moving their way throughout all of Europe and settling in France.
Romanticism went against the idea of the mighty past and looked toward the future, and the impact the present will have on that future. Many artists used their platform to practice this style and find the Romantic in the everyday, especially natural events. They wanted to impact the viewer, and the artists did that through dramatic, emotional, and colorful pieces. One artist that exemplified the chaos of Romantic art was Théodore Géricault.
Théodore Géricault used his artistic prowess to paint present– day events with magnificent scenes. In one of his most famous paintings, The Raft of the Medusa, he took a present day event and turned it into an almost historical painting depicting the gruesome aspects of what was happening in the present. The Raft of the Medusa depicts a gruesome shipwreck was a recent devastating event and Géricault painted it in pristine detail. This shocked viewers of the painting because the horrors of everyday life were not usually what art portrayed in that time. Modern artists take inspiration in present events all the time, and in other styles of that period, this was not the case. Before Romanticism, the art was frivolous, in the Rococo style or depicted actual historical events like in the Neoclassical movement. The art could be used as an allegory for present day events, but usually were not actually based on the present day. The Romantic Era switched this up.
Géricault depicting this event shocked people because it forced the viewer to see the historical significance that present– day events can have on the world. He put this recent shipwreck in the same style as past major paintings to put this event on par with those major historical events. In doing this, Géricault made a statement about the importance of this event and showed people why they should care. By using The Raft of the Medusa painting to show the importance of learning from the present, Géricault exemplified the ideas of Romanticism in his art.
Hubert Robert was also a father of the Romantic period. Hubert Robert was sometimes called Robert de Ruins because of his focus on idealizing the ruins of the structures he painted. Robert studied art in Italy, so many of his paintings were of Italian structures and this one pictured is The Imaginary View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in Ruins.
Robert was a quintessential Romantic painter because he took powerful and culture– defining monuments, similar to the Louvre, and showed how naturally without human intervention they would stand up to the test of time. This dilapidated view of a historical monument once again made viewers of the painting feel emotional about the subject.
Romanticism is all about how much of an impact the artist can have with their art on those who view the piece. Romanticism is allowing the viewer to feel emotion about their present so they can think about where they want to go in the future. Robert painted these structures as swallowed up by the natural elements to show the viewers even such important places in history are not protected from the passage of time.
Lastly, you cannot write about the Romanticism era in history and not include Eugène Delacroix. Delacroix’s paintings became the face of Romanticism in the 19th century. From the beginning of his career, he was the leader of the school of the French Romantics because of his dedication to the ideas of the Romantic Era. Delacroix painted historical events, but recent ones were still present to the general public. One of his most famous works that has gone down in history is his painting Liberty Leading the People.
Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix is an iconic representation of French history vivid art. A female representation of Liberty is seen brandishing the French flag and charging into the revolutionary battle. The men in the foreground are following her and fighting for her. These men fighting around her show how far reaching the call for liberty was during the revolution because different classes are fighting for the cause. There are members of the bourgeoisie, the man on the left of the painting with the larger musket, fighting with members of the working class, like the man standing with his arm raised to the right of the painting. Delacroix wanted to show how the call for liberty was reaching everyone, and the fight is by all not the working class.
This piece was not received well during its inception, especially since Delacroix was a royal painter, but it still made its mark on history. Liberty Leading the People has become a symbol of so many other notions and causes. Delacroix used the Romantic style of dramatizing the present to show the importance of this symbol to the French people, especially after the Revolution.
Throughout history, the likeness of this scene has been used to create an allegorical symbol for the new viewers throughout recent history. This has been through the art of the time of the painting and recent art as well. Two recent examples of this artwork creating an impact on history are in two vastly different mediums. One medium Liberty Leading the People was used in the cover art of Coldplay’s album Viva La Vida.
Another representation of this painting in modern day media is as symbolism in the 2012 musical adaptation of Les Misérables. The writer, Victor Hugo, was a Romantic era poet. Les Misérables was an iconic play about the hardships going on in France during the French Revolution. This play has stood the test of time and in it, the Romantic Era theme has traveled with it.
This scene and many others are shown of the characters on the brigades in the same triangular formation as showcased in Liberty Leading the People. This shows the Romantic Era themes are not only interesting to learn about in the time of inception, but are now still a portion of French culture that is impacting the present day.
More information can be found on Les Misérables and other works by Victor Hugo in last week’s post .