Charles Baudelaire described Romanticism as “precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling.” He touched on human emotions and thoughts explored in this period. In another way, he described the artist:
“In order for the artist to have a world to express he must first be situated in this world, oppressed or oppressing, resigned or rebellious, a man among men.”
Romanticism manifested in different ways throughout Europe, including Germany, France, and England. This movement included expression in art, music, literature, philosophy, and even politics. At the end of the eighteenth century, Romantic art was influenced by events such as the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution and by new ways of thinking, including transcendentalism.
Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a Romantic who did not fit the historical mold of a young artist who studied in Rome for inspiration. His Protestant heritage included a fierce rejection of Catholic influences. Friedrich also lived in a time when German philosophy and art were tinged with a new nationalism and with Deutschheit, which means Germanness.
In The Wanderer Above the Mists (c. 1817-1818), Friedrich shows a man with his back to the observer on a lonely rocky point. The man looks out over the mists of a wild sea. Friedrich’s painting style is highly naturalistic and shows how eighteenth century Europeans realized that religion could not explain all natural wonders or the human’s place in the world.
The Allegory of Profane Music (c. 1826-1830) is a black chalk drawing which hangs in the Louvre. According to the Louvre Museum, the poet Wassilij Andrejewitsch Shukowski spent time with Friedrich in Dresden between 1826 and 1827. Inspired by these interactions, Friedrich experimented with paintings on transparent paper that would be illuminated by a candle behind a water or wine-filled glass sphere. The painting would be exhibited with moonlight and music playing in the background. The Louvre states that drawings like Allegory are the only evidence of this creative endeavor by Friedrich.
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), or J.M.W. Turner, was known for beautiful landscapes. He was born in London, England. His talents developed early, including exhibitions in the teen years, as well as opening his own studio and agreeing to many prints of his works before he turned 20. Turner joined in full membership in the British Royal Academy in 1802 (at age 27).
The Slave Ship (1840) was a landscape painted by Turner at age 65. According to Honour and Fleming, this oil on canvas was journalistically criticized as “a passionate extravagance of marigold sky and pomegranate coloured sea.” The Slave Ship is a beautiful mass of colors. There is a realistic image of a ship in the left center of the painting. The realistic yet emotional painting shows the tragedy of enslaved humans thrown overboard as a typhoon approaches in the tumultuous sea.
Romanticism offers decades of art which can best be understood by considering the contemporary themes in history, literature, and philosophy.