Romanticism was a movement that dominated all genres; including literature, music, art and architecture; in Europe and the United States in the first half of the 19th century. It originated in late 18th century as a reaction against the ideals of order, calm, harmony, idealization and rationality which marked Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. Romanticism laid emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and of nature. The artists of the movement created works which highlighted that sense and emotions were as important in experiencing the world as reason and balance. Romanticism saw major development in landscape painting with the genre, then considered low art, being elevated to a level rivalling history painting. Best known landscapes of the movement include The Fighting Temeraire, The Hay Wain and Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. The Romantic movement also saw portrayals of a dark nature best represented by the paintings The Nightmare and The Raft of the Medusa; and the art of Francisco Goya like Saturn Devouring His Son. Know more about Romanticism through the 10 most famous paintings of the movement.
#10 The Nude Maja
Spanish Title: La Maja Desnuda
Artist: Francisco Goya
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Francisco Goya is regarded as the most important Spanish artist of late 18th and early 19th centuries; and one of the great portraitists of modern times. The Nude Maja, one of his masterpieces, is known as the first “totally profane life-size female nude in Western art” and the first large Western painting to depict female pubic hair without obvious negative connotations. The painting was most likely commissioned by Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy. The identity of the model is not known with certainty. Likely candidates are Godoy’s mistress Pepita Tudo and María Cayetana de Silva, 13th Duchess of Alba. Known for the straightforward and unashamed view of the model towards the viewer, it is considered a revolutionary work which expanded the horizons of Western art.
#9 The Nightmare
Artist: Henry Fuseli
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Henry Fuseli was a prominent Swiss painter known for the supernatural elements in his works. This painting shows a ravished woman lying in deep sleep across a divan with her hands thrown back. Crouched on her chest is an ape like incubus, a mythological demon which lies upon sleeping women in order to engage in sexual activity with them. The scene also features a mysterious black mare who peeps through the red curtains. Interpretations of the painting vary. The most simple one is that it portrays a dreaming woman and the content of her nightmare. Usually critics agree that the painting has sexual themes and probably intends to show a female orgasm. The Nightmare created a sensation when it was first exhibited and it soon became hugely popular. It was met with horrified fascination, was widely analysed and inspired not only artistic but also literary works. It is definitely one of the momentous works of the Romanticism movement.
#8 The Fighting Temeraire
Full Name: The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up
Artist: J.M.W. Turner
HMS Temeraire was a 98-gun second-rate warship of the Royal Navy which is famous for its heroic performance in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar between U.K. and the combined fleets of French and Spanish Navies. J.M.W. Turner depicts the warship, years after its glorious days, being pulled by a tugboat, to be broken into scraps. The painting pays a tribute to sailing ships as they were going to be replaced by steam-powered vessels. Turner uses symbolism, like the setting sun, to suggest the demise of the subject and its mortality despite its heroic past. Painted by Turner at the prime of his career, The Fighting Temeraire is his most famous painting and the one he referred to as his “darling”. In 2005, it was voted as Britain’s favourite painting in a poll organized by the BBC.
#7 The Hay Wain
Artist: John Constable
Romantic English artists favoured landscape and the most influential among these was John Constable. The Hay Wain depicts a rural scene on the River Stour between the English counties of Suffolk and Essex. It is the area around where Constable was born; which is portrayed in his most celebrated masterpieces; and which came to be known as Constable Country. At the centre of the painting is a wooden wain, or large cart, which is being pulled across the river by three horses. The scene takes place near Flatford Mill, which was owned by Constable’s father. The left bank is in Suffolk while the landscape on the right bank is in Essex. The Hay Wain is revered as one of the greatest landscape Romantic paintings as well as among the best ever created by an English artist. In a 2005 poll organised by BBC, it was voted the second most popular painting in any British gallery after The Fighting Temeraire.
#6 Saturn Devouring His Son
Spanish Title: Saturno devorando a su hijo
Artist: Francisco Goya
Year: c. 1819 – 1823
Among the best known works of Francisco Goya are his Black Paintings which portray intense, haunting themes; reflective of both his fear of insanity and his bleak outlook on humanity. These works were painted by Goya as murals on the walls of his house and were transferred to canvas years after his death. This disturbing portrait of Saturn consuming one of his children is the most famous of the 14 Black Paintings by Francisco Goya. It was one of the six paintings decorating his dining room. The masterpiece is based on the Roman myth by which the titan Saturn ate his children as it was prophesied that one of his sons would overthrow him, just like he had overthrown his father Caelus. The Prophesy does come to be true as his wife Ops deceives him and saves one of their sons.
#5 The Kiss
Italian Title: Il bacio
Artist: Francesco Hayez
Francesco Hayez was the leading artist of Romanticism in mid-19th-century Milan. His best known work, this painting depicts a couple from the Middle Ages, embracing while they kiss each other. It represents the main features of Italian Romanticism and has become an iconic work of the movement. The painting lays emphasis on emotion as opposed to rational thought in accordance with the principles of Romanticism. It has come to represent the spirit of Risorgimento, or Italian unification, which lasted from 1815 to 1871. It is also noted for its details and brilliant colours. The Kiss has enjoyed extreme popularity, especially in Italy, since its exhibition in 1859. It has also been a subject of great commentary and analysis. It is one of the most passionate and intense representations of a kiss in the history of Western art.
#4 Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
German Title: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer
Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
Caspar David Friedrich is considered the most important German Romantic artist. He is best known for works which put humans amid night skies, morning mists, barren trees, etc. thus illustrating diminished strength of man in the larger scale of life. In this painting, a man, formally dressed and holding a walking cane, stands on an outcropping of rocks with his back to the viewer. Thus the viewer is enabled to see the landscape covered in a thick sea of fog; at which the man looks contemplatively. Friedrich’s use of space illustrates man’s minuscule place in nature. The painting depicts various landmarks from the beautiful Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony in southeastern Germany. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is the most famous work of Caspar David Friedrich. It has become synonymous with the Romantic era and it is the best known landscape painting of the movement.
#3 The Third of May 1808
Spanish Title: El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid
Artist: Francisco Goya
On May 2, 1808, the people of Madrid rebelled against the occupation of the city by Napoleon’s French army. Goya has captured this uprising in his painting The Second of May 1808. The Third of May 1808, the most famous painting by the artist, depicts the retaliation by the French the following day, during which hundreds of Spaniards were rounded up and shot. The painting has no distinct precedent as it diverges from the traditional depictions of war. Thus it is considered one of the first paintings of the modern era. Famous British art historian Kenneth Clark called Goya’s masterpiece as “the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention.” The Third of May has inspired several renowned paintings by future artists most prominently Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica.
#2 The Raft of the Medusa
French Title: Le Radeau de La Méduse
Artist: Théodore Géricault
Méduse was a French warship which fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Though it survived the battles, it crashed in a sandbank in July 1816 while transporting people to Senegal. The 400 people on board had to evacuate; out of which 151 were put on a raft. These men on the raft had to go through a terrible ordeal. Many were washed into the sea by a storm; others rebelled and were killed by officers; the survivors engaged in cannibalism; and when supplies ran low, injured men were thrown into the sea. After 13 days on sea, the raft was found with only 15 men surviving. The event became an international scandal. Théodore Géricault thoroughly studied the incident before creating this masterpiece. The Raft of the Medusa proved to be hugely influential in French art; is considered an iconic work of French Romanticism; and has immortalized the incident it depicts.
#1 Liberty Leading the People
French Title: La Liberté guidant le peuple
Artist: Eugène Delacroix
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Liberty has existed as a goddess in many cultures and during the French Revolution, many allegorical personifications of ‘Liberty’ appeared in France. Since then the figure of Liberty is viewed as a symbol of France and the French Republic. This painting commemorates the July Revolution of 1830 in which King Charles X of France was overthrown. It shows Liberty as both a goddess and a robust woman of the people. She holds the flag of France in one hand and a firearm in her other hand. Liberty Leading the People is a hugely influential artistic work. Among other things, it has been a source of inspiration for the Statue of Liberty and Victor Hugo’s renowned novel Les Misérables. Since its creation, the painting has also served as a republican and anti-monarchist symbol. The masterpiece of the leading French Romantic painter, Liberty Leading the People tops the list of the most famous paintings of the Romanticism movement.