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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Romanticism, a basic description

Romanticism is a European movement, whose roots were rooted in Germany at the end of the 18th century. This new sensitivity will affect France, but also England, Italy, Spain, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries, but to varying degrees. First literary avant-garde, united around Victor Hugo, it embodies a form of rebellion against the classic and academic opinion which is widely diffused in the field of fine arts. The reference to the Middle Ages, the quest for exoticism, the renewal of the landscape, melancholy, and the influence of contemporary literature are some facets of expression of pictorial romanticism. In a Europe that is still mostly conservative, the romantic temptation is one of freedom and desire, without forgetting the exaltation of spirituality.

Its history, its key ideas

Romanticism was born in Germany around 1795 in the literary field. It qualifies an aspiration to the romantic, that is to say to the imagination, to adventure, to the description of landscapes in which nature holds a primordial place. In painting, romanticism is revealed through the group of Nazarenes formed of six young German painters at the beginning of the XIXth century (including Franz Pforr, Johann Friedrich Overbeck). They draw their inspiration from the medieval and reborn imagination, claiming at the same time Albrecht Dürer and Raphaël. They leave for Rome with the idea of ​​renovating sacred art. Caspar David Friedrich is also considered the great painter of German romanticism. His landscapes represent unreal scenes, depict the impossible destiny of man in the face of the unfathomable - and often terrifying - immensity of nature.

In Great Britain, romantic sensibility is also expressed in literature: Thomas Chatterton offers a good example, and even more so the poet William Cowper. These authors, whose lives are often reclusive and tragic, deal with intimate subjects, spilling out the secret movements of their souls. In the field of painting and drawing at the end of the XVIIIth century, Henry Fuseli and William Blake cultivate biblical visions and nightmares that reveal their taste for strange or gothic. English romanticism is also embodied through the landscape school, in particular the work of John Constable, who paints sensitive and lively landscapes in dramatic skies.

In France, the romantic movement was led by François-René de Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël, and then Victor Hugo. It is the cult of feeling, often lyrical, that dominates. The leader of French romanticism in the pictorial domain is Eugène Delacroix. Painter of color, passions, and political exaltation, he took center stage in 1824. Other painters also embodied the romantic taste, in particular, Théodore Géricault or Paul Delaroche, with very different approaches. The first does not hesitate to deal with controversial or political, military subjects; the second becomes the fashionable genre painter, drawing his inspiration from behind the scenes of the history of France and the court of England. The movement is also available in sculpture, notably under the chisel of Antoine-Louis Barye, a great animalist, as well as in the musical field. Romanticism stems from an attitude that has been well described by Charles Baudelaire, a great admirer of Delacroix: it is a question of expressing an inner feeling, of affirming the primacy of feeling over reason.


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