Romanticism, introduction:
Romanticism can be seen as a broad art-movement (iR3). Also present in literature (Goethe, 1749-1832; Lord Byron, 1788-1824; Alexandre Dumas, 1802-70; Victor Hugo, 1802-85) and music (Berlioz, 1803-69; Chopin, 1810-49; Schuhmann, 1810-56; Liszt, 1811-86). As a painting style it was not only present in France, but also in Germany (1800-1830, namely Casper David Friedrich, 1774-1840), England (William Turner) and Spain (Goya, 1746-1828). The Romantic painters were inspired by Titian (1488ca-1576), Rubens (1577-1640), Velázquez (1599-1660). (R3,p18/9;R172,p60-2) Important French artists were Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), where it was an important art-movement from 1815-1850.


Romanticism, themes:
In Romanticism the emphasize lies on dramatic and tragic events, like the inescapable fate. Cruelties are rendered in a direct and penetrating way. Heavy sentiments are rendered, like enclosure, anxiety and despair. Also poetic moods are rendered, sometimes tending to sentimentality. There is a close connection between men and nature. Nature is seen as a mirror of the soul. But also the human helplessness against the forces of nature is an important theme. Passion, the subjective world of feelings and imagination, were important sources of inspiration. The Romantic painters also rendered historical themes, oriental scenes and scenes from literature. Other themes are dreams, fantasy, visions, loneliness, decay, death and also a heroic idealism. One of the most important tenets was the exaltation of Nature; as an experience for its own sake, as a source of wisdom and as an artistic inspiration. (R293,p319-328+400+410;R172,p56-60;R3,p19;R13,p174/5;R177,p18;R61,p13).

Romanticism, painting style:
The romantic painter used colour as an expression of moods (R13,p175). In general it is said that the emphasize is on colour and not on line (R172,p61;R3,p18). Delacroix is praised for his use of radiant colours and his use of complementary contrasts (R172,p61). But when we look more closely, the use of colour by the Neo-Classicists is in general more bright. The use of colour by the romantic painters is more subdued, using a lot of browns, greys and blacks. The emphasize is more on the use of ‘clair-obscure’, the use of contrasts between lighter and darker parts, thus emphasizing the drama (R13,p260). The Romantic painters often used loose brushstroke, thus emphasizing the dramatic movement. They often rendered a turbulent composition. The contours are partially blurred. (R293,p402)


Théodore Géricault (1791-1824):
Géricault is seen as the pioneer of Romanticism in France (R172,p60). His oeuvre is not very large, cause he died at the age of 32. In his early years he copied at the Louvre, studied anatomy and horses and rendered military scenes. In 1816 he failed for the Prix de Rome (M4). In 1816 and 1817 he stayed in Italy. Around 1818 he made a serie of landscapes depicting the time of day. The landscapes seem more idealized (using memories of landscapes in Italy). The skies render an air of anxiety and a turbulent mood, which make it an example of Romanticism (M23;M4). His masterpiece the ‘Raft of the Médusa’ caused a scandal at the Salon of 1819 (R172,p60;R13,p260;iR1). In 1820 he met Constable in England (R13,p260). And in 1821 still being in England, he depicted the theme of horse racing. Around 1822 he made a serie of insane people like a scientific documentalist, they are examples of expressive realism (iR3; R293,p410).


Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863):
Delacroix entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1816 (R13,p174;R3,p658). He made his debut at the Salon of 1822 (R13,p174;R3,p658;iR1). In 1825, together with Bonington, Delacroix went to England, where he admired works of Gainsborough and Turner (R13,p174;R3,p658;R293,p403). He also was influenced by Constable, who had a success at the Salon of 1824 (R13,p174;R172,p62;R3,p19;R293,p403). In 1827 he exhibited 12 paintings at the Salon (iR1). He then (reluctantly) was seen as the head of the Romantic school in France (R13,p174;R172,p61;). Inspired by the July-revolution of 1830, he painted his famous ‘Liberty leading the people’. In 1832 he made a trip to Maroc, Alger and Spain (R13,p174;R3,p658). After that oriental and exotic themes became important in his oeuvre. In 1855 at the Exposition Universelle 35 paintings of Delacroix were shown (iR1;R3,p658). In 1857/01/10, after being rejected 7 times, he was appointed as member of the Académie (R3,p658;R88II,p1003). In his last years Delacroix lived in isolation and rejected the Salon and the Académie (R13,p175).
Delacroix is seen as the counterpart of Ingres and even was his personal enemy (R172,p61;R3,p18). Delacroix made a study of colours in nature. “The flesh only receives its true colour in the open air and especially in the sun.” (R172,p62) He developed his own theory of colours. He observed that nuanced intermediate tones are created by the mixing of two complementary primary colours. ‘Red has many green shades and yellow purple shades, etc.’ In this way the intensity of the colours is enlarged. (R172,p62) Delacroix also was influenced by  the Barbizon painters (R172,p62). Delacroix left a large oeuvre and is seen as one of the most important painters of the 19th century (R13,p175). There are also a journal and many letters known of him (R13,p275).

Isabey, Eugène (1803-86):
Is seen as a celebrated Romantic artist. He had a large art-workshop, where students cooperated in the preparations of large art-works meant for the Salon. Among his pupils were Ziem and Jongkind. Isabey made many romantic landscapes, namely at the Normandy and Brittany coast. He depicted heavy dark clouds.
Sources: R177,p16-19.


Ary Scheffer:


Romanticism vs Neo-Classicism:
Rauch writes: ‘Discussions that attempted to define the boundary between Classicism and Romanticism always came to nothing.’ He describes Classicism as a ‘stylistic language’ and Romanticism as a ‘mindset’. (R293,p330). I am no specialist to say much about this discussion. In general I find that we mustn’t put artists to strictly within one frame. I see that Romantic artists, like Delacroix, also render religious and mythological themes. But when we look more closely, the drama is always very prominent, rendered with rough brushstrokes. We can see so in his rendering of ‘Roger delivering Angélique’. When we compare this with Ingres, we see that he centralizes the nude Angélique, rendered with smooth brushstrokes (1819, Louvre). I see that many Neo-Classicist artists, like Cabanel, also render a lot of Drama in their paintings. (see below) So does David, whose work often is a bit theatrical and who also uses clair-obscure (R293,p371). But still, the Neo-Classicists emphisize line, detail and the human body.Orientalism is a theme used by many, also by a Romantic artist, like Delacroix and a Neo-Classicist artist like Gérôme.


My main sources are Rauch (2000=R293,p318-412); Krausse (R172,p60-62); Schilderkunst van A tot Z (1987=R13,p174/5+260+624/5); Walther (2013=R3); Roberts (1965=R61); the Salon database (iR1); Wikipedia (iR3); the-athenaeum (iR2); WikiMedia (iR6). See the link for other general References (=Rx) and to the internet references (=iRx). See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.

Additional references:

  1. (starting page with links to engravings of Delacroix; =iR40)
  2. x


Recommanded citation: “Meta-Impressionism: Romanticism. Last modified 2023/11/01.

Note: additional info and pictures will be added.