Saturday, January 22, 2011

Romanticism on Art

Principles of Romantic Painting

 Change as a program — this phrase alone makes it understandable why, in Romantic art, there were literature, music, painting and drawing, but no Romantic architecture or sculpture. It was Novalis who, in his Heinrich von Ofterdingen of 1802, created the erotic myth of the "blue flower," which soon burgeoned into a myth of longing and yearning for the faraway: The color blue as a symbol of the nocturnal, of tender, longing sensations. Painting might be called the medium of the unlimited; ever since Goethe's treatise on color, painters became preoccupied with the symbolic potentials of light and color, Philipp Otto Runge (1777—1810) and Turner foremost.

                                                             Caspar David Friedrich
                                                                  Monk by the Sea

Lending color and light a dominant role enabled Romantic painters to abandon the rational scheme of perspective in favor of an indeterminate space, suitable for conveying universal ideas. Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) created the exemplary specimen in his Monk by the Sea, and Turner, again, took the principle to an extreme that almost recalls modern abstraction.
 This explains why in many countries, especially England and Germany, landscape became the principal motif of Romantic painting. In the landscape, nature as the arena of higher powers was to be revealed.

The infinite expanse of the ocean, the sublime Alpine realm, the panorama view to the far horizon, but also "Waldeseinsamkeit", or sylvan solitude — a key term of German Romanticism coined in 1797 by Ludwig Tieck — could evoke the divine presence in elemental nature and make the observer feel it; yet they might equally express human isolation in the face of the limitless universe. Ultimately the natural environment was not depicted for its own sake, but as a mirror of internal mental and emotional processes.

Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), significant painter and theoretician, saw the goal of landscape pictures in rendering states of mind transparent through corresponding moods in natural life. In this sense, Runge ranked landscape as the central subject of the art of the future. Yet some Romantic landscape artists concentrated on natural history and the processes of growth and decay. This explains the key role played by landscape cycles illustrating the times of day or seasons of the year, symbols of the natural cycle. It also explains the signs of the historical past so frequently seen in Romantic landscapes: Gothic cathedrals, monasteries and castles, ruins, cairns, populated by monks, eremites and knights; and in many cases the evidence of geological study in the landscapes, which revealed the natural forces of formation and erosion - factors that could lead beyond Romanticism to a more objective and prosaic approach to landscape.
 Another characteristic motif of Romantic painting was the framed view, a landscape seen from an interior through an open window or door. Carus introduced two of his Nine Missives on Landscape Painting of 1831 with a suggestive description of an interior, making reference to Goethe's Faust (II, Act 2): "Enclosed space suits the artificial best. The universe can hardly hold the natural rest." The tension between the landscape expanse outside and the intimacy of the enclosed room conforms perfectly with Novalis's dictum of evoking an "aura of the infinite" in the finite.

                                                                Caspar David Friedrich
                                                                  Woman at a Window

 In Caspar David Friedrich's Woman at a Window of 1822, the dark interior has been interpreted as standing for the constricted, earthly world which receives its light only from the window, symbolizing the supernatural world. The opposite bank of the river below the window has been said to represent the Beyond in the religious sense, while the ships' masts rising into the frame stand for a Christian recasting of the classical motif of the underground river across which Charon ferries dead souls.
 Though weighty objections have been made to this strictly theological interpretation, the isolation of man from nature in the picture remains indisputable. The figure seen from the back, leaning against the window — the artist's wife — seems imprisoned in the small, sparsely furnished room and the linear gridwork of the composition. Only the middle pane of the window is open, underscoring by contrast the glazed upper aperture that separates the brilliant expanse of sky and landscape from the somber room.

In Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio, Georg Friedrich Kersting (1785-1847) shows the artist leaning on a chair, musing before his easel. The painted canvas is hidden from view. What goes through Friedrich's mind in the process of painting can only be surmised from his absent gaze. The single window of the bare room is entirely closed, the lower part shuttered; only at the top is a section of grey-blue sky visible. "A painter who sees no world within himself should desist painting," Friedrich once declared. Here a painter who recreated the world out of inward vision is shown at work in a darkened room, into which a tiny excerpt of the exterior world reflects what he struggles to evoke, the glory of a higher existence as a refuge for the troubled soul.
 In the case of any movement in art which emblazons continual change on its banner, which sets out to explore unknown and uncharted territory, a common denominator from artist to artist and country to country will be difficult to find. This makes it all the more important to look at individual nations and painters, with an eye to discerning further characteristic traits of Romanticism

John Constable
(b East Bergholt, Suffolk, 11 June 1776; d Hampstead, 31 March 1837).

English painter and draughtsman. His range and aspirations were less extensive than those of his contemporary J. M. W. Turner, but these two artists have traditionally been linked as the giants of early 19th-century British landscape painting and isolated from the many other artists practising landscape at a time when it was unprecedentedly popular. Constable has often been defined as the great ‘naturalist’ and deliberately presented himself thus in his correspondence, although his stylistic variety indicates an instability in his perception of what constituted ‘nature’. He has also been characterized as having painted only the places he knew intimately, which other artists tended to pass by. While the exclusivity of Constable’s approach is indisputable, his concern with local scenery was not unique, being shared by the contemporary Norwich artists. By beginning to sketch in oil from nature seriously in 1808, he also conformed with the practice of artists such as Thomas Christopher Hofland (1777–1843), William Alfred Delamotte, Turner and, particularly, the pupils of John Linnell. Turner shared his commitment to establishing landscape as the equal of history painting, despite widespread disbelief in this notion. Nevertheless, although Constable was less singular than he might have liked people to believe, his single-mindedness in portraying so limited a range of sites was unique, and the brilliance of his oil sketching unprecedented, while none of his contemporaries was producing pictures resembling The Haywain (1821; London, N.G.) or the Leaping Horse (1825; London, RA). This very singularity was characteristic of British artists at a time when members of most occupations were stressing their individuality in the context of a rapidly developing capitalist economy.


An early 19th century, pan-European movement in the arts and philosophy. The term derives from the Romances of the Middle Ages, and refers to an idealization of reality. In the late 18th century, it came to mean anti-Classical and represented a trend towards the picturesque and the Gothic, and a love of nostalgia, mystery and drama (e.g. Walpole, Beckford and Fuseli). By the early 19th century it had been broadened to include: an enthusiasm for, and awe of, nature; a political support for liberty; an emphasis on the individual as a unique creative being; opposition to, and fear of, industrialization; an interest in the exotic and primitive; nationalism; and a dissatisfaction with life and a desire for new means of artistic expression. This breadth of meaning has led to the definition of Romanticism as a 'feeling' and very little else.
The Romantic movement took on different characteristics throughout Europe. In England, the poets Shelley and Keats sought beauty, Byron sought exotic glory and adventure, Wordsworth tried to express a love of nature in a new simple language and Blake railed against the Establishment. Landscape painting was seriously explored by Constable, Palmer and others. The Middle Ages were revived as a source of artistic and architectural interest. Most significantly Turner found a radical and expressive technique with which to depict his view of the natural world. In France the movement was politically motivated by the revolutions of 1789 and 1830, and with the patronage of Napoleon (see Gros and Gericault), artists looked increasingly to literature, history and exotic subjects. The art pour art movement promoted beauty for its own sake (e.g. Ingres), there was a search for painting of modern fife (by Baudelaire) and Delacroix experimented with new colour theories and free brushwork. In Germany, an enthusiasm for nationalism and liberalism generated by the Napoleonic invasion inspired writers, artists and architects (e.g. Friedrich, Schinkel and Klenze).

1 comment:

  1. Footnote to Norbert Wolf, Romanticism, Taschen, 2007 ???