Romanticism begins in France with the violent and exotic battle scenes of Gros and the famous shipwreck, the Raft of the Medusa, painted by Gericault. Soon after, two distinct trends emerge in French painting, one—represented by the artist Delacroix—was rebellious, and emphasized emotion, color and loose brushwork. The other—which can be seen in the art of Ingres—upheld tradition, and emphasized line and a highly finished surface. Of course, things were more complicated—but those were battle lines!
The great artist Francisco Goya is the focus of this tutorial. Goya began his career designing tapestries for the royal residences, and eventually became court painter to the King of Spain. But after Napoleon’s army occupied Spain and deposed the King, Goya documented the horrors he witnessed. His work following the occupation, including the Third of May 1808, remains some of the most powerful anti-war images ever created. His later years were spent largely in a house outside Madrid which he painted with haunting scenes. Saturn Devouring his sons belongs to this late series, known as the “Black Paintings.”
As the industrial revolution transformed the British countryside, replacing fields with factories, painters turned to landscape. Constable painted his native suffolk, where he spent his childhood, and imbued it with a sense of affection for rural life. Turner, on the other hand, created dramatic and sublime landscapes with a sense of the heroic or even the tragic. What both of these artists have in common is a desire to make landscape painting—understood as a low subject by the Academy which dictated official views on art—carry serious meaning.
This tutorial focuses exclusively on the art of Caspar David Friedrich, whose work best exemplifies Romanticism’s interest in the big questions of man’s mortality and place in the universe. The world had changed dramatically since the time of Michelangelo, Bernini and Rembrandt, and as a result, Friedrich approached these big questions without the Christian narratives that dominated the art of the past. And like his English counterparts during this period, he imbues nature and the landscape with symbolic and often spiritual meaning.