Romantic Art

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  • Topic: Romanticism, Eugène Delacroix, John Constable
  • Pages : 3 (849 words )
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  • Published : May 2, 2013
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In Romantic art, nature—with its uncontrollable power, unpredictability, and potential for cataclysmic extremes—offered an alternative to the ordered world of Enlightenment thought. The violent and terrifying images of nature conjured by Romantic artists recall the eighteenth-century aesthetic of the Sublime. As articulated by the British statesman Edmund Burke in a 1757 treatise and echoed by the French philosopher Denis Diderot a decade later, "all that stuns the soul, all that imprints a feeling of terror, leads to the sublime." In French and British painting of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the recurrence of images of shipwrecks (2003.42.56) and other representations of man's struggle against the awesome power of nature manifest this sensibility. Scenes of shipwrecks culminated in 1819 with Théodore Gericault's strikingly original Raft of the Medusa (Louvre), based on a contemporary event. In its horrifying explicitness, emotional intensity, and conspicuous lack of a hero, The Raft of the Medusa became an icon of the emerging Romantic style. Similarly, J. M. W. Turner's 1812 depiction of Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps (Tate Britain, London), in which the general and his troops are dwarfed by the overwhelming scale of the landscape and engulfed in the swirling vortex of snow, embodies the Romantic sensibility in landscape painting. Gericault also explored the Romantic landscape in a series of views representing different times of day; in Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct (1989.183), the dramatic sky, blasted tree, and classical ruins evoke a sense of melancholic reverie.

Another facet of the Romantic attitude toward nature emerges in the landscapes of John Constable, whose art expresses his response to his native English countryside. For his major paintings, Constable executed full-scale sketches, as in a view of Salisbury Cathedral (50.145.8); he wrote that a sketch represents "nothing but one state of mind—that which you...
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