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Louis Béroud



Randy H. Sooknanan & Ani Margaryan

ASAG Journal

February 16, 2021

Romanticism was an art movement that emerged in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It emphasized emotions, individualism, and the beauty of nature over reason and logic. Romantic artists focused on expressing their personal feelings, sensations, and experiences through their work, often using vivid colors and dramatic contrasts to capture the intensity of their emotions. They also incorporated elements of mysticism, fantasy, and the supernatural, inspired by myth and folklore. The Romantic movement had a profound influence on literature, music, and other arts, and it is considered one of the most significant artistic movements in Western history.

Let's survey some artworks...

"The Kiss", 1859 by Francesco Hayez

"Il Bacio" or "The Kiss", 1859 by Francesco Hayez 🇮🇹
Style: Romanticism
Location: Pinacoteca di Brera Gallery, Milan, Italy

"The Kiss" (Fig 1) is a symbolic painting from the 1800s that contains all the characteristics of Italian romanticism. The setting is deliberately neutral to focus the viewer's attention on the kiss scene between lovers. The man has a foot on the staircase, making the idea of the imminent departure, but the passion of the kiss suggests that he would like to stay with her. The beloved transmits passion and poignant ardour in greeting her beloved.


Fig 1. "The Kiss", 1859 by Francesco Hayez
Francesco Hayez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Features of Romanticism

Identify the painting below

How does it express and convey the features of Romanticism?

*Mention another work of art that belongs to the same period and style

J.M.W. Turner, Slave ship (Slavers throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, typhoon coming on), 1840, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 

J.M.W. Turner is an English Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist. He is known for his expressive colorization, imaginative landscapes, and turbulent, often violent marine paintings.

The fact that the artist used his voice, his art, and his persona to criticize the true scandal of the notorious captain of the slave ship “Zong,” who made the inhuman decision of casting overboard the sick enslaved people to get the insurance money, already draws this work close to the Romanticism principles: the artwork is not the expression of physical beauty or artistic arrangements, but the attempt to disclose the social issues and disasters of the time. 

The characteristic features of Romanticism, such as the employment of color not as the means of rendering the natural environment but as the expression of emotions and mood, dramatic events, tragedy, heroism, and sacrifice, is the crucial element in this work. The current notion typifies more concisely the reddish or “bloody sunset,” echoing the death of innocent enslaved people. 

Another signifier of Romanticism, which is at the same time specificity of the artist’s personal style, might be considered the rapid brushwork, opposing the lucid, clear, invisible brushwork of his predecessors. The expressive brushstrokes intensify the sense of drama and provide dynamism to the composition. 

The ship itself, the hands of the victims, and the chains, as symbols of subordination and imprisonment, are reduced in scale and paler, being inferior to the accentuated, mighty and turbulent seascape. The extended power of the landscape dominant over the human figures and other elements of the composition is also a distinctive trait of Romanticism. And eventually, the artwork as a whole is a sonnet to the sublime, the main subject for the key figures of the Romantic, artistic movement. 


Fig 3. The Slave Ship, 1840 by J. M. W. Turner
J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

*The artwork of Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School, entitled “The Oxbow,” 1836, oil on canvas, is another work of art that belongs to the Romantic movement or Romanticism. 


Fig 3. “The Oxbow,” 1836 by Thomas Cole
Thomas Cole, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

View of Constantinople and the Tophane Mosque (1884)

by Ivan Aivazovsky

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) was a Russian Romantic painter who is considered one of the greatest masters of marine art.

In his painting View of Constantinople and the Tophane Mosque (Fig 4) we see the Nusretiye Mosque, an ornate mosque located in Tophane district of Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey. While its architecture is influenced by Islamic elements, it retains a Baroque style, making it unique to the city. It was built in 1823-1826 by Sultan Mahmut II.

Ivan Aivazovsky painted this piece in 1884, and the artwork is now located in Brest, France. Here we see why he was so famous for specialising in seascape and landscape portraits.

Aivazovsky was born into the family of a destitute Armenian merchant in the Crimean city of Feodosia on July 17, 1817. At the time of Aivazovsky’s birth the city was devastated after a recent war and was still suffering from the consequences of a plague epidemic that had affected the region in 1812. In 1846 Aivazovsky built his own workshop in his native Feodosia and spent most of his time there, behind closed doors, producing one picture after another. He no longer needed to go outdoors for inspiration - he had already seen so much of his beloved environment that he was able to produce canvases with amazing speed, almost that of a printing machine. By this time the artist has perfected his technique and invented so many tricks that he often astonished his visitors by creating a large canvas in a matter of hours. He died on May 2, 1900 at the age of 82.


Fig 4. View of Constantinople and the Tophane Mosque (1884) by Ivan Aivazovsky
Ivan Ayvazovsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768
by Joseph Wright of Derby

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air (Fig 5) is an oil painting created by Joseph Wright of Derby in 1768. The artwork depicts a group of scientists and enthusiasts gathered to witness an experiment conducted to test the feasibility of flying a bird using a vacuum pump. The painting is significant for its representation of the scientific advancements and discoveries of the time, as well as its emphasis on human ingenuity and the pursuit of knowledge.

The composition of the painting is carefully arranged to draw attention to the central action of the experiment. The bird, suspended in mid-air, is the focal point of the painting, with the apparatus and surrounding figures serving to highlight and contextualize the experiment. The use of chiaroscuro, a technique frequently employed by Wright, creates dramatic contrasts of light and shadow that add to the sense of drama and excitement in the scene.

One of the most striking features of the painting is the expressions and postures of the figures involved in the experiment. The scientist operating the vacuum pump is shown with an intense focus, while the others watch eagerly, some taking notes, others holding out their hands as if to catch the bird. Their expressions range from wonder and awe to skepticism and caution, suggesting a complex mix of emotions and attitudes towards the possibilities of science and experimentation.

Another aspect of the painting worth noting is its representation of the natural world. The bird, a common subject of Wright's paintings, is rendered with great detail and accuracy, highlighting the artist's interest in the natural world and his ability to capture its beauty and complexity. The surroundings, too, are depicted with a high degree of realism, drawing attention to the interplay between nature and technology and the ways in which humans seek to understand and harness the power of nature for their own purposes.

Essentially, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air is a powerful representation of the spirit of intellectual curiosity and discovery that characterized the Enlightenment era. It emphasizes the importance of experimentation, observation, and collaboration in advancing human knowledge and understanding of the world around us. At the same time, it raises important questions about the ethics and limitations of scientific inquiry, reminding us that our quest for knowledge must always be tempered by a deeper awareness of our place within the natural world.


Fig 5. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768 by Joseph Wright of Derby 
Joseph Wright of Derby, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819–1823 by Francisco Goya

The painting "Saturn Devouring His Son" (Fig 6) was created by the Spanish romantic painter and printmaker Francisco Goya between 1819 and 1823, during the later period of his life. The artwork is part of a series of 14 works, titled "The Black Paintings," which Goya painted directly onto the walls of his home in Madrid. This series depicts grotesque and disturbing scenes, which are believed to reflect Goya's mental state during his later years.

The historical context behind the painting can be traced back to Greek mythology, which tells the story of Saturn (the Roman name for Cronus), who ate his children as he feared they would overthrow him. Goya's depiction of the mythological character, Saturn, is a gruesome and terrifying representation of the act.

Visually, the painting depicts Saturn with bulging eyes, a wrinkled brow, and a mouth open wide in a frenzied expression. His muscular arms are raised, one holding his son's head by the hair while the other grasps his son's arm, which he is in the process of devouring. The dark, dramatic tones of the painting illustrate the violence and horror of the scene.

The use of chiaroscuro, a technique used to create contrast between light and dark, enhances the mood of the painting. Goya's choice of colors, predominantly blacks and grays, creates a somber and foreboding atmosphere. The texture of the paint is rough and has an almost sculptural quality to it, adding to the distorted and unsettling nature of the image.

Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son" is a significant piece of art that reflects his own personal struggles as well as broader social and political turmoil of the time. It is a powerful representation of the darker aspects of humanity, fear, and power.


Fig 6. Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819–1823 by Francisco Goya
Francisco de Goya, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The demolition of the houses of the Pont au Change by Hubert Robert 

Here we see a work entitled The demolition of the houses of the Pont au Change (Fig 7) by Hubert Robert (1733-1808) a French painter in the school of Romanticism, noted especially for his landscape paintings and capricci, or semi-fictitious picturesque depictions of ruins in Italy and of France

The demolition in 1786 of the houses along the Pont Notre-Dame and, two years later, those of the Pont au Change and the Pont Marie, testifies to an important embellishment intervention in the centre of Paris.

The medieval tradition of inhabited bridges (apart from the Pont-Neuf) had ended up creating real traffic difficulties and problems of insalubrity.

By representing a colossal pile of rubble, Hubert Robert gives an account of the extent of this transformation.


Hubert Robert 1.jpg

Fig 7. "The demolition of the houses on the Pont au Change"
Hubert Robert (1733 – 1808)
Around 1788
Musée Carnavalet - History of Paris / Paris Musées

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