"The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog"

Caspar David French

"Better to live briefly and intensely according to your heart than to die old, fat, rich, bored and bourgeois."

What is Romanticism?

Romanticism is a complex and influential movement in the second half of the 18th century in Western Europe, consisting of artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual breakthroughs. It gained strength during the Industrial Revolution. The movement was all about strong emotion through aesthetic experience, with new emotions that had never been seen before in art, such as trepidation, horror, and awe. The art in particular was all about taking risks, with picturesque qualities as well as confronting the sublimity of untamed nature, or otherwise the "place no one has gone before" in relation to painting.
Some examples of concepts Romanticism connected to were:
  • Visual Art
  • Music
  • Poems and other literature
  • Political Ideals

How was it a departure from the past?

Romanticism was a reaction to the neoclassical writers of the Enlightenment. It was a revolt against it, and the visual art in the period was the most representative of that revolt. The reason for the rebellion aristocratic social and political norms of the Enlightenment and their negative connotation. The point of the paintings was to break free of the discipline and strict rules of the Enlightenment, with an artistic style emphasizing imagination, freedom, and emotion.

Main Contributors

  • William Wodsworth
  • William Blake
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Lord Byron
  • Ludwig van Beethoven

What was Romanticism's impact on the 19th century?

Romanticism spread Nationalism, which was one of its key ideals of the time. The development of national languages and folklore, the importance of local customs and traditions, and all the different movements going on at the time would redraw the map of Europe call for self-determination of nationalities. Nationalism was the main role in Romanticism, as well as its expression and meaning. Besides the artistic element, Romanticism awoke many political ideals in different countries, and made rulers start to realize their own independence and where they stood. Poland was an example of this, as after they fell to Russia's empire they came back and became one of the most famous nations of that time. This comeback was said to be because of the great ideals of Romanticism. Adam Mickiewicz, who is said to be one of the most famous poets of the time, developed the idea that Poland was the Messiah of Nations, predestined to suffer just as Jesus had suffered to save all the people. This was just one example of the many ways Romanticism came into the 19th century as a positive way to collect and portray political ideals.

1. Honour, Hugh, Romanticism, (Westview Press) 1979.
2. Lim, Cwisfa, Romanticism - The dawn of a new era, 2002Friedrich, Caspar D. The wanderer above the sea of fog. Photograph. Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Web.