Before we compare and discuss the works of leading representatives of Romanticism; Eugène Delacroix and Caspar David Friedrich, we first need to understand the concept of the mentioned art movement. Romanticism first emerged in the mid-18th century as opposed to Neoclassicism, which was characterized by objectivity and reason (hence, the Age of Reason), as a way of expressing the artist’s feelings on specific matters; heavily, the birth of the modern world and longing for nature. They also focused on the celebration of the individual, nature, beauty, and importance of imagination. They firmly rejected industrialization, urbanization, and rationalism; they idealized the concepts of women, children, and rural life while blending all these ideas with a pinch of interest in the past and absolute personification.
In the work of Eugène Delacroix, “Liberty Leading the People” (1830), we notice that in addition to emotionally-driven works, there are also paintings that tell the viewers a story; taking inspiration from the current events of that time. The bare-chested woman in the center who symbolizes liberty is holding a tricolor flag which refers to three concepts of the French Revolution and the motto of the French Republic: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. This shows us even though Romanticism was a backlash against Neoclassicism, it also borrowed from the previous art movement. And not only the use of female figures but also perspective and proportions remind us of Greek classical beauty. But, looking closer, we see Delacroix added some underarm hair which is far from perfect and closer to real representation.
We see French people from any step of the social ladder, fighting for liberty; and even dying for it. This scene refers to the July Revolution of 1830. She wears a Phrygian cap which was used as a symbol of liberty by the slaves that were freed in the Roman Period. Thus, representing the slaved common people of France reaching for liberty; meaning, a republican sense of regimen.
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But, why is this painting of a revolution considered romantic? Revolution has always been a romantic ideal for people. By the end of the 19th century, Europe was full of revolutions. There was an evolving social structure as a result of industrialization. Europe had changed; with factories, came the raw materials market and of course, colonialism. Thus, new classes emerged and one of them was the working class. Later, some concepts which defend the rights of the working class followed, such as communism and socialism. This type of searches for revolution kept happening because the people wanted to live a better life. They were chasing a romantic ideal; a dream. That’s why even though the painting deals with pain and death; it’s approached in a romantic manner.
Meanwhile, Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” (ca. 1818) handles romanticism from a much more personal and lonely point of view when compared to Delacroix’s work. When we look at the Delacroix’s “Liberty”, it invites us into the event; the pain, the passion. Whereas, Friedrich’s “Wanderer” stays still, turning his back on us; rather than letting us in, it makes us feel as if we are behind him as a viewer. It is romantic because the way it glorifies nature; and how small and insignificant man looks by comparison. The longing for going back to the old, pre-mechanic times is obvious. Also, considering that Caspar David was a firm believer of the Catholic church, it is possible he was specifically missing the old times where the church was in control. Mountains in this painting – and most of the religious paintings – are a reference to God; meaning he is on the top, above us. Here, our Wanderer is also on the top of a mountain, feeling closer to God, thus, feeling purer above the sea of fog which hides the corrupted world of industrialization. He sees the world underneath him as sinful and disrespectful. So, in a manner, rising above them represents purification. The fog can also represent the fear of the unknown, depicting the not-so-bright things the future will bring.
If we compare these two works of art, we can say that Delacroix used rich colors to give energy to his painting about a national event, making it as passionate and vivid as possible. While Friedrich used a rather gloomy pallet to express his feelings about the modern world. Although they have different subjects and perspectives, they are both considered romantic because they carry the viewer away with their dramatic visions.
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- “Romanticism Art Movement.” Identify This Art – Your Guide through the Art Movements, www.identifythisart.com/art-movements-styles/pre-modern-art/romanticism-art-movement/. Date accessed, May 21, 2019
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