Analysis of Romanticism

An analysis of the Romantic movement in France and America. The importance of the individual as seen in works by Delacroix and Gericault and the juxtaposed importance of nature in America with works like Bierstadt and Cole. Post-Revolution nations and the art they deliver during times of wanted economic, cultural and societal growth. The influence of art on the foundations of modern, reformed nations.

This small painting dates from Cole's early career, when the young painter was first exploring the dramatic possibilities of landscape art. Based on studies made in New York's Catskill Mountains, the composition presents a romantic, deeply moral vision of primeval nature, its wildness contrasting with the corrupt, "civilized" landscapes of Europe, an idea firmly rooted in Rousseau's theory that civilization and progress corrupted the "natural state of man". That Cole intended such paintings as hymns to nature and nature's God is amply borne out in his poetry. Writing in the same year as this painting, he exclaimed: O may the voice of music that so chime With the wild mountain breeze and rippling lake Ne'er wake the soul but to a keener sense Of nature's beauties.
This may be tied to the the exploration and expansion of America into the west a popular theme in Thomas Cole’s works like “The Oxbow”. A familiar and classical Narrative reminiscent of Massacio and Michelangelo. Nature plays contrasting role from the beauty of paradise and untamed wilderness, showing both the beauty and tenacious danger of nature. The ravaged trees worn by time and storm on the left contrast strongly with the beautiful tropic of paradise at the right. The composition pans from right to left as a burst of light, suggesting a divine intervention expels Adam and Eve from Eden into the wilderness. This divine intervention when placed into the context of early American western expansion can be traced to the ideas of “Manifest Destiny” and the american duty to “tame the wild”. The painting, much like Cole’s later “Oxbow” present the two debating point of views that plagued the issue of American Expansion. While nature’s beauty is awe-inspiring and bountiful, nature can also be a devastating and unpredictable force, that presents a danger to all caught by it.
German-American painter Albert Bierstadt was associated with the Hudson River School, a group of naturalist painters known for sublime landscapes bathed in golden light with soft brushstrokes. More subdued than his typically dramatic depictions of nature's omnipotence, "On the Hudson" captures the Hudson River shoreline on a calm day. Painted in cool muted tones, this work depicts a pebbled beach that foregrounds the windswept surface of the water and is strongly contrasted with Bierstadt's previous pieces that are wrought with vibrant color and dramatic displays of nature. A distant tree-covered mountain range commands the skyline and frames the scene, much like that of "Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California".
Bierstadt reinforced the idea of Manifest Destiny by repeatedly representing the awe-inspiring scenes of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. A placid lake, framed by wild trees and flanked by massive, heave-reaching mountains that soar through the cloudy and mysterious sky. He underscores the almost transcendental nature of this scene, by depicting the sun's rays breaking through the clouds, suggesting a heavenly construct to the landscape. Bierstadt's panoramic landscape represents the breathtaking natural beauty of the American West, reinforcing the 19th-century doctrine of Manifest Destiny. This doctrine held that westward expansion across the continent was the logical destiny of the United States. Once again the spiritual aspect of Bierstadt's painting deem this idea the moral and spiritual compass of American destiny, pointing west.
Bierstadt's dramatic sense was keen, and he was a master at the creative transformation of a few basic compositions with the light-struck sky and water enhancing the scene. The eye moves into the space by diagonal steps, from the family of deer (the only animate objects in the painting) just right of center, to the stand of trees, to the right distance, and to the soaring cathedral rock across the water. Finally, the most distant snow-covered peaks are seen at top left center. Against this develops a curvilinear play in the cuplike curves of rocks and lakeshore seen also in "Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California" which also features a body of water and deer. The scene is alive with the exhilaration of on-the-spot observation. Rocky Mountain Landscape conveys the awestruck wonder the artist induces in the viewer. The scene also implies a suspension in time. The cascades suggest neither sound nor motion; the great cloudbanks are stopped in their ascent; the still water of the lake mirrors the rocks and locks them to the foreground shore through the complex and beautiful pattern of reflections. We dare not move lest we lose the waking dream. No humans are present except ourselves; we have stumbled upon a hidden valley. The disposition of light and shadow furthers this illusion. Around a core of light the artist has wrapped a dark cloak, sealing off this extraordinary place from the civilized world.
A massive canvas that is marked by opulent colors depicting wealth and darkness contrasted sharply, depicts the funeral pyre of the Assyrian King Sardanapalus. After hearing of his army's defeat and the movement of his enemy towards him, the Assyrian King ordered all things that bring him pleasure to be burned along with him. This story adapted from Lord Byron's "Sardanapalus" shows a supremely indifferent king watching the murdering of his women and horses, watching his treasure, slaves and possessions in what had been described as an "orgy of destruction". A favored concubine throws herself onto the pyre, with seemingly no reaction from the king. The writhing figures foreshadow the flames which will consume Sardanapalus and his treasures in an extremely emotionally charged painting that speaks to the Romantic era's emphasis on feeling and non-linear construction. The pyre extends into the viewers realm as the chaotic scene emotionally and almost physically "touches" the viewer. This chaotic scene from a Romantic author painted by a Romantic painter, is a primary example of this time period's use of color, drama and human emotion to evoking a personal and emotional response from the viewers.
While not depicting a French event, the tiumph of the trodden over the mighty can be tied to a reminiscent look at Voltaire’s ideas of liberty and the ongoing struggle between political powers in France. A dynamic, swirling evocation of a surprise attack, Eugène Delacroix's preparatory study for a larger canvas is a thrilling demonstration of the artist's energetic handling of the brush and his phenomenal prowess both as a colorist and as a composer of form. The scene imagines the daring assault on the night of August 21-22, 1823, made by a band of 240 Greek freedom fighters against some 4,000 encamped Turkish soldiers. The attack overwhelmed the unprepared army and became a significant battle in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1827) against the ruling Ottoman Empire. Though a stunning victory for the Greek cause, the leader Marcos Botzaris was mortally wounded during the struggle. Delacroix shows Botzaris in the center, dramatically falling while his loyal comrades come to his assistance. As dawn breaks over the distant mountains, the pitched conflict rages around Botzaris: a cannon is hurriedly prepared, the stunned occupants of a tent are felled by sword, and unattended horses bolt aimlessly. The circumstances of Botzaris's heroic death became a rallying point for European support of the struggling Greeks. Already in April 1824, Delacroix recorded in his diary his desire to portray the event, for which he executed a watercolor and a number of drawing studies, showing his interest in contemporaneous events displaying the triumph of the trodden over that of the mighty, a theme which can be translated to French life in Delacroix's time.Yet it was not until thirty-five years later that he returned to the subject.
In 1832, Delacroix traveled to North Africa with the French ambassador, Count de Mornay, who was to negotiate a treaty of friendship with the sultan of Morocco. One day in Tangier, the two hid in an attic and through the cracks of a shuttered window witnessed the frenzy of the Aïssaouas, a fanatical Muslim sect. The turmoil of that event is conveyed in this vividly colored and vigorously brushed depiction of the fanatics hurling themselves down the street. Of the pictures resulting from the Moroccan experiences, this remains one of Delacroix's most arresting. The turmoil of instability is a common theme in Romanticism seen in Goya's "Third of May" and even Delacroix's earlier work "Liberty Leading the People". The intense emotion, panic and feeling from chaotic instability is central to Romantic exploration of political climates.
Bordering on Realism this painting of a stereotypical elderly peasant woman in Italy serves as a close-up into Gericaults study of the human face. As seen in "Insane Woman" Gericault's belief in the face speaking bounds to the mentality of the sitter is essential to his style.The artwork has the characteristics of a Géricault in terms of framing and the rendering of skin and clothes. To support this hypothesis, Bruno Chenique made painstaking comparisons with the mane of the “Head of a White Horse” by Géricault, with the eyes of the “Portrait of a Kleptomaniac” and with the skin of the “Severed Heads”, strange still-life studies the artist used as documentary material for “The Raft of the Medusa”.This old Italian woman, who exemplified the peasant from southern Italy, lent her striking facial features to young artists in search of original and unmistakable models. While some portrayed her in anecdotal scenes, the artist of this portrait captured her extraordinary presence with highly effective simplicity.
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