Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution
As with most major art movements, Romanticism first developed as a reaction to the dominant movement of its time: Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism, the dominant art form in Europe during the second half of the 18th century, emphasized harmony, simplicity, and evenly developed proportions, Romanticism, on the other hand, took that formula and turned it on its head, prioritizing imagination and emotion, a kind of chaotic creativity that developed in direct response to the French Revolution of 1789 and the values of the Enlightenment (reason tempered by order) which that period emphasized. Romanticism stood out as a means for artists to give in to their passions, to connect viscerally with their work, and to have the right to, when it came to art criticism, refuse to justify their artistic choices via traditional defenses.
Romanticism was also closely tied to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. From the latter decades of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, most of Europe and particularly what is now the United Kingdom saw a massive migration of rural workers into large metropolitan areas. These workers were making the jump in order to work in the large factories that were springing up all over metropolitan areas as manufacturing capacity, aided by steam engines and copious supplies of coal, exploded all across Europe. Romanticism also played upon this drastic societal change, as many in Europe witnessed the large-scale pollution of coal-burning industry and the problems it caused, including water pollution and incredibly poor air quality for many major cities, as well as the many health problems that sprang up in its wake. Romanticism emphasized nature over industry, a point where again we can see the dominant force of the age (the Industrial Revolution) itself helping to create an art movement that began as a foil to that dominant force and then grew.
Some of the leading Romantic artists include: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, Francois Gerard, Theodore Gericault, Eugene Delacroix, Richard Parkes Bonington, Francisco de Goya, Caspar David Friedrich, Philipp Otto Runge, Karl Blechen, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Peter von Cornelius, Friedrich Overbeck, William Dyce, Alexander Ivanov, William Blake, Henry Fuseli, John Martin, Samuel Palmer, John Constable, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Washington Allston, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Thomas Doughty, and Asher Brown Durand.
Romantic artists emphasized and celebrated nature in their art, particularly with themes of chaos, natural beauty, and idealization of rural life. These drastic artistic shifts were mirrored in other art forms, as Romantic poets abandoned traditional heroic couplets in favor of blank verse (unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter) in addition to a wide variety of experimental forms. As with any period of vast experimentation, art criticism became a trickier affair for Romantic artists. New aesthetic patterns had yet to solidify across Europe, so many localized art scenes were left to be the driving forces of their own creations, in turn leading to even wider experimentation.
Keywords: art movement, Industrial Revolution, art criticism, Romantic artists, Europe, romanticism