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Romanticism (in the Netherrlands)

De Romantiek (in Nederland) - Lyklema Fine Art

Romanticism is a movement within Western painting between the end of the eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth century with an emphasis on imagination and subjective expression. There is a lot of room for the artist's intuition and imagination. This sometimes led to works of art with a poetic atmosphere, hinting at sentimentality. Wild mountains and deserted ruins. Nothing as overwhelming as a Romantic landscape. The best-known Romantic artists include the German Caspar David Friedrich, the English landscape painter John Constable and Wiliam Turner and the French Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault. However, their mutual differences are exemplary of the diversity of Romanticism. Romanticism was especially noticeable in the arts, especially in literature, visual arts and music. But philosophy and religion were also influenced by it. Romanticism was a strong reaction to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century.

Friedrich, De Wandelaar

Friedrich, de Wanderer

Around 1800, writers, philosophers and artists in Germany presented a new vision of the world that they called "romantic" as a reaction to rationalist and universal neoclassicism. A painter must not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he perceives within himself. Usually reality was depicted more beautifully, more dreamily, than the facts. Introversion and loneliness were opposed to extroversion and theatricality, the picturesque and the mundane to the monumental and grotesque. All quite contradictory. At times it was nostalgic and dreamy, at other times the Romantic artists conveyed an ominous view of human existence. Romanticism was about a desire, about understanding existence and making it a harmonious whole. The intense experience of nature and the amazement at its grandeur were central. In addition to impressive landscapes and vistas, literary and historical subjects were chosen. It was about the enchantment of the distant, the unknown, the imagined, as a form of escapism. The painter was also often the subject, melancholy musing (and traveling), in mountains to the sea or near ruins and very sometimes in his own studio, sunk in a kind of "weltschmerz". Montesquieu spoke of the "romanesque" search for creative ecstasy. Edmund Burke wrote on the sublime and the beautiful in 1757, describing the aesthetics of the awe-inspiring and the terrible. Horror stories were popular at that time, as were knight stories. In Germany it was about Sturm und Drang and the longing for the distant and unknown.
Part of the painting by Delacroix, 1830

Romanticism, as mentioned, could be seen in all art forms. In music, Romanticism is periodized differently, namely between 1815 and 1910. The Romantic period in classical music ended in the violence of the First World War. The great herald of classical romantic music was Ludwig van Beethoven. After this, more classical composers emerged who gave Romanticism a sound: A symphony. Franz Schubert, Josef Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler, among others, composed increasingly grand and complex works.

The Romanticism movement did not emerge overnight around 1800. Advocates of "modernity" began to question the sustainability of classicist norms. It was about "the beautiful" based on one's own taste. Neoclassical artists predominantly strive for an impersonal, pure style that expresses the eternal and universal. Romantics, on the other hand, work from their personal inner world of feelings and ideals. But both movements idealized the image. The sketch, which was previously seen as an unimportant preliminary study, gained a higher status during the Romantic period as a spontaneous art expression that made the artist's individual handwriting visible through the looser use of material.

General characteristics of Romanticism

  • Individualism & Weltschmerz
  • Against the Enlightenment ideals
  • Escapism & longing for nature
  • Mystical-religious elements.
  • Emphasis on the national past

The cradle of the romantic school was around the year 1800 in Germany, which was searching for its own identity after the conquest by Napoleon. Nationalism, subjectivism (brothers von Schlegel, the individualism of Goethe, the mystical philosophy of Hegel and the nostalgia of Novalis were sources of inspiration. The latter wrote the sentence: 'Die Welt muß romantisiert werden.'

Painting, philosophy and literature were closely intertwined in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century. Unlike the French artists of the Romantic period, the German Romantics maintained close contacts with poets and philosophers. They turned against the rational ideas of the French Enlightenment about art, nature, religion and reason. German Romanticism was strongly influenced by the nationalist ideas of the philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder. Caspar David Friedrich said: "Just as the believer prays without speaking a word, and God still lends him an ear, so the artist paints from true feeling, and the art lover understands it, recognizes it." It was the subjective experience of nature, sometimes as an almost divine experience.

Romantics in England

In England, Romanticism was part of a cultural heritage dating back to William Shakespeare. Through psychologizing literary works by John Milton and Edward Young, this tradition led to an increased attention to the imaginary, the historical and especially to the fantastic at the end of the eighteenth century. The exhibition of Henry Fuseli's demonic painting The Nightmare in 1781 proved to be a landmark moment. After that, it was mainly the landscape art of John Constable, among others, that gained the upper hand in England, also as a counterbalance to industrialization. His work was strongly atmospheric and filled with nostalgia, but more realistic, more "of this world". William Turner worked even more experimentally and had an even lighter brushwork and is called the painter of light. With his later mysterious motifs, dissolved in light and color, he acquired a special place in English Romanticism, which would later influence the Impressionists.

Het Witte Paard, Constable
John Constable (1776-1837), The White Horse, 1819 (The Frick Collection)


Romantics in France

In France, romantic thinking was first inspired by the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who with his call "back to nature". After the French Revolution and during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, attention for nature quickly shifted to historical themes and the glorification of the emperor himself. This decreed a neoclassical style, later called Empire style, with Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres as figurehead. However, the dominance of neoclassicism soon gave rise to a counter-movement, which returned to romantic ideals. It was not until the 1820s that Romanticism would more or less "triumph" over Neoclassicism in France.

Raft of Medusa, Gericault
Gericault, Raft of Medusa

The two most important representatives of Romanticism from France were Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix. They were inspired by the free and sensitive working method of John Constable, with a lot of attention to color intensity and light, but they ignored the landscape theme. Their works were powerful and full of pathos, but unlike their classicist predecessors, they mainly focused on the nameless hero and the individual involved in disastrous circumstances. They were less concerned with theatricality, but mainly with human passion. Think of the work of De Lacroix where Marianne is portrayed as a folk heroine at the time of the revolution.
De tekenzaal van Felix Meritis, Rijksmuseum SK-C-538.jpeg
The drawing room of Felix Merites, Jan Ekels de Jonge

Romantics in the Netherlands

In a European context, Dutch romanticism is much more modest. Most works showed a great sensitivity to nature and a strong feeling for the national tradition of marine and landscape painting that dated back to the seventeenth century (Jacob and Salomon van Ruysdael, Jan van Goyen). Shipwreck and family idyll and impressive nature are themes of Dutch romanticism. The clearest exponent of romantic painting in the Netherlands was Jan Ekels the Younger. Furthermore, nostalgia predominated. This includes painters such as B.C. Koekkoek, Bart van Hove, Salomon Verveer, Andreas Schelfhout, Johannes Tavenraat, marine painter Louis Meijer, Wijnand Nuijen, who died too young, and the young Johannes Bosboom. Cornelis Springer and Jan Weissenbruch also made a name for themselves as city painters. Dreibholtz is a good example in the Lyklema Fine Art collection.
B.C. Koekoek
Barend Cornelis Koekkoek

Belgian Romanticism reached its peak during the reign of Leopold I (1831-1865) and was mainly dominated by history painting. Gustaaf Wappers and Antoine Wiertz were strongly inspired by the baroque work of Pieter Paul Rubens and Antoon van Dyck. Thematically, Wappers and Wiertz focused mainly on Flemish history. Landscapes hardly occur in Belgian Romanticism. Here too, attention is paid to the struggle and revolution against the Netherlands.

Gustave Wappers, De Septemberdagen
Gustave Wappers: De Septemberdays 1830 at the Great Market, Brussel


Symbolism and Expressionism followed 

The end of the romantic school was around the middle of the nineteenth century, although this differs slightly from country to country with a more realistic and naturalistic style of painting. However, aspects such as nostalgia, pathos and escapism are style characteristics that would never disappear. The "romanticizing" and making everything more beautiful was over. After Romanticism it is more about the perception of the moment, but while retaining a deeper meaning and the feeling of the artist. Such as in symbolism (with its attention to imagination, fantasy and intuition) and in expressionism (in expressive pathos).

In France, the Barbizon School follows, which really paints from and in nature; not idealized. In the Netherlands this was followed by Bilders and then by the 'Oosterbeek School'. Mauve and Maris then moved again from Oosterbeek to The Hague and formed the Hague School with Israëls as old master. Mesdag was also inspired by this. The light and tone of the atmosphere became more important than the performance: Sober gray with the landscape and cows in the meadow as the subject. Industrialization was scorned and avoided, just like in Romanticism. The Eighties such as Isaac Israëls and Breitner eventually captured city life and industry and also added more color. That is why we also call them the Amsterdam Impressionists. Color for shape. Around the turn of the century, Jan Toorop and Thorn Prikker followed with symbolism. And so Romanticism also had a lot of influence in the Netherlands.
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