British Romantic Art in Society

Styles and Techniques

British Romantic Art typically uses nature and sympathetic real life experiences to convey and emphasize emotion, in similar manners as the poets from Romanticism Poetry and the musicians from Romantic Music. Nature can be portrayed as a serene landscape, as seen in William Turner’s Landscape with a River and a Bay in the Distance. In other paintings, nature’s uncontrollable power and danger is portrayed in shipwrecks and man’s struggle with nature, as in William Turner’s The Slave Ship. Romantic artists used their art to portray their love and connection with nature. Their painting techniques generally encompass bright, vibrant colors, or paler and darker tones that do not provide contrast within the painting, but are rather blended and create a softer image. Many times, the immediate focus of the eye is drawn to some component of nature rather than the manmade aspects. Many times the painter’s brush strokes do not create precise lines, but are vague and provide a “blurred” perception.
Although nature was an important concept of the Romantic era, there were other themes and emotions that many of the Romantic artists focused on. Emotions were expressed over reason and senses were expressed over intellect. This philosophy of portraying emotions and senses was primarily developed out of a disgust of the focus on reason during the Enlightenment, and wanted to bring art back to feelings and sentiments. They were intigued by moods, heroes, the inner struggles, the genius, the passion, the mysterious and unknown, the medieval, the exotic and even the "satanic". Rules and regulations were put aside and emotional and spiritual needs began to rule the movements of the brush.

Comparisons to other Artistic Styles

Romanticism is considered to be a reaction the Baroque (17th Century) and Neo-classical (Mid 18th Century to Early 19th Century) artistic styles. Romantic art very much moves away from the use of realistic depictions of science and the human body with sharp lines and contrasts, known as chiaroscuro, from Baroque paintings and embraces softer elements in comparison. It takes nature and the human body in a purer form without accentuating the science of the body, but instead capturing emotions. Neo-Classicism has similar elements as the Baroque era, not focusing on “trivial” emotions, as they viewed them, of the Rococo, but having more serious topics of paintings. Further, Romanticism it is also comparatively similar to the Rococo style of the 18th century. Romantic styles, like Rococo art, is ornamented, with little contrast, but affects the audience and sparks emotions. In fact, Romantic art even had an impact on later art, such as impressionism and surrealism that developed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Examples of other Well-known artists

  • Samuel Palmer-He is considered to be one of the English landscape painters, mainly producing pastoral paintings. Palmer fits into romantic art because of his numerous landscape paintings, with a clear influence of Blake. One of his most notable works illuminating typical styles is|Dream in the Appenine ]](1864).
  • James Ward- Although Ward is one of the lesser known artists, he is still very characteristic of this era. Many times he portrays large landscapes with horses and rivers. A Horse Drinking at a Stream (1838) portrays his typical topic.
  • Richard Parkes Bonington- Bonington’s works typically consisted of a watercolor medium and was noted by many reputable influences of the time. Delacroix raved about Bonington’s painting, View of the Lagoon Near Venice (1827), and claimed that “no one in this modern school, and perhaps even before, has possessed that lightness of touch which, especially in watercolors, makes his works a type of diamond which flatters and ravishes the eye, independently of any subject and any imitation" (Eugene). It is quite easy to see the respect given to Bonington's painting.


Recent Revolutions

With Romanticism at the core time period of the French and American Revolutions, the great sense of energy and perception to transform set life into the art. Just as romantic art wanted to transform the previous art styles, the revolutions provided a similar mindset with heeps of energy and production.

French Revolution

European Romanticism, and more specifically, British Romanticism, was caused by the quick and extremely different social changes during the revolts of the French Revolution, and the political changes under Napoleon’s rule. Although the art was delayed in Central Europe because of the French Revolution and the Catholic prominence, and as a result, British Romantic art, as well as music thrived in British culture.

American Revolution

The American revolution, though not directly related to Romanticism, shared many of its founding principles. For instance, one of the founding priciples behind the American revolution was the belief that people should have the power to act apon their own free will. Similarly, one of the points which Romaticism tries to stress is the idea of free will and acting in within their natural state of mind.


William Turner (Joseph Mallord WIlliam Turner)


The Slave Ship (1840)


William Turner was a quintessential example of an artist during the Romantic period in England and was known as one of the best landscape painters. He was born in London and studied with the Royal Academy where he built himself a dignified reputation. Turner’s greatest ambition of the time was to transform landscape painting into a serious art form. Most of his works greatly embody the romantic style of art. He had his own technique of painting with water colors; where he poured wet paint on the canvas until it was saturated. From there he teared, scratched, and scrubbed at the paint until it created a feeling of frenzy or chaos on the canvas that was true to nature. His greatest works can be characterized by, “an encyclopedic understanding of natural phenomena and a pervasive fascination with human life in all its manifestations.” (Dictionary of Art 470). Turner also traveled abundantly to Italy and the lower countries during his lifetime, influencing his love and curiosity for nature. It is to be noted that many of his masterpieces involved fires, storms, and glowing light, and it is through these particular paintings that he was able to express “the forces of nature and their importance for mankind.” (Gowing). Some examples of his great paintings depicting nature include: “Snow Storm- Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth” (1842) and “Angel Standing in the Sun” (1846). Another example of one of Turner's most famous paintings is "The Slave Ship". It is through this piece of work that he truely expresses his feelings and connections with nature.

John Constable

John Constable was another of the great landscape painters during England's Romantic period. He was known mainly for his early paintings of Dedham, a place near where he lived. He started out as a corn merchant like most of his family until he was able to attend Royal Acadamy School. His work often went unnoticed and he has trouble selling his landscapes. After his painting of his fiance, Maria Bricknell, he started a series of landscapes that were six feet tall. Shortly after he started to sell some of his work but he was never very wealthy(John Constable 1776-1837). Constable's style was different from Turner in that he did not use his imagination at all; rather he took the time to observe nature around him and meticulously painted what he saw. When painting, Constable was known for using varying tones of color, short brush strokes, and the colors fusing together creating one hue. This technique gave his paintings a luminous quality. Constable also discovered that when light is reflected off of a glossy surface, the color is temporarily destroyed; because of this some of his paintings have flickers of light that are today known as, “Constable’s snow”. The overall message that Constable wanted people to recieve was his personal view of nature. He wanted people to appreciate nature as much as he did and to form their own opinion and view as to what nature meant to them.


Hampstead Heath(1820)


Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli)

Henry Fuseli was born in Switzerland, but spent the majority of his life in England. While living in Rome from 1770 to 1779, Fuseli became inspired by the works of the famous Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. Also, before returning to London, Fuseli grew to admire the many plays by Shakespeare. Infact, many of his paintings where inspired by plays such as Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. His work is often characterized as containing displays of the darker side of humanity, nature, and the supernatural. Some of the most famous paintings include The Three Witches , Hamlet and The Ghost , Titania Awakening, The Nightmare. These emotional and dark images commanded the interest of the public. Fuseli quickly earned a good reputation, and became a successful artist. In 1799 he was able to open his first gallery, the Milton Gallery, which was named after one of his most admired poets John Milton. However, when Fuseli died his paintings began to lose the public's interest, and his work was neglected until the Surrealists and Expressionists revived and appreciated his style. Today, Henry Fuseli is considered to be one of the fathers of the Gothic painting style.


The Nightmare (1781)


William Blake

William Blake was renouned throughout the Romantic period for his popular poetry and his Gothic paintings.
He was a close friend of Henry Fuseli and described him as "The only man that e'er I knew/who did not make me almost spew." His dramatic paintings were often embueded with images of great fantasy on a grand scale that represented his imaginative and eccentric spirit. Blake painted some of his most famous paintings when he was commissioned to paint scenes from the bible. The most famous among these contained the depiction of Satan as The Great Red Dragon. Even in recent times these paintings have been inspiring; one of his Red Dragon paintings was integral to the plot of a book (and later a movie) by a shortened name of the painting's title, Red Dragon. The dragon in Blake's painting is a form of Satan as described in the Bible.


The Great Red Dragon(1809)


Works Cited

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Gregory, Clive LLB, et al. The French Classical Tradition. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1987.
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Wilton, Andrew. “Turner, J(oseph) M(allored) W(illiam).” The Dictionary of Art. Vol. 31. 1996