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Romanticism and Realism

The transition from Romanticism to Realism was brought about by various social conditions and the shifting outlooks on life and the world around the artist. Romanticism saw a world that could not be explained by reason alone and sought to explore and explain the world around them through their feelings and imaginations. Realism sought to do the opposite, to show the world as it was, the beautiful as well as the mundane.

Romanticism began in Europe in the late 18th century. It was not just an art period but a grouping of several movements within the arts, literature and intellectual thought during much of the 19th century. The artists in the Romantic period believed that reason alone could not explain all things and did not see the world in black or white absolutes. They sought to express their feelings through their artwork and Francisco Goya was a painter who did just that (Hughes, 2004). “Yard with Lunatics” was a dark and twisted painting that reflected the “self-doubt, anxiety and fear that he himself was going mad (Danto, 2004).” Danto also thought “Yard with Lunatics” was where Goya moved from “a world in which there is no shadow to one in which there is no light (Danto, 2004).” This desire to elevate emotion to the level of reason is generally thought to be a response to both the Industrial Revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature (Britannica.com, 2008).

Romanticism influenced the creation of Realism which sought to remove the artist’s renditions and present things as they are. Realism began in France in the 1850’s shortly after the French Revolution of 1848. The emergence of Realism brought an emphasis upon the ordinary and real in contrast to the dark imaginary scenes created by Goya and others during the Romantic period. Realism rejected the emotional hyperboles of Romanticism and artists chose to focus their efforts on portraying the subject as truthful and accurate as possible(Stremmel, 2004). The depiction of people at work was a popular motif of Realism with “Stone Breakers” by Gustave Courbet being an example of this. “Stone Breakers” is a painting of a man and a boy breaking rocks and gathering them into a basket. The scene is ordinary; exactly what one might expect to see walking passed a rock quarry during that era, portrayed with natural lighting and color. The background is blurred and lacks detail to draw attention to the two individuals and at work

Romanticism was a period of emotion and fantasy, a rejection of the rational world. Realism was down to earth, drawing inspiration from reality and the ordinary. The artist’s feelings were an integral part of Romanticism’s art while Realism found them to be irrelevant. Romanticism was metaphorical and Realism literal. A painting of a blue apple during the Romantic period would be a reference to the artist’s depression or sadness while a blue apple painting in the period of Realism would just be a painting of a blue apple. Romanticism is concerned with things as they ought to be, while Realism is concerned with things as they are.

“Yard of Lunatics” conveys fear, chaos, sadness and confusion. The painting is dark, almost dream like. One individual is on the ground, knees pulled to their chest. He is alone despite the presence of others. Another individual stands with arms crossed to show anger or aggression while another man stands naked, head buried in the shoulder of another, ashamed or vulnerable as a group looks on in judgment. This is in stark contrast to “Stone Breakers” as the individuals in this painting are presumably going about a typical day at a typical job during the Realism period. Courbet did not create “Stone Breakers” to impress upon the viewer his own feelings but to show something from everyday life as it was. The colors are natural, the scene normal. This was a painting of the ordinary for the ordinary. While later periods such as Impressionism and Expressionism moved away from the strict objective detail found in Realism, “they continued the Realism’s focus on people and settings from the modern world (Stremmel, 2004).”

Both Romanticism and Realism were a result of the social and political conditions of the perspective time periods. While different in many respects, these periods are defined today not only by the art created during the time, but also by the art movements that came before and after. The world of art is not a vacuum and the best way to fully appreciate a movement such as Realism is through the lens of the previous era, in this case Romanticism.

Bibliography

Britannica.com. (2008, January 30). Retrieved February 12, 2013, from Encyclopedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/508675/Romanticism

Danto, A. (2004). Shock of the Old: Arthur C. Danto on Three Goya Biographies. Artforum International.

Hughes, R. (2004). Goya. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Stremmel, K. (2004). Realism. Taschen.

Art History


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