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Romanticism vs Realism

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Submitted By dchristman1968
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Deborah Christman
Western Governor’s University

ROMANTICISM AND REALISM Both Romanticism and Realism were art movements that began in the 19th century, during a time of war and revolution. Romanticism focused on emotions, injustice, and extraordinary, while Realism characterized the world without glorification. Both began as a response to historic ideas, but they vary in terms of artistic style and political views. In the first part of the 19th century, a new art movement began—Romanticism. Romanticism arose in retaliation of Neoclassicism, which placed restraints on artists and “rules-driven orderliness”. Romantic artists focused more on perception and impression, rather than on the specific object. They included “passion, emotion, and exotic settings with dramatic action”. Their attention was on the Romantic hero (archetype) who rejected normal life and focused on himself. The subjects in their paintings showed the preposterous and untamed side of humans. (Mindedge, 3.18) To display emotion and style, the artists used somber paint colors and displayed Gothic elements. The color red was used quite often as a sunset or in the person’s clothing, while black and gray were used for the skies to display impending doom. The main goals of Romanticism were to portray the battle between man vs. nature and man vs. himself, and also show certain political issues. The types of media used were oil paints and watercolor. The painting techniques used were 1) impasto which is “where the artists applied paint in a thick manner with a palette knife creating texture”, and 2) gouache which is “where opaque white is added to watercolor”. (Mindedge, 2.21). The onset of Romanticism was influenced by the Age of Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and French Revolution. The Age of Enlightenment (Neo-classicism) was a period of profound optimism, and impression that the world and human beings would improve with the help of science and logic. Enlightenment placed many restrictions on feelings and imagination, thus Romanticism arose in retaliation of those constraints. The Industrial Revolution was a period of extreme changes in farming, textile production, mining, transport, and technology which in turn produced the middle and working class societies. It also allowed men to gain knowledge over nature. Romantics concluded that the Industrial Revolution period was barbaric and an abnormal automation of human beings and current life. The French revolution (1787-1799) indicated the end of the French Monarchy. Romantics appreciated this because they felt this would allow the less fortunate a better life. They wanted to be close to nature, and treated humans as unique individuals not subject to scientific rules. (Romanticism, n.d.) During the middle of the 19th century, another art movement arose—Realism. Realism also disagreed with Neo-classicism, but also wanted to detour from the exuberance of Romanticism. The Realist illustrated life as it truly was, “showing struggles, hardships, and reality of the world” (Realism, n.d.). It lacked the emotion and sentiment found in Romanticism. The goals of Realist artists were to document history, and show precision and reality of life. Artists portrayed real people, not the idealized type; also they swayed from following rules of proper artistic method. Realism became popular with the development of photography, with its capability to reproduce images with accuracy (Mindedge, 3.18). The two media types used in Realism are oil and acrylic (a paint made of color pigments with a synthetic polymer). Both media used the same techniques, with special brushes to give different effects called brushstrokes. Painting was made easier with the development of paint tubes, which allowed artists to store oil paint. This allowed paint to be produced in bulk and sold in a tube with a cap. With this invention, artists were able to leave the confines of their studios and paint outdoors, which also allowed more flexibility. During this time, the world was changing rapidly. The Industrial Revolution helped to modernize clothing, food, heat, and light. Transportation increased speed, allowing things to get done easier and faster. This was the beginning of the Modern Era, where people developed “leisure time”. Artists began painting real life situations to keep up with the modern progress. (Realism, n.d.). The Revolution of 1848 in France resulted in the defeat of Louis-Philippe’s Monarchy. Realists were in favor of the reorganizing of the political system and depicted the working class people in their art. Romanticism and Realism differ in type of art content and political agenda. They both were influenced by the past, but the issues occurring with the government also helped them to evolve. Romanticism arose during the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign. Realism arose during the Revolution of 1848. Romantic art displayed emotion and ideal scenery, while Realist art illustrated life as it truly was. Romanticism focused on the past, while Realism focused on modern life.
Although Romanticism and Realism appear to be extreme opposites, they do have a few similarities. They began in the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution. Both were formed from a noble group, with the audience consisting of middle to upper class. They were influenced by past issues, while the current events, especially government issues, helped them evolve into what they are.
The differences between Romanticism and Realism are abundant. Romanticism was full of emotion, mythical, very unique with different styles, and people that were perfect not real; while Realism was unemotional, dispassionate, and inspired by real life, with people and settings that were real. Romanticism is not straight forward; one must look into the depths to find the true meaning, while Realism is exactly what you see. Romanticism finds the beauty in everything and focuses on the small things that life is made of. Realism shows life how it really is, without any exaggerations.
Realism deviated from Romanticism because they wanted to illustrate working class people living simple lives, focus on landscapes, and objects as they actually appeared; as opposed to the hero figure, emotion and politics found in Romanticism. Realists wanted to celebrate the greatness of ordinary people. They were opposed to the formal artistic styles and subjects of the past, thus created works without the emotion and exaggeration of Romanticism.
(Delacroix, 1831)
“Liberty leading the People” (Delacroix, 1831) is a painting from the Romantic period which represents the people’s uprising against the current monarch. Delacroix used somber paint colors to create the dark shadows on the outer perimeter, while using the bright colors on the flag for a focal point. The art piece depicts a woman as Liberty, leading men over the fallen bodies. She represents the hero.
(Courbet, 1854) “Bonjour M. Courbet” (Courbet, 1854) is a representative of the Realist period that depicts a real life situation of three men meeting on a gravel road. Courbet used great detail—for example, the horse-drawn carriage in the distance, as well as the buttons on the men’s coats. He used the warm color palette on the men, with natural skin tones for the face and hands, while the distant scenery is created with cooler color tones. This painting looks very close to a photograph.
After comparing “Liberty leading the People” (Delacroix, 1831) to “Bonjour M. Courbet” (Courbet, 1854), a few similarities were identified. Both paintings originated in the 19th century during political revolutions, used oil on canvas as the medium, and focus on human subjects. “Liberty leading the People” (Delacroix, 1831) represents Romanticism, with war as the subject and a female representing Liberty. It is an unreal scene, very violent, and glorifies war. “Bonjour M. Courbet” (Courbet, 1854), on the other hand, represents Realism, where the main focus is on two men meeting a painter. It is a real life scene with a natural setting. “Bonjour M. Courbet” (Courbet, 1854) exudes a feeling of tranquility with the use of a light color palette and an impression of open sincerity that is unmistakably modern, whereas “Liberty leading the People” (Delacroix, 1831) radiates tension and anger, with the extreme contrast of bright reflective color against dark shadow areas.
In the late 19th century to early 20th century, another art movement arose—Impressionism. Impressionism was based solely on how things are perceived by the human eye, unlike Realism which painted with realistic detail. Most artists taught themselves the art of painting, resulting in the opportunity for anyone to paint. Impressionism was more open to the public because of self-taught artists. Realism was made of mostly upper class men who could afford to attend art school.
Though Romanticism and Realism differed in style and views of government, both arose in the 19th century and evolved with the help of current events. They were influenced by the Industrial Revolution and political issues of that time period. Romanticism focused on imagination, emotion and beauty, while Realism demonstrated conflict and misfortune of the world.

Courbet, G. (Painter). (1854). Bonjour, monsieur courbet [Painting], Retrieved from
Delacroix, E. (Painter). (1831). Liberty leading the people [Painting], Retrieved from
Mindedge. (2012). Humanities through the ages. Retrieved from
Realism 1850-1880. (n.d.). Retrieved from edacclhistreal.html Romanticism1800-1870. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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