From Romanticism to Realism
Fantasy and reality occupy the everyday world on a continuous basis. One might see the reality of the world around them and retreat to a world of fantasy, the world they wish it was. Why shouldn’t they paint about it? “The portrayal of romantic and realistic notions occupied the activities of painters from the mid 19th century to the 20th century. The period of Romantic painting spans roughly from the mid 18th century to the late 19th century”. The ideals of Romantic and Realist paintings are not necessarily meant to stand in at opposition to each other, but are rather a reflection of the time and culture of the people who painted them. There is great appreciation for both styles and an inherent beauty in both. Their lasting beauty is a testament to the continuing practice of each of the styles today.
Romanticism was a movement in the arts that flourished in Europe and America between 1750 and 1870. It is a term that is loosely applied to the literary and artistic movements of the time. The movement cannot be dated by one event in particular. People simply began to write, paint, compose, and build differently than those who came before them, and years later all of this activity was identified as a movement. Characteristics of Romanticism include freedom of thought and expression, imagination, and idealization of nature. The Romantic Movement also tends to focus on the rights and privileges of the individual. Romanticism provoked discourse and writing on political issues and social causes as well.
The French were the first to identify Romanticism with Politics and Art. In France, Romanticism went through its early stages during the years of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). The first French Romantics were inspired by the events of the wars and the reaction of the general populace during the war years. This theme is echoed by perhaps the greatest French Romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix. One of his masterpieces is The Massacre at Chios (1824). This work of art recounted the massacre which occurred approximately two years prior to the painting. It was criticized as being too brutal as the painting shows the devastation that took place as the result of the Turkish Army’s destroying and butchering of thousands upon thousands of Greek inhabitants of a remote island. The massacre caused a huge uproar in Europe and as a result, Delacroix painted a piece of artwork that evokes the pain and suffering of the moment, moving the observer to possibly feel as if they are a voyeur to this tragic event.
Delacroix took some of his subjects beyond the limits by using the figures of the dead to create a solid horizontal bar across the center of the canvas. The eye is free to move across each catastrophe, whether it is from the dying couple or the baby clinging to its dead mother. The colors of the Massacres at Chios, Greek Families Awaiting Death, and Slavery are very close in tone. The majority of the canvas is covered in muted colors to evoke a somber mood and sporadic splashes of blood red and sky blue add emphasis and drama to the scene.
Delacroix had an interesting approach to lighting as well. He tended to leave a majority of the canvas in a mysterious half shadow while illuminating certain figures. For example, in one of his works, two of the murderers, who are standing just to the left behind the pile of dead people, are hidden in a dark shadow and their faces are not easy to make out. The faces and bodies of the dead, on the other hand, are highlighted, emphasizing the turmoil and fright felt by the victims. If one looks at the expressions of fear and despair on the faces of the inhabitants of Chios, it is clear that Delacroix wanted to show the shear brutality and injustice of this event. He was particularly fond of the genre of historical painting and most likely hoped that this painting would help document such an unforgettable episode. Delacroix used a quick,…