An Analysis of Romanticism and Realism

The Romantic period of art began in the late 18th century and continued midway through the 19th century - An Analysis of Romanticism and Realism introduction. The French Revolution had begun and there was much social unrest across Europe at the time. Big industries, owned by the wealthy upper class, were beginning to appear. People were becoming increasing disappointed in concepts of the Enlightenment, which were somewhat formal and stuffy, extremely artificial, and were mostly centered on reason. The artists of the romantic period turned to ideals which were simpler and much more emotional, imaginative, and passionate.

Romantic painters and writers placed much emphasis on nature. Paintings often contained dramatic scenes of various types of storms as well as naturalistic landscapes. These works also often contained depictions of heroes, specifically the Byronic hero, who represented someone who followed his own beliefs and desires, rather than the traditional norms(Pearson, 2012). This style of painting is characterized by loose brushstrokes and vibrant colors. Many romantic painters and writers used politics as a theme for their pieces.

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Romantic music also expressed more emotion than in previous periods. Symphonies expanded and operas featured more extensive solo performances. The Realism period of art began near the end of the Romantic period, beginning in about 1840 and continuing to the near end of the nineteenth century. The industrial boom was still in full force, and the working class became increasingly unhappy with the working conditions, long hours, and low pay forced upon them by the greedy upper class owners(Realism, n. d. ).

Realistic artists created works that were just that, very realistic. They contained very detailed subjects and many of the paintings reflected the harsh working conditions, in hopes of sparking some sort of reform. These artists also continued with the nature theme of the Romantics, however, the works of the Realism period were much more lifelike due to the extensive detail used in each and every aspect of the piece. Artists and writers tried to portray everything exactly as it was, without the added imaginative and emotional feelings of the Romantic period.

Most of the focus of these artists was on the middle and lower classes, as contempt was rising over the political and social orders of these times. These two periods of art were similar in that they both began in Europe and they both occurred during the advent of industry. Both periods contained works that centered on the working and middle classes, and both exhibited a trend toward discontent with the wealthy. Nature was a large focus in works during both of these periods as well. The differences in these two periods can be found mainly in their styles.

Romantic artists used vivid imaginations, loud colors and loose, almost random, brushstrokes. Realism, on the other hand, was characterized by great attention to detail. Each and every item in the work was emphasized, such as stitching on garments and individual pieces of hair. The Romantics also expressed much feeling in their works and often included heroic subjects. The Realists focused on everyday life and real people. Realism’s style was a result of the social and political unrest across the world, such as the Civil War in the United States and the Industrial Revolution (Larson, 2008).

The artists of this period focused on what was really happening right then and there and greatly deviated from the imaginative, emotional styles that were prevalent in the Romantic period. An example of a work from the Romantic period is The Nightmare (Fuseli, 1781). This piece exemplifies the strong feelings that were conveyed in the paintings of this time. It pictures a woman in a sheer white gown stretched out and hanging partially off of her bed, obviously fast asleep and possibly in some sort of dream.

On her stomach is sitting some type of monster-looking creature and at the foot of the bed is a horse. The inclusion of these two figures signifies the imaginative aspect that was also prevalent in this era. An example of a work from the Realism period is The Shoemaker (Hodler, 1878). This piece is of a cobbler, busy working in his shop. This piece is very typical of the realism period as it is full of intricate detail, from the hinges on the shop door, to the scraps of leather on the floor, to the beard on the man’s chin.

The painting is very lifelike of this man, diligently working at his task. This picture is in relative stark contrast to The Nightmare (Fuseli, 1781), as it is not meant to evoke great emotions such as horror or fear, but rather to show the ordinary life of typical middle to lower class society without any elaboration whatsoever. The artists of this period showed things just exactly as they were, which was a far cry from the far-fetched depictions of Romanticism. Certain aspects of Realism filtered down into Impressionism and Expressionism.

These later periods still focused on working people and the urban life, but did not have the detail of the Realism works. The 20th century avant-garde movement also focused on social issues, much like the realists (Kapit, 1999). Realism works were also of historical significance in that they showed true modern life of that day. They showed what ordinary people did for a living, what the typical countryside looked like, and even depicted the terrible injustices were inflicted on the lower class, spawned by the Industrial Revolution. They brought many of these problems into the spotlight in hopes of reform. Through these works, we are also able to gain knowledge of the customs of these times, making it yet another piece to the puzzle of how we came to be where we are today.


Fuseli, H. (Painter). (1781). The Nightmare [Painting], Retrieved October 12, 2012, from: http://wgu. mindedgeonline. com/content. php? cid=19780 Galitz, K. (2004). Romanticism. Retrieved from Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www. metmuseum. org/toah/hd/roma/hd_roma. htm Hodler, F. (1878). The Shoemaker. Retrieved from http://wgu. mindedgeonline. com/content. php? cid=21220. Kapit, N. (1999). The Meaning of Realism in Art.

Retrieved from eHow: http://www. ehow. com/about_6582174_meaning-realism-art. html Larson, I. (2008, 11 21). Compare and Contrast Romanticism Period and Realism Period. Retrieved October 17, 2012, from www. mightystudents. com: http://www. mightystudents. com/essay/Compare. contrast. Romanticism. 31744 Pearson. (2012). Movements in the Humanities: Romanticism, Realism, Modernism (Module 8). Retrieved from Mindedge Learning Resource: http://wgu. mindedgeonline. com/content. php? cid=21220 Realism. (n. d. ). Retrieved October 15, 2012, from Grandview University: http://faculty. grandview. edu/ssnyder/102/realism. html

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