The Romantics shifted the focus of art from rational thought to heightened emotion. They believed that artists should indulge their passions rather than attempt to justify them in art criticism. They longed for the pastoral grandeur of nature and its untouched mysteries. While their work often incorporated a romantic theme, it was more common to see romantic works that are more evocative of the natural world.
Landscape painting was one of the most popular genres in Romantic painting. Artists interpreted nature as a mirror of the soul and a symbol of freedom. They also used vanitas motifs, which symbolize the transience of life. Artists of this period also borrowed the painterly treatment of light from Baroque masters. As a result, they were able to depict the world in a subjective manner.
Paintings from this period also began to evoke national identity. In France, the Raft of the Medusa, painted by Theodore Gericault, became a Romantic icon. In Norway, meanwhile, the landscapes of fjords were painted by Hans Gude. The Hudson River School also focused on massive landscapes in the United States.
The Romantic era lasted two decades. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Romanticism became the predominant art form in Europe. As time passed, artists were tired of the overly romantic depictions of the world and were ready for a change. Realism broke through the romantic fancies by portraying the world as it really was. This led to more realistic portrayals of everyday life. The Romantic era gave artists an opportunity to push the boundaries of their artistic expression.