Romanticism (began around 1750-1850) was an art movement that functioned as the counterpart of Neoclassicism. These two important periods were the result of politics and social evolution. Jean Jacques Rousseau‘s ideas (1712-1778) contributed to create art from the artists point of view and emotions, sometimes in a weird mixture with historical painting and portraiture (such was the case with Goya or Delacroix). Rousseau exclaimed “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains” in the opening line of his Social Contract (1762), which later on inspired artists with a desire for freedom of thought, feeling and most importantly, a personal voice (sounds familiar?). We can say that in many ways, this movement was the beginning of a greater artist independence, reflected in the art world throughout the course of the 19th century. Romanticism was a style that deviated from the religious subject matter to humanism, consciousness and emotions of the artist. Those who affiliated themselves with Romanticism believed that the path to freedom was through imagination rather than reason and functioned through feeling rather than through thinking (1). A clear example of this is the Spaniard Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828). Goya also worked with Neoclassical style, but definitely his most powerful work is seen under his deep thought and imagination. This duel of styles is clearly seen in his etching piece The sleep of reason produces monsters. To push his emotions even further, he painted Saturn devouring one of his children, part of a series called Black paintings, which were frescoes created under his declining health and pessimism over his final years.
As we’ve read in the previous posts, we will continue analysing artwork through a formal breakdown of image elements in order to understand them from a technical point of view. Today is the turn of Théodore Géricault (1791-1824), one of the most important artists that represented France in this art period.
This group of survivors, the former tripulation of the Medusa, sit and beg for rescue on this tragical and dramatic scene, a historical painting. Our eye is caught by the highest point of contrast in the left area of the painting, moving our eye toward the right with the aid of the gestures of the people (most of them looking or pointing to our right). The balance of the composition is established by the amount of mass on both sides in spite of its asymmetry, as well as the tonal values. It is documented that this painting took eight months to create due to its massive scale and the extensive research that Géricault did to depict this scene as accurate as possible, such as visiting morgues, corpse examination, interviewing the actual survivors and building a model of the raft in his studio.
The value treatment goes from extreme dark to whitest white carefully used, specially with the bright tones. Black tones are used to add drama to the scene on this sunset or dawn lighting, accentuating expressions, muscles and twisting of the bodies. Horror and despair are some of the feelings achieved only with value.
Color is very carefully used, because as we see (at least on this pic), a lot of hues have been desaturated, probably to accentuate the crudeness of the scene. Pale yellow, aquamarine, ocres and browns have been used, forming a restricted but effective color scheme.
Line in the Romanticism is often covered by the rendering of the painting, but it is well known that there would be an extremely detailed drawing below the pigments. On this particular painting, we can still see some of them, particularly to separate organic (bodies-flesh) and hard surface materials (the raft, to be more specific).
We had the assignment to do some color studies from this art period, so here are a couple of thumbnails in order to study the Romanticism. These are studies of color, value and composition, but not to the grade of a master copy in terms of rendering. The technique is entirely digital, using mostly flat colors and simple shapes. The artists I selected are Eugene Delacroix for a portrait and Albert Bierstadt, for a landscape painting.
Finally, I wanted to add that Adobe Kuler® is great for planning color palettes, either user created schemes or schemes derived from an actual painting, such as the example of Gericault’s painting. It’s only a matter of uploading the picture and Kuler will give you a simple map of color that you can later play with to create your final swatches. Happy coloring!
(1) Kleiner, Fred and Mamiya, Christin. Gardner’s Art through the ages. Volume II. Thomson-Wadsworth. Twelfth edition. United States. 2006.
- Kleiner, Fred S., Christin J. Mamiya, Richard G. Tansey, and Helen Gardner. Gardner’s art through the ages. 12th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2006. Print.
- kuler.adobe.com — Digital application