by A Kladov

In the latter part of the 19th century, Europe witnessed the rise of Romantic fervor. Originating as a counter-response to the Classical and Neoclassical waves, Romanticism was both an intellectual and aesthetic renaissance.

This movement marked a pronounced shift from the logical pursuits, industrial evolution, and the overarching rational mindset. Yet, it didn't shun the advancements of science. A glance at the art from this period reveals the dreamlike, passionate, and emotionally intense narratives. In this article, we’ll look at 12 distinguished artworks from the Romantic era.

Romanticism: A Brief Overview

Romanticism provided a canvas for artists to channel their innermost sentiments and flights of fancy, further influencing the audience's perceptions and emotions. While the Romantic essence is manifested differently across music, literature, and visual mediums, its core remained consistent. It gave birth to depictions of enchantment, affection, tension, and the macabre, serving as an antidote to the mundanities of existence.

After the French Revolution, the Romantic period began. Even though they're often compared to styles like Classical and Neoclassical, you can still see how they're connected in their designs.

Romanticism was different because it liked strong feelings and excitement more than just cold facts and being distant. Art from this time really showed how big and strong nature is. They often showed both the pretty parts of nature and the dangerous parts.

This art made people feel a lot. Instead of just thinking hard about things, Romantic artists followed their feelings. Their art showed how people and nature are close, showing nature as really impressive.

When discussing style, they showed both the interesting sides of nature – the beautiful and the risky parts. Romanticists embellished their canvases with rich color palettes, unlike the Rationalists' penchant for lucid hues and sprightly strokes. They favored fluidity and movement over rigid constructs. Paintings from this period championed personal expression and impulse rather than the polished renditions reminiscent of Classical epochs.

12 Most Famous Romanticism Paintings

Art of the Romantic era served as a sanctuary from urban daily life. The essence of Romanticism delved deep into the emotional and spiritual states, often mirrored by the natural world. Rather than strictly reproducing the visible world, artists of this time conveyed their innermost emotions towards it.

Artists could be as creative as they wanted, drawing inspiration from their subconscious and dreams to create fantastic landscapes or figures. Here are our 12 favorite Romanticism paintings.

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Henry Fuseli’s Romantic artwork The Nightmare was one of the first of its type, making Fuseli a sort of transitional figure - leading the art progression from The Age of Reason into the Romantic era. Fuseli’s macabre and peculiar artwork shows a seemingly spellbound woman draped over a divan.

A woman is seated with her arms extended below her and a demon-like incubus on top, both glaring at the viewer. We see a mysterious mare partially hidden with bewitching eyes and flaring noses. Fuseli portrays the woman as an idealized image, aligning with Neoclassicism principles.

He deviated by using his paintings to explore the darker depths of the human psyche while others were busy with scientific exploration of the world around them.

Fuseli suggests, despite the bright light surrounding the woman, that it cannot penetrate the nightmare realm of the mind. The relationship between woman, incubus, and mare is not 

explicitly stated and remains suggestive. This emphasizes the terrifying possibilities.

The Nightmare terrified and shocked the audience at London's Royal Academy. The Nightmare was unlike any other artwork the public had seen before because it was not based on the Bible or a historical event and was also not created to moralize the audience.

Fuseli’s paintings had a huge influence on the art world and inspired writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and others. His combination of horror, sexuality, and death was a crucial element for the Gothic horror subgenre.

Upper Fall of the Reichenbach: Rainbow (1810) by J. M. W. Turner

Upper Fall of the Reichenbach: Rainbow (1810) by J. M. W. Turner

Upper Fall Of The Reichenbach: Rainbow (1810) By J. M. W. Turner

Joseph Malcolmlord William Turner was a pioneer Western artist who captured ambiance and mood through his Romanticism artwork. Turner was a landscape painter of the 19th century who had a great influence. Turner was captivated by the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Upper Fall of the Reichenbach, Rainbow, was one of the scenes he painted many times in both Switzerland and England.

Turner's paintings depicted what he called the "sublime", a concept proposed by philosopher Edmond Burke. He portrayed the feeling of being overwhelmed by nature and its grandeur.

The sheer size of the mountains is evident in the painting compared to the animal and human figures in the lower left corner. The tiny figures are used to convey a sense of scale and show their insignificance when compared with the vastness of nature.

Turner painted with thin washes, layers, and a dark color palette. He used wet paper to create the dissolving spray and thunderous sound of the waterfalls crashing against the massive rocks. Turner focused on form and tone during this period of his career. Color became more important to him later.

Turner's paintings depicting everyday life scenes were revolutionary at the time. Turner was hailed as the "painter of light" for his ability to depict luminous colors and atmospherics.

His dynamism, intensity, and vigor contrasted with his time's carefully painted topographical landscapes.

Third May 1808 (1814) by Francisco Goya

Third May 1808 (1814) by Francisco Goya

Third May 1808 (1814) By Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya, considered one of Spain's greatest artists in the 18th and 19th centuries, created vibrant and enigmatic works that reflected Spain's turbulent historical period. The third of May 1808 is probably Goya's most famous work. The painting shows Napoleonic troops and soldiers publicly executing people from Spain and Spaniards in retribution for the French uprising the day before.

Goya’s brooding color palette intensifies atrocities, creating a sense of overwhelming darkness and horror. The Spanish worker about to be executed has been represented in a way that mimics Christ's Crucifixion. The figure kneels on the ground, his arms wide open. His right hand has Stigmata on it. This is similar to the marks Christ received during his crucifixion.

Expressions on the faces of the figures and their body language show the brutality and turmoil. The only light source is a lantern lying on the floor. It divides the scene between light and shadow, with the light highlighting the faces of the victims.

Goya's Romanticism paintings were a radical departure from the past. This painting was revolutionary because of its flat perspective, matte and granular pigments, and non-heroic presentation.

Goya's depiction of an event that ordinary people experienced in the present day defied academic standards that preferred timeless Neoclassical images.

Goya wanted to commemorate and remember the Spanish resistance to Napoleon's Army. He was influential to generations of artists who followed him. On the third of May 1808, Goya’s revolutionary painting played a crucial role in the rise and development of Realism, with its realistic portrayals of everyday life. It also influenced Picasso's depictions of the horrors and violence of war and encouraged Surrealism to explore dreamlike content.

Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog (1818), by Caspar D. Friedrich

Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog (1818), by Caspar D. Friedrich

Wanderer Above A Sea Of Fog (1818), By Caspar D. Friedrich

In 1818, the German Romantic artist Caspar D. Friedrich created one of the most famous Romantic-era works, Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog. Friedrich's painting depicts a young explorer perched on an outcrop looking into a sea of dense fog. The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog is not a story. It describes Friedrich's emotional state. Friedrich portrays the idea of wandering, infinity, and imperfection of emotions.

Friedrich’s masterpiece depicted a man in a mysterious and eerie setting, showing his diminished power compared to the enormity of life.

Friedrich used space in a clever way to show the tiny place of man within nature. A lone figure is seen in the vast landscape. The landscape is a composite of various landmarks in Eastern Germany, starting with the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. A wanderer appears to be contemplating his surroundings.

The figure of the man occupies a central place in the painting. This may imply that he is in control of the world around him. As the fog blends subtly into the horizon, we are made aware of the vastness of the landscape. We can see that the fundamental nature of the world remains unknown. Friedrich's breathtaking painting raised the bar for landscape painting.

The German Romanticism represented in this artwork has developed differently than its Italian or French counterparts.

The Raft of the Medusa (1818 - 19) by Theodore Gericault

The Raft of the Medusa (1818 - 19) by Theodore Gericault

The Raft Of The Medusa (1818 - 19) By Theodore Gericault

Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of Medus showed the shipwreck in 1816 when French Royal Navy soldiers were sent to colonize Senegal. The ship started to sink after hitting the sandbank. Those who survived constructed an emergency raft to reach the shore but were quickly lost at sea.

Gericault spent many months researching, interviewing, and sketching survivors. He also studied cadavers and asked friends to act as models, including Eugene Delacroix.

Gericault’s masterpiece leaves a lasting impression on viewers. Gericault deliberately fused art and reality to create a piece that was both artistically and politically confrontational. Gericault’s decision to place a Black man in the center of his composition was extremely controversial, as it expressed Gericault’s abolitionist feelings.

The use of light, shadow, and diagonal composition creates a powerful spectacle. It divides the picture with contorted figures in the lower left corner. This leads the viewer's eye along the horrifying scene to the pinnacle, waving a fabric and issuing a message of hope. From the sail, along the diagonal, we can see a partially shrouded body slipping into the water.

This composition's majestic and turbulent sky exemplifies Romanticism and its portrayal of the sublime.

Gericault’s painting caused a great deal of controversy and scandal at its first Paris exhibition. The painting was a hit with the public for the most part. However, many viewers were turned off by Gericault’s choice of subjects. The painting was criticized for departing from Classicism, as it dispensed with depicting "ideal" beauty in favor of Realism. Gericault's work was received much more positively in London, where it won acclaim as a new direction of French art.

John Constable, The Hay Wain (1821)

John Constable, The Hay Wain (1821)

John Constable, The Hay Wain (1821)

A notable British Romantic painter, John Constable, had a penchant for capturing serene countryside vistas. His most celebrated piece is "The Hay Wain". Renowned for infusing life into verdant landscapes, this particular masterpiece depicts a tranquil moment with English agrarians tending to their land.

The painting's charm lies in Constable's prowess to encapsulate the ephemeral emotions landscapes evoke. Hay Wainis is one of the English artist's most admired works. It is also one of the most outstanding landscape paintings of the Romantic era.

At first, Constable’s masterpiece was deemed provocative and impertinent because it used similar techniques to the Impressionists. It also appeared that the large painting used small brushstrokes.

Londoners thought this style of painting was scandalous. The French, however, loved it, and artists like Gericault were masters at it. The Hay Wain was exhibited in Paris and caused quite a sensation. Constable received a gold award from King Charles X for his impact on the Paris Salon.

Episode des Journees de Septembre 1830 (1830) by Marie-Adelaide Kindt

Episode des Journees de Septembre 1830 (1830) by Marie-Adelaide Kindt

Episode Des Journees De Septembre 1830 (1830) By Marie-adelaide Kindt

Unfortunately, little is known of the artistic contributions made by women during the Romanticism period. This is a common theme in art history - women dedicated to the visual arts often go unnoticed and are not well understood.

Marie-Adelaide Kindt is one such woman. She was a Belgian artist who dominated art in the 1820s-1840s. Kindt was among the few female artists who came from her family.

Antoine Cardon was an engraver who taught Kindt the art of drawing. After studying painting with Francois-Joseph Naz, she received a Neoclassical education. However, the Romanticism impact in her works was quite noticeable.

Kindt's works contain a lot of historical scenes. Episode des Journees de September 1830 is one of her most prominent paintings. It depicts the Belgian Revolution, which took place the same year. Her masterpiece is now in the City Museum of Brussels.

Many artists like Jacques Louis David encouraged Kindt to continue painting. She painted throughout her lifetime, but later on, her work became less ambitious as she shifted to Romanticism and genre painting, adapting her style to suit the public's tastes.

Kindt's art, however, continues to live on in the legacy she has left.

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (1830)

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (1830)

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading The People (1830)

Eugene Delacroix, the French Romantic painter, is considered its most representative. Delacroix’s Liberty, leading the People, remembers a scene of the July Revolution, 1830, where the abdicated king Charles X was overthrown. The painting was finished the same year as the event. This is not a representation of the French Revolution in 1789. Delacroix’s triumph represents freedom and revolution, as well as the people's victory.

This stunning piece is one of the most famous Romantic-era works of art.

Delacroix painted an allegory rather than a scene. Lady Liberty leads the united group of people to fight the oppressor in an act of patriotism. As seen from the mix of people, social class did not matter. The message was one of unity. Delacroix portrays the figure with hair on the underarm to show that it is not an ideal but a real person.

Liberty wears a Phrygian hat, a symbol of freedom, holds a bayonet, and raises the tricolor as she encourages rebellious groups to continue their journey toward victory. Delacroix's painting is full of political meaning and combines it with intense emotions.

This turbulent scene focuses on death, suffering, and heroism - archetypal Romantic themes.

Liberty Leading the People is a Romanticism masterpiece that inspired works like Liberty Enlightening the World, more commonly known as Statue of Liberty (1886) by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.

Delacroix’s painting inspired Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Miserables. Liberty Leading the People is still a powerful image and was featured on the album cover of Coldplay's Viva la Vida in 2008.

The Titan's Goblet (1823) by Thomas Cole

The Titan's Goblet (1823) by Thomas Cole

The Titan's Goblet (1823) By Thomas Cole

The Titan's Goblet is the culmination of Thomas Cole's Romantic fantasies. The Titan's Gobletis is a copy of Cole's famous Romanticism paintings. It depicts an Italian landscape and illustrates themes related to the grandeur and power of nature. The Titan's Gobletis Cole's allegorical landscape work is arguably his most enigmatic. This magnificent painting, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "defies a full explanation".

Cole's painting can be considered "a picture within a painting" as it contains two landscapes. The goblet's foot is on traditional terrain, but a different world lies along its rim.

Two tiny buildings break the lush vegetation, the first is an Italian Palace, and the second is a Greek Temple. The goblet is filled to the brim with water scattered with sailing boats. The water spills onto the ground, marked by a different civilization.

The Classical Ruins found on the Goblet rim and the sailing ships that wade in the water are linked to Greek and Norse Mythology.

It has been said that they are disassociated from the present because they are so far away from the civilizations below. One theory compares the self-contained civilization to a microcosmic human world amid nature's dominating body. The stem of the goblet unites past and present. Titan's Gobletis is a unique work of art.

The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky

The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky

The Ninth Wave By Ivan Aivazovsky

Ivan Aivazovsky, a Russian-Armenian Romantic artist, specialized in marine arts. His triumph, The Ninth Wave, is regarded as one of Romanticism's most outstanding seascapes. The painting shows massive waves sweeping over a turbulent ocean. In the painting's background, the wreckage is floating.

The title of this painting is based on an old sailor's tale. This belief was common for centuries before the 1800s. The ninth wave was believed to be the largest and most destructive.

In the face of imminent death, the figures try to save themselves by clinging to the wreckage. The wreckage is said to resemble a cross. This suggests a religious theme in Aivazovsky’s work. According to Christianity, this work is an allegory for salvation from sin.

The warm palette in the painting reduces the intensity of the ocean and gives the impression of hope. Aivazovsky shows the devastation and beauty of nature.

Aivazovsky was one of the few Russian artists to have achieved such international success in his lifetime.

He is still one of the best marine artists today, which speaks to his impact. Anton Chekhov was a well-known Russian writer who once said that something was "worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush", a phrase that became used to describe anything overwhelmingly beautiful.

The Kiss (1859) by Francesco Hayez

The Kiss (1859) by Francesco Hayez

The Kiss (1859) By Francesco Hayez

Francesco Hayez is a well-known Italian Romantic Period artist. His painting The Kiss is his most famous work. Alfonso Maria Visconti di Saliceto, who later donated the painting to the Pinacoteca di Brera, commissioned it. The Kiss shows a couple kissing passionately, with their faces hidden.

As their clothing suggests, the figures are a couple of the Middle Ages. Hayez did not want to make them identifiable, but he wanted the focus on their embrace.

The Kiss is a detailed painting by Hayez. He blended pretty pictures with tales from Italy's past. This artwork shows how Italy united as a single nation.

Hayez created this painting as a nod to French Italy's allies back then. The artwork's colors are like the French flag. The man wears red pants, and the woman has white, blue, and green on her.

This artwork is famous in Italy for representing Romantic art.

Hayez is a famous painter from Italy known for Romantic art. He made various artworks, from historical images to face pictures. Many painters in Italy took inspiration from his style. "The Kiss" was a hit when first displayed. Luchino Visconti, a film guy from Italy, took ideas from "The Kiss" for his 1954 film "Senso."

Kaaterskill Creek (c. 1870) By Susie M. Barstow

Kaaterskill Creek (c. 1870) By Susie M. Barstow

Kaaterskill Creek (C. 1870) By Susie M. Barstow

Susie Barstow was one of the members of the Hudson River School. This was an American art movement from the mid-19th century. Romanticism had a significant impact on it. Artists often depicted the Hudson River Valley and its surroundings. They were inspired by Romantic art and often painted scenes of the Hudson River area, like the Catskill Mountains. Barstow painted colorful nature scenes, like her painting of Kaaterskill Creek.

Barstow’s landscapes were filled with light and radiated serenity, the beauty of nature.

Her work has been exhibited at the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Women did not have equal opportunities to exhibit their work during her lifetime, so many of her works went unnoticed.

Women and men could hold the title "amateur artist", but any title indicating a professional artist would be reserved for men.

We should not take her records for granted, even though we are recognizing incredible artists like Barstow. We are led to believe that Barstow is an exception due to the lack of information available about women artists. Particularly those who, because of their gender, faced many barriers to the recognition of their achievements.

They continue to influence artists and movements today, influencing generations of artists who followed them. Browse our website to discover more articles about art history.

The paintings we picked for this list are great examples of creative and heartfelt work from artists. These pieces still inspire artists today. These artworks have a huge impact on the upcoming generations of artists.