All of the styles inspired by the Romantic current can be clearly traced from the Formalist point-of-view, as they had in common the use of image itself, leaving meaning and content to a secondary design.
In the poetry and literature world, the Romantic period was a chance to explore the inner feelings of the artist, the development of his own soul and thoughts, where the author is the hero of the story, indirectly even, in autobiographical and confessional works. In the world of visual expression, the Romanticism moved the importance from the mimetic perspective to a more expressive characteristic, and the art work was weighed in its capacity to transmit emotions and feelings rather than communicate a messages.
It also promoted the idea that universal human behavior was more interesting than individual human activities. This means that in Romantic literature heroes are very varied and different, the characters presented as heroes are not mere every day personages, and undergo stories that almost touch the edge of magic, as we can see in works from Victor Hugo (The hunchback of Notre Dame) or Goethe (Faust), sometimes the character that the entire action spins around is even impossible or partly unreal, going through adventures and happenings that are not seen in the regular life and go beyond convincing fiction and into the imaginary world. The Romantic ideals gave great importance to the individual, the unique and special, even touching the line of eccentricity.
Among a few Romantic painters we could mention Caspar David Friedrich, who had a special attraction towards the portraying of landscape of a very imaginative nature and explored in his works the complexity of colors, through a game of dramatic contrast between light and shades that display a specific hour of the day and the phenomenon of light, captured in his brush strokes. His work had the capacity of taking the viewer to a fantasy realm where they can share the inner world of the artist. There can be many examples of this kind of work in many different personalities, such as John Constable, William Blake, Baron Antoine Jean Gros with his Portrayals of Napoleon, (the view of a hero in the eyes of the author), Theodore Gericault with Raft of Medusa, and Eugen Delacroix with historical themes, such as Massacre at Chois and Liberty leading the people.
Romanticism art leaned towards rather dark colors, as can be seen in many examples such as the landscapes mentioned above, and a few scenes portraying theatrical settings where we can see a very strong sense of chiaroscuro and depth effect created by the dramatic use of dark colors and accentuated shadows, leaning towards a very deep sculptural vision, opposing the Neoclassical flat tendencies in painting. Among the favorite themes for this kind of art we have the landscape and representation of nature. The use of diffuse lights and contrast of shadows gives a bit of surreal atmosphere to these paintings.
The use of human figures is often presented from a very close view, capturing them into a rather close environment, remind somewhat of the Baroque style that brought the viewer very close to the scene as to include them in it. Other favorites themes for this kind of painting are the use of still nature in pretty simple arrangements. The background is often flat, simple, with very little detail and plays a minor role in the composition. There is little interest in showing or copying the perfect feel of the different materials and mostly the brush strokes are plain and constant, following a steady tension, direction and texture.
In North America, the Romantic Movement was lead by Hudson River School of dramatic landscape painting.
Successors of this movement can be considered the Pre-Raphaelite and the Simbolistic movement.
Formalism refers to art as an expression of pure form, rather than art as an expression of a message and idea clearly stated. In this, the dramatic part of the painting (to use this particular form of art) is about representing the characters as if they are involved in their world, and completely unaware that they are playing a scene in a painting and being observed by the viewer. The characters seem to just present themselves and not deliberately playing for an audience to admire them.
In this idea, the Romantic painting is purely Formalist, as it represents mainly the subject of landscape, on one hand, as one favorite theme, and still nature, on the other, as another preferred subject. These two styles have in common that in such compositions the main characters are elements of nature and objects that simply present themselves as existing for us to admire, without actually seeming aware of their role as decorative images. The importance of the work lies in its final aspect, more than the meaning of the story told by the composing elements.
Romantic art has an emphasized appreciation for beauty and figure, which means putting the form first over the message, sometimes absent, like a form of painting designed exclusively to please and bring emotions into the spectator, not to challenge his rational side with complicated stories. In this case, Romanticism is a style of art that refers mostly to communicate esthetic feelings through form, color, figures and composition, even in the important role that imagination plays in the entire esthetic game.
The Formalist theory considers irrelevant to the esthetic appreciation the representation, the emotion, the ideas. It only admits the expressive tools that in painting would refer to colors, lines, shapes, combinations of planes, and in sculpture is about the shape, size and volume of the figure. A piece will not be good simply because it portrays an object of the real world. Also it is not considered better because it awakes emotions in the viewer, any other than the mere esthetic feeling. The narrative quality is appreciated in arts like literature, but considered irrelevant in art forms like painting, that are aimed purely to please the sense of sight. The esthetic emotion is the response to these elements combined and acting together.
All persons capable of experiencing esthetic emotion in front of paintings (...) are responding when they do so to relations of pure form. -roughly, to ideated volumes in relation, both to one another, and the surface and shape of the canvas rather than to whatever expressiveness the work in question may be held to possess."
In this Formalist statement, we can find some of the Romanticism ideas of the esthetic emotion being awoke by the beauty of the painting, rather than by the understanding of the complex language that other conceptions of art had established.
In Romanticism, the use of colors itself was a very clear game of the senses. We can find in works such as that the accent has been put in the technique, the contrasts and use of lights, figures and composition, rather than the message it intends to express.
In Caspar David Friedrich's many variations of the Evening subject, the main character is a landscape showing a specific phase of the day. The most important element present here is the light and the colors that this light creates in the atmosphere. There is no distinct message in these paintings other than the image presenting itself, and no characters that perform a scene for the viewer to understand. It is only an image meant to induce a feeling of calm and peacefulness and please the eyes by the images presented.
This accent for the image rather than the story agrees very well with the Formalist theory that inspires to analyze the work from a point-of-view that focuses on the methods and purely formal values of the painting.
The properties of painting can be divided into formal and not formal properties"
In literature Romantic artists interpreted the world through their own conception and emotions. In other art forms like painting, they presented the vision of their senses, mixed with their feelings and imagination, which gave a very personal view of the reality they presented. The distance between artist and public was somewhat greater in an era where the artist was giving a part of his soul that could not be shared by the audience. In presenting reality just as it is the artist can give the public a language they can all understand. But as they were dealing with his own inner world and fantasy in his own personal way, the gap began to widen.
The currents that followed the Romantics were the Simbolism, that was more of a continuation of the same concept, and Realism, that was an opposite tendency.
Nature was an important character in all Romantic appreciation. Nature was a way of escaping the civilization and returning to the primitive emotions of the pure human soul. It was perceived as a character, a spirit, not just as a mechanical system of rules of the universe.
Now that we have stated the philosophy of the Romanticism, we can take a closer look at…