Romanticism was a rebellion against the Neoclassic period of reason and ushered in the age of sensibility when artists choose passion and intuition over reasonable neutrality. Romanticism was also a reaction to the industrial revolution, an age of liberalism and nationalism when social norms flew out the window. Romanticism was about the visual experience of the art and the unexpected intensification of emotions.
The primary characteristics of romanticism were the free expression of the artist, the conception of the genius, and the personal voice of the painter. The French Revolution prompted the change in art, and romanticism flourished until the mid 19th century. One of the earliest painters of this period was Francisco Goya (1746-1828), yet he was considered to be a painter without an "ism." Not fitting into Neoclassism or Romanticism, instead of a bridge into the new era. Painting in the court of the Spanish Crown, Goya was an artist of social protest, as represented in his paintings of the two Maja.
The Nude Maja (11.1) and The Clothed Maja (11.2) are almost identical. In both portraits, the Maja is lying on the same bed; however, one is nude, and the other is clothed. The nude painting was the first completely real-life nude ever painted in Western art, not founded on the idealized female body of mythology. It was the first time pubic hair had been painted on a female body. Maja's direct gaze is unsettling as she stares directly at the viewer. The clothed Maja is a more substantial proportion in its space and presses against the edges of the frame, making her seem more sensuous and self-assured than the timid looking nude.
Goya may have set the stage for Romanticism, but Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) was the pioneer of the period. The Raft of the Medusa (11.3) was his most significant work and depicted the moment of rescue after floating at sea for over thirteen days. This painting was the first significant work by Gericault, and he selected an event of recent history, knowing it would enhance his career. The painting is an image of death, dying, and rescue of the fifteen people stranded on the raft at sea. The larger than life-size figures form a pyramidal composition drawing attention to the canvas and forcing the eye to move. The two pyramidal structures, shown in red and blue (11.4), demonstrate the relationship between man and the sea, the desperate state of survival, feeling of abandonment, and the humanity of survival.
The leader of the French Romantic Art School was Eugéne Delacroix (1798-1863), a French Romanticism painter. Liberty Leading the People (11.5) commemorates the July revolution of 1830, toppling King Charles X and ushering in a new regime. Lady Liberty, an allegorical figure, flies the French flag, leading troops as they cross a barricade. The tricolor flag represents equality, fraternity, and liberty and is a personification of freedom. Delacroix captured the realism of the power of the revolution, while Lady Liberty leads the people to independence.