In judging the poetic output of Thomas Gray, two schools of thought have gradually developed. One holds that he is the most distinguished of the minor poets; the other, that he is assuredly the least prolific of the major ones. Whichever view finally prevails, it is certainly true that Gray was concerned with the quality rather than the quantity of his verse. Essentially a scholar, with scholarly instincts, Gray had a vast knowledge of history, philosophy, politics, languages, and literature; he also had an avid interest in painting, architecture, and gardening. While writing his poetry, he shaped and reshaped his lines with a patience and discipline almost unmatched in the annuals of English literature. To call his best work the ultimate expression of neoclassical art would be only half accurate; it also contains, sometimes half-hidden, the seeds of a momentous change in English poetry.
Born at Cornhill in London in 1716, Gray was the only one of a family of twelve children to survive infancy. His father, like John Milton’s, was a money scrivener; he was also a brutal, neglectful parent and something of a ne’er-do-well. As a result Gray’s parents separated, and Gray’s mother joined her sister in a millinery establishment, which prospered sufficiently to allow Gray to begin attending Eton College at the age of eight. His years at Eton were idyllic. Here he became close friends with Richard West, son of the lord chancellor of Ireland, and with Horace Walpole, the prime minister’s son. Gray was a member of the “Quadruple Alliance,” a group of intellectual students dedicated to classical poetry. A career at Cambridge followed, which, with minor interruptions, continued to the end of his life.
Gray interrupted his studies at Cambridge, which began in 1734, to tour Italy and France from 1739 to 1741 in the company of young Walpole. The trip ended in Reggio, Italy, in a quarrel that temporarily disrupted the friendship. After his return to England Gray postponed his return to Cambridge for two further years, during which he lived with his mother at the village of Stoke Poges. Here, in 1742, he wrote his first important poems, including “Ode to the Spring,” “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” and “Hymn to Adversity.” In June, 1742, Gray was shocked to learn of the death of Richard West. The following October he returned to Cambridge, and about the same time he started writing “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” which was published in 1751. At Cambridge, Gray took up residence first at Peterhouse and then at Pembroke College. He received his bachelor of laws (LL.B.) degree in 1743. Two years later, he reconciled with Walpole, who became the one who often persuaded Gray to publish his poems. At Cambridge, Gray lived a quiet, uneventful, and aloof existence. The poet Christopher Smart, a fellow at Pembroke, recalled Gray as a “little, prim, fastidious man, distinguished by a short, shuffling step.”
Gray’s significance as a poet far outreaches the slenderness of his literary output. Discernible in his work is an interest in nature and in the past that is curiously at variance with the rigid tenets of neoclassicism. A dominant theme in Gray’s work is that of his relationship with humankind, an interest that places him with the forerunners of the Romanticism of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Gray’s role as a transitional poet is especially well illustrated by “The Bard” (1757) and by his later odes, “The Fatal Sisters” (1761) and “The Descent of Odin” (1761).
Gray never married. When Colley Cibber died in 1757 Gray was offered the poet laureateship of England, which he refused because the post had acquired a low repute. In 1768 he accepted the position of professor of history and modern languages at Cambridge. He never gave a lecture, however. Indolent and melancholic, he had to force himself to work. He was inspired only at long intervals and then briefly. Gray’s health was always fragile, and he suffered from various psychological and physical ailments, which included an anxiety neurosis and a weak constitution. In later years he was afflicted with painful attacks of gout, a condition that had been responsible for the deaths of both his parents. When he died in Cambridge on July 30, 1771, Gray was buried beside his mother in the churchyard at Stoke Poges.
Romanticism [was] attitude or intellectual orientation that characterized many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography in Western civilization over a period from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. Romanticism [was] a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.
Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures; an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth; an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era; and a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic.
Romanticism proper was preceded by several related developments from the mid-18th century on that can be termed Pre-Romanticism. Among such trends was a new appreciation of the medieval romance, from which the Romantic movement derives its name. The romance was a tale or ballad of chivalric adventure whose emphasis on individual heroism and on the exotic and the mysterious was in clear contrast to the elegant formality and artificiality of prevailing Classical forms of literature, such as the French Neoclassical tragedy or the English heroic couplet in poetry. This new interest in relatively unsophisticated but overtly emotional literary expressions of the past was to be a dominant note in Romanticism.
Romanticism in English literature began in the 1790s with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth’s “Preface” to the second edition (1800) of Lyrical Ballads, in which he described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” became the manifesto of the English Romantic movement in poetry. William Blake was the third principal poet of the movement’s early phase in England. The first phase of the Romantic movement in Germany was marked by innovations in both content and literary style and by a preoccupation with the mystical, the subconscious, and the supernatural. A wealth of talents, including Friedrich Hölderlin, the early Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jean Paul, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, A.W. and Friedrich Schlegel, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and Friedrich Schelling, belong to this first phase. In Revolutionary France, the vicomte de Chateaubriand and Mme de Staël were the chief initiators of Romanticism, by virtue of their influential historical and theoretical writings.
The second phase of Romanticism, comprising the period from about 1805 to the 1830s, was marked by a quickening of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, as attested by the collection and imitation of native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works. The revived historical appreciation was translated into imaginative writing by Sir Walter Scott, who is often considered to have invented the historical novel. At about this same time English Romantic poetry had reached its zenith in the works of John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
A notable by-product of the Romantic interest in the emotional were works dealing with the supernatural, the weird, and the horrible, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and works by C.R. Maturin, the Marquis de Sade, and E.T.A. Hoffmann. The second phase of Romanticism in Germany was dominated by Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, J.J. von Görres, and Joseph von Eichendorff.
By the 1820s Romanticism had broadened to embrace the literatures of almost all of Europe. In this later, second, phase, the movement was less universal in approach and concentrated more on exploring each nation’s historical and cultural inheritance and on examining the passions and struggles of exceptional individuals. A brief survey of Romantic or Romantic-influenced writers would have to include Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, and the Brontë sisters in England; Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Musset, Stendhal, Prosper Mérimée, Alexandre Dumas (Dumas Père), and Théophile Gautier in France; Alessandro Manzoni and Giacomo Leopardi in Italy; Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov in Russia; José de Espronceda and Ángel de Saavedra in Spain; Adam Mickiewicz in Poland; and almost all of the important writers in pre-Civil War America.
In the 1760s and ’70s a number of British artists at home and in Rome, including James Barry, Henry Fuseli, John Hamilton Mortimer, and John Flaxman, began to paint subjects that were at odds with the strict decorum and classical historical and mythological subject matter of conventional figurative art. These artists favoured themes that were bizarre, pathetic, or extravagantly heroic, and they defined their images with tensely linear drawing and bold contrasts of light and shade. William Blake, the other principal early Romantic painter in England, evolved his own powerful and unique visionary images.
In the next generation the great genre of English Romantic landscape painting emerged in the works of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. These artists emphasized transient and dramatic effects of light, atmosphere, and colour to portray a dynamic natural world capable of evoking awe and grandeur.
In France the chief early Romantic painters were Baron Antoine Gros, who painted dramatic tableaus of contemporary incidents of the Napoleonic Wars, and Théodore Géricault, whose depictions of individual heroism and suffering in The Raft of the Medusa and in his portraits of the insane truly inaugurated the movement around 1820. The greatest French Romantic painter was Eugène Delacroix, who is notable for his free and expressive brushwork, his rich and sensuous use of colour, his dynamic compositions, and his exotic and adventurous subject matter, ranging from North African Arab life to revolutionary politics at home. Paul Delaroche, Théodore Chassériau, and, occasionally, J.-A.-D. Ingres represent the last, more academic phase of Romantic painting in France. In Germany Romantic painting took on symbolic and allegorical overtones, as in the works of P.O. Runge. Caspar David Friedrich, the greatest German Romantic artist, painted eerily silent and stark landscapes that can induce in the beholder a sense of mystery and religious awe.
Romanticism expressed itself in architecture primarily through imitations of older architectural styles and through eccentric buildings known as “follies.” Medieval Gothic architecture appealed to the Romantic imagination in England and Germany, and this renewed interest led to the Gothic Revival.
Musical Romanticism was marked by emphasis on originality and individuality, personal emotional expression, and freedom and experimentation of form. Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert bridged the Classical and Romantic periods, for while their formal musical techniques were basically Classical, their music’s intensely personal feeling and their use of programmatic elements provided an important model for 19th-century Romantic composers.
The possibilities for dramatic expressiveness in music were augmented both by the expansion and perfection of the instrumental repertoire and by the creation of new musical forms, such as the lied, nocturne, intermezzo, capriccio, prelude, and mazurka. The Romantic spirit often found inspiration in poetic texts, legends, and folk tales, and the linking of words and music either programmatically or through such forms as the concert overture and incidental music is another distinguishing feature of Romantic music. The principal composers of the first phase of Romanticism were Hector Berlioz, Frédéric Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, and Franz Liszt. These composers pushed orchestral instruments to their limits of expressiveness, expanded the harmonic vocabulary to exploit the full range of the chromatic scale, and explored the linking of instrumentation and the human voice. The middle phase of musical Romanticism is represented by such figures as Antonín Dvořák, Edvard Grieg, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Romantic efforts to express a particular nation’s distinctiveness through music was manifested in the works of the Czechs Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana and by various Russian, French, and Scandinavian composers.
Romantic opera in Germany began with the works of Carl Maria von Weber, while Romantic opera in Italy was developed by the composers Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gioachino Rossini. The Italian Romantic opera was brought to the height of its development by Giuseppe Verdi. The Romantic opera in Germany culminated in the works of Richard Wagner, who combined and integrated such diverse strands of Romanticism as fervent nationalism; the cult of the hero; exotic sets and costumes; expressive music; and the display of virtuosity in orchestral and vocal settings. The final phase of musical Romanticism is represented by such late 19th-century and early 20th-century composers as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Sir Edward Elgar, and Jean Sibelius.
Romanticism found its primary expression in the United States in the works of a group of painters of a movement known as the Hudson River School. Their paintings reflect three themes of America in the 19th century: discovery, exploration and settlement. Thomas Cole was the founder as well as the most renowned artist of the Hudson River School. He is most known for his landscape paintings of the American wilderness. These romantic portrayals convey a sense of awe at the vastness of nature. The most famous among these is perhaps The Oxbow, which depicts a panorama of the Connecticut River Valley just after a thunderstorm. Cole also produced allegorical works like his five-part series The Course of Empire, which portray the growth and fall of an imaginary city; and The Voyage of Life, an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood and old age.
Francesco Hayez was an extremely prolific artist who enjoyed a long and successful career. He began as a Neoclassical painter, then turned to Romanticism and ended as a sentimental painter of young women. Born in a relatively poor family, Hayez showed a predisposition towards drawing and apprenticed as an art restorer. He then became a student of the painter Francesco Maggiotto before moving to Milan; where by the mid-19th-century, he became the leading representative of Romanticism. His 1859 painting Il bacio (The Kiss) is regarded as a symbol of Italian Romanticism, of which it encompasses many features. Francesco Hayez is renowned for his grand historical paintings, political allegories and exceptionally fine portraits. He is the most famous Italian Romantic painter and he had a significant influence on future artists in the nation.
Ivan Aivazovsky was one of the leading Russian artists of his time who also served as the main painter of the Russian Navy. He was a prolific artist whose career spanned for almost 60 years during which he created around 6,000 paintings. Aivazovsky was awarded the Order of St. Vladimir in 1865 and the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky in 1897 by the Russian Empire. He was also one of the few Russian artists to achieve worldwide recognition during his lifetime. In 1857, he became the first non-French artistto receive the Legion of Honor. The following year, he was awarded the Order of the Medjidie by the Ottoman Empire. Ivan Aivazovsky is the most famous Russian Romantic painter. He is also regarded as one of the greatest marine artists of all time. Well known Russian writer Anton Chekhov coined the phrase “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush”. It became the standard way of describing something overwhelmingly lovely in 19th century Russia.
Though he died at the age of just 32, Theodore Gericault had a huge impact on the history of French painting; and France went on to dominate the world of western art in the 19th century. Gericault’s preference for contemporary subjects; his attraction to the dark side of human psychology; his radical style; and his compassion for the weaker sections of society; all set the path for Romanticism’s emphasis on emotion and subjectivity. His 1819 painting The Raft of the Medusa; which depicted the aftermath of a contemporary French shipwreck; became an icon of the emerging Romantic movement in French painting and “laid the foundations of an aesthetic revolution” that would ultimately ousted the prevailing Neoclassical style. Theodore Gericault is regarded as one of the pioneers of Romanticism and he had a huge influence on the following generation of French artists including Eugène Delacroix.
Romantic English artists favored landscape and the most influential among these was John Constable. Constable was deeply attached to the area where he was born, the Essex-Suffolk border in east England. His most celebrated masterpieces depict the landscape of this area, which is now known as Constable Country. Constable rebelled against the Neoclassical style; which used standard practices while creating landscape art and mostly used it to display historical and mythical scenes. He instead focussed on nature itself to bring out its beauty and power. Constable never achieved financial success. He sold only 20 paintings in England in his lifetime. He was more popular in France but he refused all invitations to travel internationally to promote his work. He once wrote, “I would rather be a poor man in England than a rich man abroad.” John Constable made an invaluable contribution to the genre of landscape painting and he produced some of the most captivating pictures of England by any artist ever.
William Blake, widely recognized as one of the greatest poets in the English language, was also among the most original visual artists of the Romantic era. Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life. He revered the Bible but was hostile to the Church of England and organized religion in general. Blake created numerous illustrations of biblical texts. He was also influenced by the texts of writers like Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. Working primarily in engravings, Blake created illustrations of mythical worlds full of gods and powers; and sharply criticized the effects of the industrial revolution and the suppression of individualism. The visionary art of Blake, and his use of image and text to convey a single concept, played a key role in not only Romanticism but several future art movements well into the 20th century. William Blake was largely unrecognized during his lifetime. However, recently he was ranked 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons and was called “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”.
Eugene Delacroix is widely regarded as the leader of the Romantic movement in France. He laid emphasis on color and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modelled form. His violent subject matter; the dramatic poses of his figures; his stress on capturing expression and emotion; his exploration of natural light in outdoor landscapes; and most prominently his expressive brushwork and dramatic use of color; all played a key role in making Romanticism the dominant movement in not only France but throughout the western world. Liberty Leading the People, the masterpiece of Delacroix, is perhaps the most renowned work of the entire Romanticism movement. Eugene Delacroix is the most famous French Romantic painter and he greatly influenced later art movements like Impressionism and Symbolism.
Caspar David Friedrich developed a significant reputation in his early career. However, his reputation declined in his later years as critics, who failed to understand his work, severely attacked it. He died poor and in obscurity; and it was not till the middle of the 20th century that he found favor with the new generation of critics and art historians. Today, Friedrich is an icon in Germany, is internationally renowned and is considered the most important German Romantic artist. He is viewed as a figure of great psychological complexity, “a celebrator of beauty haunted by darkness”. Friedrich is best known for works which put humans amid night skies, morning mists, barren trees, etc. thus illustrating diminished strength of man in the larger scale of life. He was fascinated by nature and could see the presence of the divine in it. Freidrich took landscape art and infused it with deep religious and spiritual significance. He is considered one of the most important artists in the genre.
Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of the greatest landscape artists of all time and perhaps the most renowned British artist ever. During his time, landscape painting was considered low art. Turner, with his application of poetic and imaginative approach to landscape art, elevated the genre to rival history painting. His dedication to render heightened states of consciousness and being, helped define the Romanticism movement. Turner is known for his mastery in capturing the effects of colour and light which made him famous as “the painter of light”. He precisely captured architectural and natural details in his early works but in his mature stage, his compositions became more fluid with mere suggestion of movement. These abstractions are considered ahead of his time and were a forerunner to the artistic movement Impressionism. A deeply experimental and progressive painter, J.M.W. Turner was a key figure of Romanticism who deeply influenced future generation of artists.
Francisco Goya rose to prominence in the artistic scene through his series of tapestry cartoons and became the court painter to the Spanish Crown. He later developed a penchant for portrayals of a dark nature for which he is most known today. Dubbed as his Black Paintings, they portray intense, haunting themes, reflective of both his fear of insanity and his bleak outlook on humanity. Goya is also renowned for highly imaginative elements in his art and bold use of paint. It was he who, more than anyone else, exemplified the Romantic values of the expression of the artist’s feelings and his personal imaginative world. His art embodies Romanticism’s emphasis on subjectivity, imagination, and emotion. Goya has been termed as both the last of the Old Masters and the first of the Moderns. He has also been called “the last great painter in whose art thought and observation were balanced and combined to form a faultless unity”. Francisco Goya is the most famous Romantic artist; and among other things, one of the great portraitists of modern times.
Masterpiece: The Third of May 1808 (1814)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_of_May_1808