the landscapes focus on a natural form that is threatening: icebergs, stormy seas, and waterfalls are all
popular subjects. A few examples will show the range of the romantic landscape.
In England, artists like John Constable saw the sublime in everyday rural scenes. Constable’s paintings are
composed from studies he made out-of-doors. He was especially interested in capturing the play of light
on leaves or the exact form of the clouds. His method of dabbing highlights to suggest light (derisively
called “Constable’s snow” by his critics) is an important predecessor to impressionism. In paintings like The
White Horse, human beings and nature seem peacefully united. But Constable’s idyllic country scenes stand
in sharp contrast to the realities of urbanization and industrialization in early nineteenth-century England,
thus representing in their own way the escapism so characteristic of romanticism.
The German artist, Caspar David Friedrich, showed a more mystical side of the romantic landscape.
Friedrich often painted miniscule people (often monks) contemplating the vastness of the ocean or a
graveyard outside a ruined church. Though lacking the tumultuous character of many French romantic
works, Friedrich’s paintings vividly convey the idea that human beings are small, fragile creatures
confronting a vast unknown.
Caspar David Friedrich, Ruined Abbey in an Oak Forest,
1809
Much of North and South America was still wilderness in the early nineteenth century, and many American
artists tried to capture its untamed grandeur. Among them was Thomas Cole, one of the members of the
Hudson River School, who often added allegorical elements to his landscapes. Frederick Edwin Church, a
student of Cole’s, painted huge canvases of Niagara Falls and the Andes Mountains. In these paintings, the
enormous power and wild expanse of nature is emphasized, and humans are just a small part of the natural
world.
HISTORICISM
IN
ARCHITECTURE
The escapist element in romanticism most influenced architecture of the period. Artists evoked distant
times and faraway places, applying historical styles to new constructions. This trend, called historicism,
dominated European and American architecture through most of the later eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. Gothic architecture was especially popular, and it was used in houses like Strawberry Hill in
Twickenham, England, and government buildings like the Houses of Parliament in London, as well as in
countless churches. Other styles, such as Romanesque, Egyptian, and Indian were also quoted.
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