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Entries in Romanticism (19)


Goya: A Man of His Time

Francisco Goya - Francisca Sabasa y Garcia - 1804-08 - Oil on canvas, 71 x 58 cm - National Gallery of Art, Washington (click photo for larger image)Spanish painter Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) was the most powerful and original European artist of his time. But his genius was slow in maturing and he was well into his thirties before he began producing work that set him apart from his contemporaries. His paintings, drawings, and engravings reflected contemporary historical upheavals and influenced important 19th- and 20th-century painters. His work continues to be studied in the 21st century.

Women occupy a central place within Goya's oeuvre, and his images of majas (the stylish and outlandish members of Spain's lower classes in the 18th and 19th centuries), witches, and queens are some of his most daring and modern interpretations, depicting women in possession of their own powers, whether political or sexual.

In the work featured here, the sitter is about 20 years old and is profiting from the emancipation of women cautiously proceeding in Goya's day. Her face is no longer concealed by a veil, and she looks self-confidently out at the viewer.

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.” — Goya


William Morris Hunt: A Poetic Mood

William Morris Hunt - La Marguerite - 1853 - Oil on canvas - 46 x 35.5 in. - Museum of Fine Arts - Boston, MAAmerican artist William Morris Hunt (1824-1879) ( After leaving Paris, Hunt painted and used his family connections to establish art schools ) was born in Brattleboro, Vermont into a wealthy, well-positioned family. After three years at Harvard College, he left to join the wave of American artists who traveled to Europe during the nineteenth century. Cities like Munich, Düsseldorf, and Paris offered young artists superior teachers and examples of classical art as well as the latest trends. In Paris, Hunt studied with the influential Thomas Couture, who stressed the importance of sketching and preserving the freshness of one's first impressions. However, Hunt's most important encounter in Europe was with the French painter Jean-François Millet. Living near the village of Barbizon, Millet and several other artists painted rural landscapes infused with a poetic mood. These artists came to be known as the Barbizon School. In his painting and teaching, Hunt brought the Barbizon style back to America when he returned in 1856. His own work included portraits, murals, and scenes of everyday life.

The companionship of Millet had a lasting influence on Hunt's character and style, and his work grew in strength, in beauty and in seriousness. He was among the biggest proponents of the Barbizon school in America, and he more than any other turned the rising generation of American painters towards Paris. After leaving Paris, Hunt painted and used his family connections to establish several art schools.


Arthur Bowen Davis: Artist of an Era in Change

Arthur B. Davies - A Greater Morning - ca. 1900-1905 - Oil on canvas - Smithsonian American Art Museum (click photo for larger image)American artist Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928) trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York City. Davies was active at a time when late nineteenth century Romanticism was giving way to more modernist approaches. He created his most characteristic works after 1900—graceful, idyllic scenes of elegant nude figures and mythological creatures—and is often associated with the Symbolists.

In 1908 Davies organized an exhibit of artists who came to be known as the Ashcan School. As president of the Society of Independent Artists, Davies was also a major figure in the organization of the game-changing Armory Show of 1913, which brought the works of European and American modernists to the attention of the U.S. public. 

Like many other turn-of-the-century artists, Davies’ work responded to the country's increasing urbanization by showing idealized images of people relating to nature. In the work featured here he presents “two figures softly lit by the light of an early dawn. They evoke Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, unaware of their own nudity and waking to a new beginning in an untouched world.”


Friedrich: the Spiritual Eye

Caspar David Friedrich - Dolmen in the Snow - 1807 - Oil on canvas, 61,5 x 80 cm - Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (click photo for larger image)Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) is considered the greatest German Romantic painter and one of the most original geniuses in the history of landscape painting. He was born on the Baltic coast, and after studying at the Copenhagen Academy from 1794 to 1798, he settled permanently in Dresden. Friedrich pursued a rare and instinctive single-mindedness into the spiritual significance of landscape. He mentally summoned up the images he put on canvas. “Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with your spiritual eye”, he wrote, “then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react on others from the outside inwards.”

A dolmen is a Neolithic stone formation, consisting of a horizontal stone supported by several vertical stones, and thought to be a tomb. The one portrayed in the work featured here is probably stood near Gützkow (a town in the District of Vorpommern-Greifswald in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany). It was removed between 1825 and 1829. Friedrich made several excursions to prehistoric burial sites.

Search right here on What About Art? to read more about Caspar David Friedrich.


Goya: The Darkness of Life in Paint

Francisco de Goya - Duel with Cudgels - 1820-23 - Oil on canvas, 123 x 266 cm - Museo del Prado, Madrid (click photo for larger image)Rococo Era painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) was a Spanish artist whose work reflected contemporary historical upheavals and influenced important 19th- and 20th-century painters. Although he was a revolutionary artist, he had no immediate followers. However, his work heavily influenced movements that would follow—including Romanticism, Realism and Impressionism—as well as Expressionism and Surrealism.   

There are fourteen Black Paintings (now in the Museo del Prado), “so called because of the dark tones and predominance of black.” They originally decorated the Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man). They were painted, in oils, on the walls of two rooms on the ground floor and first floor, and were transferred to canvas in 1873. Goya acquired the house in September 1819, but probably did not begin the paintings before the following year, after his recovery from serious illness.

Although Goya survived, a condition of deafness that pre-dated his illness remained. This changed his character in a way that is reflected in his art. A constant fear of a relapse made him impatient, and this is also evident in his vigorous technique. “As his monstrous imagining found expression, he darkened the walls in two rooms with terrible scenes of witches and visions of evil spirits. A fantastic horde of cynically grimacing hags and ghosts fill these rooms.”

In the work featured here, two men are battling each other with cudgels. Both are standing up to their knees in sand, so that neither can run away. Whether even the victor will be able to extricate himself remains unclear. There are no spectators in sight—only a bleak landscape with foreboding images.