Romanticism

1800-1850 is the period of Romanticism, both an artistic movement and an attitude to life in which emotion and the individual occupy pride of place. The Romantic spirit found expression in politics, philosophy and science, but more particularly in literature, music and the visual arts.

In a bid to escape reality, Romantic artists favoured exotic and melodramatic subjects, such as grand mountain scenery, waterfalls and storms at sea. The paintings reveal a yearning for the past and an urge to idealize the present. But Romanticism was such a broad phenomenon that it is impossible to define Romantic painting in terms of style. The movement exhibited huge geographical and other diversity. Across Europe, great Romantic artists included Delacroix and Géricault in France, Constable and Turner in Britain and Friedrich in Germany. The Netherlands did not produce any Romantic artist of comparable status. Indeed, the country is often held to have had no genuinely Romantic period: the paintings, it is argued, were too respectable and too much akin to those of the seventeenth century. But it is also possible to contend that Dutch Romanticism had a distinctive character of its own, with a bright palette, smooth brushwork and a keen eye for detail.

The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag houses a major collection of paintings and drawings by Dutch artists of the Romantic period. A number of these works, including those by Cornelis Kruseman, Charles Rochussen, Wijnand Nuijen and Johan Daniël Koelman, were acquired as long ago as the nineteenth century. It was this generation of painters that taught the artists of the Hague School, of which the Gemeentemuseum has one of the world’s leading collections. The early works of Johan Barthold Jongkind, a precursor of Impressionism, can also be classified as Romantic.

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