Taylor Kennedy, Art History major at Winthrop University, ARTH 480 Independent Study with Dr. Laura Rinaldi Dufresne. “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” Charles Baudelaire



The individual, the irrational, the emotional, the transcendental; this is the embodiment of “Romanticism”. This is a blog constructed as an independent study with Dr. Dufresne at Winthrop University about portraits of Romanticism and my personal thoughts on the portraits. Romanticism was an artistic movement that gained momentum in France and Britain in the early decades of the 19th century. Preceded by the Enlightment, Romanticism rejected the order and reason of the time in favor of imagination and emotion. Interest was focused on the individual, the pure emotions that came with being human. Portraits became ways of expressing a range of psychological and emotional states rather than records of individual likeness. Nature,too, with its uncontrollable and powerful characteristics became subject matter in many artworks. A stormy background in a portrait now became a way of expressing inner turmoil within one’s self. No longer were portraits just for those of a higher class, now portraits were exalting common people as well showing that there was a higher purpose for all people, not just those with wealth. Rich color and energetic brushwork was a common practice with dramatic and emotive subject matter. Portraits showed the struggle of being human and the emotions that are evoked with the inner self. This blog will hopefully be a glimpse into Romanticism and the portraits that came from this time period. Some artists of Romanticism include: William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, Francisco Goya, Caspar David Friedrich, Eugene Delacroix, Gustave Dore, Henry Fuseli, John Constable and many others.


The History of Portraiture


Portraiture is the art of representing the physical or psychological likeness of a real or imaginary individual.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright (c) 2012,
Columbia University Press.

"The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild, known as the ‘Sampling Officials’", Rembrandt, 1662

“The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, known as the ‘Sampling Officials’”, Rembrandt, 1662

The Columbia encyclopedia’s “History of Portraiture” is an article about the history of portraits. The article is divided into sections discussing different types of portraits from the self-portraits to photographic portraits and many other types of portraiture. Considering the subject of this blog is about portraits, it seems appropriate to include the history behind portraits and why they exist. According to the article portraits have two purposes “the desire to represent the subject accurately and the desire to transform or idealize the subject”. There are also many different symbolic meanings to portraits. In some cultures it represents the theft of a soul and in others it can be the substitute presence for a deceased individual. And as with artists, portraits can also be representative of a particular profession. Many artists chose to include objects such as palettes and brushes in their own self portraits. Although this blog consists of painted portraits on canvas, portraits can also take the form of statues as with the Egyptian monuments representing kings as well as paintings on various substrates such as wood on tombs and walls made of stone. In the 17th century Dutch painters made group portraits popular (portrait above) and English painters soon followed this trend.  Portraits started to lose their importance in art movements during the late 20th century but gained success again the 1970s thanks to artists such as Alice Neel, Alex Katz and David Hockney. Today artists such as Chuck Close (below) ,with facial close ups broken down into individual parts, and Robert Greene   ,with portraits painted with just his fingers, are finding new ways of representing portraits.

Figure 1  "Emma", Chuck Close, 2002, woodcut

Figure 1
“Emma”, Chuck Close, 2002, woodcut

Artist Self-Portraits

Figure 1 1771-1775 Oil on canvas. 58 x 44 cm

Figure 1
1771-1775 Oil on canvas. 58 x 44 cm

Figure 2  1790-1795 Oil on canvas. 42 x 28 cm.

Figure 2
1790-1795 Oil on canvas. 42 x 28 cm.

Figure 3 1797-1800 Oil on canvas. 63 x 49 cm

Figure 3
1797-1800 Oil on canvas. 63 x 49 cm

Figure 4 1815 Oil on canvas. 51 x 46 cm

Figure 4
1815 Oil on canvas. 51 x 46 cm

To get a sense of the true style of Romanticism one only has to look at the self-portraits of the artists during this time period. Studying these portraits gives an incredible sense of emotion because the artist was portraying the way they themselves felt and could therefore express the emotion very deeply in a work of art. It is very powerful to look at these self-portraits and realize that many of these men had troubled lives and were trying to portray the intense way they felt during this time.  In the portraits of Goya especially we see the beginning of young man’s life (Figure 1) that is filled with ambition and determined to become an individual as indicated by his long hair and the dark background. In the second self-portrait (Figure 2) we see a man who appears to be in his mid-thirties who is confident in his abilities to create. Thirdly, we see an older Goya (Figure 3) with glasses who looks full of wisdom. And lastly, in his self-portrait at the age of 69, we see a man who had many burdens and is a shell of who he once was, but still remains stoic (Figure 4).

Figure 5 c. 1810-20 oil on canvas 53.3 × 41.5 cm

Figure 5
c. 1810-20 oil on canvas 53.3 × 41.5 cm

Figure 6 1799 oil on canvas 743 × 584 cm

Figure 6
1799 oil on canvas 743 × 584 cm

Caspar David Friedrich (Figure 5) has an intense expression and seems almost to have a look of worry, but who nonetheless remains sure of himself. The dark background along with the dark clothes and puffy white collar is typical of many self-portraits during this time and can also be seen in the self-portrait of J. M. W. Turner (Figure 6).

Figure 7 1837  oil on canvas 65 cm x 54 cm

Figure 7
1837 oil on canvas 65 cm x 54 cm

Figure 8 1820 oil on canvas 147 cm x 114 cm

Figure 8
1820 oil on canvas 147 cm x 114 cm

Although Eugene Delacroix’s (Figure 7) self-portrait has a dark background he seems to be expressing pure confidence in himself and wants everyone to know that which may be why the orange in the background makes him appear to be glowing. Someone said of Delacroix “Eugene Delacroix was a curious mixture of skepticism, politeness, dandyism, willpower, cleverness, despotism, and finally, a kind of special goodness and tenderness that always accompanies genius”. Gericault’s (Figure 8) self-portrait is melancholy and the skull in the background adds to the gloom and drama of this portrait. He is also dressed in all black, except for the white collar, and his posture makes him look rather sad. What is so incredible about each one of these self-portraits is that each artist had the opportunity to express themselves and did not paint a static straightforward portrait. The portraits show the concept of who they thought they were; confident, sometimes intensely emotional, creative individuals. They wanted to break free of the traditional way of portrait painting that was for record keeping and instead focus on self- expression and the mysteries of life. From these self-portraits viewers really get a sense of who these artists were and what they believed their place was in the art world.

“Romantic Art: Fantasy in Self-Portraits”, post found on visualnews.com



It is always interesting to me to see a modern artist draw inspiration from past art movements and create contemporary pieces based on characteristics of previous styles. In this article found on visualnews.com, the artist Olga Valeska creates beautiful photographs of magical scenes which many times incorporate the alluring aspects of nature. She also expresses deep emotions in the photographs, which was often a characteristic seen in works by Romantic artist. I can’t help but to think that if photography were available to the artist of Romanticism this may be similar to photographs they themselves would take. Check out more of her photographs, as well as the one posted above, here http://www.visualnews.com/2012/01/11/romantic-art-fantasy-in-self-portraits/ .

“Chateaubriand Meditating on the Ruins of Rome” Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1808, oil on canvas

"Chateaubriand Meditating on the Ruins of Rome" 1808

“Chateaubriand Meditating on the Ruins of Rome” 1808

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson was born in France in 1767 and sadly was orphaned as a child. He was adopted rather late in life by Benoît-François Trioson in 1806 and his name changed to Roussy-Trioson (he was born Anne-Louis Girodet Roussy).  Born during the middle to late 18th century, Trioson painted during the early phase of Romanticism and achieved great success early on in life. He started studying drawing very young at the age of six with the Neoclassical architect Étienne-Louis Boullée. This early exposure to neoclassicism had an influence on Trioson’s early work as many of his paintings reflect the neoclassic. In 1789, Trioson won the Prix de Rome competition for his piece “Joseph Recognized by his Brothers” (pictured below); the neoclassical can be seen in this work by the sculptural bodies and clean lines of the figures. Trioson also studied under Jacques-Louis David who criticized Trioson’s later work due to its abandonment of the traditional in favor of more romanticized themes.  However, Trioson is praised in the art community for his delicate transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism. Trioson was also a fan of portraying literary themes in his painting. Perhaps because of his interest in literature, Trioson painted this portrait of François-René de Chateaubriand.

"Joseph Recognized by his Brothers" 1789

“Joseph Recognized by his Brothers” 1789

François-René de Chateaubriand was a French author and was a representative of the reactions against the French revolution and was also one of the most notable figures in French literature at the time.  During the French Revolution, he sided with the Royalist and even joined their army, possibly because he was born into an aristocratic family. In this portrait, we see Chateaubriand with his hand in his coat pocket with the ruins of Rome behind him. This portrait was created in 1808 well after the end of the French Revolution. Because the Royalist were defeated during the Revolution and King Louis executed, the ruins in the background are very telling of the emotions Chateaubraind probably felt. He probably felt like the France he once knew was forever gone and just as the Roman Empire fell, France too, had fallen. Napoleon stated that the portrait of Chateaubriand “looked like that of a conspirator who had come down a chimney”. Napoleon was probably remarking on the dark clothes Chateaubrain is wearing as well as his tousled looking hair.

Chateaubriand looks as though he is in deep introspection with his head turned away from the viewer’s gaze. The dark, moody colors also create a somber atmosphere which adds to the introspection of Chateaubriand. Trioson was also known for his unusual color effects and melodramatic colors which can be seen in this portrait. What is most notable is the softness of this painting in comparison to some of Trioson’s other works of art which go along with Romanticism; however the ruins in the background create a neoclassical characteristic. Viewers can see the genius in the transition from Neoclassical to Romanticism that Trioson displayed from the collaboration between these two differing art movements composed together in one painting. Unfortunately Trioson did not continue to paint much after he inherited a large portion of money in 1815 and sheltered himself from daylight and spent his days writing poetry.

Works Cited

“Anne-Louis Girodet”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2015

“Anne Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson”. Art Experts. 1 January, 2010 <http://www.artexpertswebsite.com/pages/artists/jackson.php&gt;.

“Girodet, Anne-Louis” The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. Ed Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press 2009 Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

Theodore Gericault and the Portraits of the Insane

"Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (The Hyena)" 1822

“Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (The Hyena)” 1822

Theodore Gericault was a French painter and a pivotal part of the Romantic movement in art. One source, the Encyclopedia Britannica even states that Gericault was a “painter who exerted a seminal influence on the development of Romantic art in France.” He had a flamboyant and passionate personality which can be seen influencing his works of art. His paintings were controversial and daring which bodes well for Romantic artists. Gericault was largely self- taught although he did receive some studio training and studied English sporting art(additional information in video below) from the artist Carle Vernet. His first interests in sporting art most likely came about because Gericault was an avid horseman and many of his paintings have English sport as subject matter.  Gericault also studied classical figures and composition with Pierre Guerin, who was also the teacher of Eugene Delacroix; it is said that Delacroix found Gericault to be a huge influence in his artistic career. When Gericault traveled to Florence and Rome in 1816 to 1817, he was profoundly influenced by Michelangelo and Baroque art. This influence can be seen in the sculpted figures and clean lines he uses while his later works are more painterly with loose brushstrokes.

Gericault’s last major works were discovered nearly fifty years after his death and consist of haunting portraits of the insane. Gericault worked with Étienne-Jean Georget, the chief physician of the Salpêtrière, the women’s asylum in Paris, to create ten portraits of the mentally ill. However, only five of the ten remain. What is remarkable is that Georget claimed he could tell what illness each patient had simply by looking at the portraits. The five remaining portraits are: A Woman Addicted to Gambling, A Child Snatcher, A Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy, A Kleptomaniac; and A Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command.  All of the sitters are unnamed and are identified simply by their illness. Gericault’s interest in psychiatry was due to the fact that his grandfather and uncle both died insane. Although these portraits are intriguing and unique, some critics argue that the portraits were propaganda for Georget to claim the importance of psychiatrists in diagnosing mental illness.

Portrait of a Child Snatcher Portrait of a Kleptomaniac Portrait of a Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (The Hyena) woman addicted to gambling

Portraits from left to right: “Portrait of a Child Snatcher” 1822, “Portrait of a Kleptomaniac” 1822, “Portrait of a Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command” 1822, “Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (The Hyena)” 1822, “A Woman Addicted to Gambling” 1822

What is immediately known is the unease of the portraits due to the gazes of the sitters never looking directly at the viewer, but looking distracted and lost in their own thoughts. The viewer gets the sense that the people in the portraits did not authorize for these portraits to be created and had no say in the way they were depicted. However, their pose is constrained and typical of portraits so that it does not look like they are in asylums. The loose brushstrokes indicate that the portraits were created quickly and probably in one sitting and painted entirely from observation. Critics claim that this type of brushwork is in contrast to Gericaults earlier works with clean lines and sculptural style so the erratic way the paintings were created are meant to represent the patients disordered thoughts. Also striking is that although the dimensions of the canvas vary from portrait to portrait, the heads of the patients are all close to life-size, creating even more unease with the viewer. The dark colors used in each portrait also add to the somber atmosphere.

Works Cited

“Khan Academy.” Gericault Portraits of the Insane. Khan Academy. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

“Théodore Géricault (Getty Museum).” Théodore Géricault (Getty Museum). The J. Paul Getty Trust. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

“Theodore Gericault”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2015

An additional article discussing one portrait of a “Man with the ‘Monomania’ of Child Kidnapping” and more on the portraits of the insane by Gericault: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/nov/04/art

To learn more about English sporting art watch this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll87WCsEOD8

Antoine Jean Gros, “Madame Pasteur”, 1795-96, Oil on Canvas, 86 x 87 cm

"Madame Pasteur" 1795-96

“Madame Pasteur” 1795-96

Antoine Jean Gros’ parents were miniature painters which may explain his interest in art from an early age and his father being his first teacher of art. He was born in Paris on March 16th in the year of 1771 and had an unfortunate death in 1835 when he committed suicide.  He had a profound effect on the rising generation of Romantic artists with his bold use of color and inspired especially Eugene Delacroix and Théodore Géricault. For Gros’ though, his inspiration came from Peter Paul Rubens and the Venetian artists. And although Gros was admired by the Romantics, he considered himself to have a style that was more neoclassical.

Gros also highly admired Napoleon and he became the subject of many of Gros’ paintings. Gros even became France’s most admired painter at the time after producing three heroic paintings of Napoleon.  Fortunate for Gros he had the opportunity to follow his hero Napoleon on his campaigns as well as help select works of art from Italy for the Louvre.  Because of his following of Napoleon, Gros was able to see the historic moment when Napoleon planted the French flag in Arcole, a huge moment for the artist. Before his success, Gros turned to portrait painting after suffering the death of his father and bankruptcy as well as losing the Prix de Rome competition.


(The portrait of Madame Pasteur a zoomed in detail of the necklace she is wearing)

In one of his portrait entitled “Madame Pasteur”  we see a young woman dressed in what appears to be a dress that she should not be seen in for the public’s viewing. However, this portrait was painted from 1795 to 1796; this was towards the end of the French Revolution and fashion at this time changed vastly. Women and men no longer wanted to appear as part of the French aristocracy and instead opted for clothing that was simple as compared to the hoop skirts and intricate details of clothing worn prior to this time. The idea of self and expressing oneself through what one wore also became a trend which is why clothing tended to favor the natural figure instead of tight corsets.

What intrigues the viewer most, especially this viewer is the facial expression seen on the young woman’s face. One viewer states that “the depiction of the young woman in this youthful work is imbued with a lighthearted grace that is 18th century in spirit” and she does indeed have a lighthearted look about her. The slight smile and the way her eyes seem almost to smile too make it seem as though the artist depicted her right before or after she giggled. The woman’s pose though seems as though it is neither open nor closed; as though she is a bit shy but also willing to engage. Although not much is known about the young lady, this portrait was commissioned by Alexandre Madeleine Pasteur, who may have been the woman herself.

Towards the end of his career, Gros’ was less admired and created paintings about ancient myths rather than paintings of Napoleon and he was criticized for this. Because of the criticism he received and possibly because of the pride he held for himself and his works of art, Gros could no longer take the negativity and drowned himself Siene River in France. I will leave off with this comment that Gros often made to his students:  “You are not sufficiently concerned with color, my dear sirs,” he told his pupils. “Yes, it’s color which gives poetry, life and charm-no painting can come to life without it.”

Works Cited

“Antoine-Jean, Baron Gros”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2015.

“Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (Getty Museum).” Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (Getty Museum). The J. Paul Getty Trust, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2015.

Cullen, Oriole. “Eighteenth-Century European Dress”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/eudr/hd_eudr.htm (October 2003)

“Romanticism is the conceptual school of art. It deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence. It does not record or photograph; it creates and projects. It is concerned—in the words of Aristotle—not with things as they are, but with things as they might be and ought to be.”

This quote really summarizes the core of Romanticism. In Romantic portraits, the soul of a person is seen on the canvas. Instead of being a pictorial representation of the person as they look, the personality and heart of a person can be seen. Like the quote states, Romanticism is not meant to be a record or photograph, but allows the viewers to see past the obvious. The artist has the freedom to express and this is what is at the core of Romanticism. Expressing not only what is seen but what is unseen.


“Frederic Chopin” by Eugene Delacroix,1838, 14.57 inch x 17.72 inch, oil on canvas

"Frederic Chopin" 1838

“Frederic Chopin” 1838

Eugene Delacroix was a French painter who is said to have had a passion for the exotic and chose to travel to North Africa to study art instead of traveling to Italy to study classical Roman and Greek art. However, he was inspired by Rubens and other Venetian Renaissance painters and was attracted to English painting. Because Delacroix was inspired by Rubens, he was drawn to tradition, but found a way of expressing traditional painting in his own unique way.  He was also trained by the neo-classical painter Pierre Guerin from 1816 to about 1823 and held his first exhibit at the Salon of 1822, a great accomplishment of the time. Delacroix liked to use expressive brushstrokes and showed the importance of movement and color in his pieces rather than clarity of outline and carefully modeled form. As well as painting this portrait of Frederic Chopin, Delacroix also illustrated many works of Shakespeare.

Frederic Chopin was a Polish composer and pianist during the Romantic Era and was also a child prodigy who finished his musical education and composed many great works by the young age of 20. He left Poland shortly after completing his music education and after having a failed engagement with a Polish girl. Thereafter he maintained a troubled relationship with the French writer George Sand. Sand was the author of daring novels and six years older than Chopin.  She was also the mutual friend between Delacroix and Chopin, which is how the two came to know one another. The two men became close friends and Delacroix kept this portrait in his studio until his death.

An interesting feature of this portrait is that it was originally a double portrait of George Sand and Eugene Delacroix, see below. The owner of the painting thought that the portraits would garner more value separately and were therefore cut apart. In the original portrait, Chopin is playing the piano and George Sand is sewing, which was a favorite pass time of the writer. From this portrait, the viewer can see the loose brushstrokes that were common with Delacroix as well as the emphasis on color. Just in Chopin’s hair alone one can see hints of yellow and oranges that add depth to the overall portrait. From Chopin’s facial expression it seems as though he is confident and focused, he knows he has extraordinary talent and intends to show the world this. He is passionate about his craft and wants the viewer to know that. This portrait is a great example of Romantic characteristics particularly in regards to color and emotion. The colors are moody and dark, and the face is showing the emotions behind the man, which is what Romantic artist aimed to do. The fuzzy outline instead of crisp lines is also characteristic of Romanticism and although Delacroix was inspired by the traditional, this portrait is very much Romantic. Baudelaire said of Delacroix, “Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible.”


Smolenska-Zielinska, Barbara. “Chopin : Biography.” Chopin : Biography. Official Chopin Homepage, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

“Delacroix – The Complete Works.” Delacroix – The Complete Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Neret, Giles. “Eugene Delacroix.” Eugene Delacroix. Artchive, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

“Eugène Delacroix.” The National Gallery, London. The National Gallery, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

“Thomas Otway” by William Blake, 1800, 40.5 x 76.2 cm ,Tempera on canvas

"Thomas Otway" by William Blake, 1800

“Thomas Otway” by William Blake, 1800

William Blake was a well-known poet and painter during the Romantic period. While misunderstood during his lifetime, Blake finally received credit for his impact on the arts far after his death.  William Blake was said to be “opinionated, questioning, rebellious and sometimes obdurate and saucy” (Barker). In his time, Blake was seen as eccentric and some viewed him as a madman. Because of this he was educated at home by his mother. He began his artistic career early and at the age of 10 enrolled at Henry Par’s drawing school. He studied engraving and was enthralled by the classical style of High Renaissance and collected prints from Durer, Raphael and Michelangelo. Throughout his career, Blake was commissioned to make many engravings as well as to paint watercolors. It is said that William Blake hated oils, the popular medium at the time, which is why he chose watercolor instead (“47 Paintings…). He also chose to use myths as his subject of work in order to “illustrate his mystical view of the universe” (“47 Paintings…”).

Blake painted the portrait of Thomas Otway in 1800 on canvas using tempera. Thomas Otway was a dramatist during the Restoration Period of England and William Blake may have chosen to paint Otway because of his attraction to the drama and fantasy involved in plays, although not much is known about this portrait. What’s intriguing about this portrait, in my opinion, is the facial expression Thomas Otway has. He is inviting the audience to look at him, but looking past the viewer at the same time. It is as if he is dreaming of something by the resting of the head on the hand and the slight upturn of a smile. What’s also interesting is the scene happening in the foreground. The man is posed to hit the woman and the woman is shielding her face. From my guess, this is probably a scene from one of Otway’s plays. This also adds to the intrigue of Otway’s facial expression because it seems as though he is watching one of his own plays happening before him. The drama and moodiness of this portrait plays on the elements of Romanticism, so while this portrait has elements of antiquity (looking at the background and color choice), it also fits into the period in which it was created. I also appreciate how the painting is sketchy and monochromatic while still showing depth and tonal changes.

While William Blake is appreciated more now than he was when he was alive, he followed the beat of his own drum and created great works of art. His interest in the classical style is evident in most of his paintings and engravings which is unique to find during this time period. But he also uses smooth, wispy brushstrokes in his paintings which was popular during this time. What can be most appreciated about Blake is the confidence he had to do what he wanted and create pieces of work that allow viewers into a mystical world of his own creation.

Barker, Elizabeth E. . “William Blake (1757–1827)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/blke/hd_blke.htm (October 2004)

“47 Paintings by William Blake.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

For a more detailed look into William Blake check out this article from Khan Academy