Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course


Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4 The Romantic artist and the creative process

4.1 The Romantic aesthetic

In a journal entry of October 1822 Delacroix expressed the view that artists, unlike writers, don’t have to say everything explicitly:

The writer says nearly everything to be understood. In painting a mysterious bond is established between the souls of the sitters [The French alternative is personnages (see Joubin, 1996, p.29), which might alternatively be rendered as ‘figures’.] and those of the spectator. He sees the faces, external nature; but he thinks inwardly the true thought that is common to all people, to which some give body in writing, yet altering its fragile essence. Thus grosser spirits are more moved by writers than by musicians and painters.

(Pach, 1938, p.41)

This notion of the artist mediating between the souls of his models and those of his spectators lay at the heart of the Romantic aesthetic. Also central to Romanticism was the idea that the artist dealt essentially with the inexplicit, with the suggested rather than with the clearly expressed. To the Romantics, sculpture was inferior to painting because of its material status: solid and three-dimensional, it was too close to real life and too explicit in its mode of representing our experience of the world. Music, on the other hand, enjoyed a special status since it excelled in inexplicit evocation. For the same reason, the sketch, as a means of artistic expression, came to enjoy a higher status: it was even less specific than a finished painting in its powers of evocation and in its ability to generate meaning. For Delacroix and the Romantics, this lack of specificity facilitated a deeper, primal process of communication. To his contemporaries, therefore, well acquainted with such views, the sketchiness or (apparently) rough brushwork of Delacroix’s works signified a Romantic mindset. Both Turner and Constable used the sweeping brushstroke innovatively in the context of the dominant aesthetic of the classical picturesque and how this technique was seen as a means of gaining access to the artist's individual identity. Romantic artists such as Turner, Constable and Delacroix were, in this respect, exploring and engaging with a phenomenon that had been rationally identified and analysed, if not practised, by Enlightenment theorists.