Famous Romanticism Paintings

Famous Romanticism Paintings – The Best Romanticism Artwork of the Era

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The era of Romanticism began in the late 18th century and reached its peak mid-19th century. It is a movement that was expressed through art, music, and literature. Romanticism is seen to be an intellectual movement rather than simply an aesthetic one. Believed to be a reactionary movement, it shunned the rational and scientific ideas of the Enlightenment in favor of raw emotion. Many Romantic period artists were appalled by the rapid industrialization of the time and turned to nature. Some of the most famous and emotive paintings ever created are believed to be Romanticism artworks. 



What Did the Romanticism Art Movement Stand For?

By the end of the 18th-century people had grown tired of the science, mathematics, and rationality that dominated the Age of Reason. Life was not easy during this time of political instability and sudden industrialization within Europe. Many were forced to leave their small, agrarian societies and move to rapidly expanding cities to work in factories. The mass influx of people to these urban areas resulted in insufficient housing and poor sanitation which led to the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

The general population was desperately unhappy and thus Romanticism came about as a form of escapism. Romantic-era art provided a wide range of emotions that were not displayed in the Classicism and Neoclassicism that dominated the start of the 18th century.

The artists’ high regard for creativity, spontaneity, and individualism is present in many famous Romantic artworks. Many artworks of the time were created to make their viewers experience strong emotions, meaning that they were often perceived as controversial.

Particularly, those containing darker subject matter or political expressions. Romanticism art tended to idealize the Middle Ages. Both the enlightened and the Romantics viewed the Middle Ages as backward and full of superstitious beliefs. However, whilst the enlightened were scathing of this, the Romantic period artists delighted in it. They favored the mystical elements of Medieval art as well as its traditional religious imagery. Famous Romantic art often used Christian motifs, such as the portrayal of a heroic, Christ-inspired figure.

Romanticism Art PiecesThe Ninth Wave (1850) by Ivan Aivazovsky, located in the State Russian Museum in Mikhailovsky Palace, Russia; Russian Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Romantic period artists often express that a righteous and uncorrupted hero, similar to the knights of the Middle Ages, is missing from the modern world. Other than emotion, the notion of the sublime was a characterizing feature of Romanticism art. This referred to the beauty and abundance of nature, in which man was minuscule in comparison. Romantic era paintings convey the feelings the artist had towards the landscape, not simply the scene itself.

Before this era, landscape painting was viewed as one of the lowest forms of art, however famous Romanticism paintings changed this forever. Romanticism art also changed the way that nature was depicted. Previously, it was portrayed as something calm and pretty, however Romantic period artists showed that it could be powerful and dangerous too. Romantic-era art made a profound and lasting influence on the world. Its representations of beautiful, exotic lands and people encouraged travel and exploration.

Famous Romantic art expressing revolutionary fervor led to ideals of social emancipation. Artworks with darker subject matter lead the way for other artists to explore more psychological and macabre imagery. Romanticism is one of the most notable movements in art history and continues to show its influences today.



The 10 Most Famous Romanticism Paintings to Exist

Romantic era paintings are some of the most recognizable and revered paintings in the art world. Many of the greatest landscapes in history emerged from the Romanticism art movement. Romanticism artworks are also typically heavily symbolic and emotional, sparking debate as to the artist’s true intended meaning. Whilst our list may not be very exhaustive, we will be taking a look at some of the most famous and emotive Romanticism paintings to exist.


The Nightmare (1781) by Henry Fuseli

ArtistHenry Fuseli
Date Painted1781
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions101.6 cm × 127 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan

Henry Fuseli was a Swiss draughtsman, writer, and painter. Many of his paintings contained elements of the supernatural. He created his most famous Romanticism artwork, The Nightmare, in 1781. Produced at the beginning of the Romantic era, The Nightmare was something that had never been seen before and went on to inspire the likes of William Blake, another renowned Romantic period artist.

The Nightmare shows a ravished woman with an incubus, a male demon that engages in sexual activities with sleeping women, perched on her chest. A peculiar black mare with milky white eyes peeps through red velvet curtains to view the macabre scene. The sleeping woman is clothed in white and illuminated in order to juxtapose the dark background.

Famous Romanticism Art PiecesThe Nightmare (1781) by Henry Fuseli, located in the Detroit Institute of Art in Michigan, United States; Henry Fuseli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many interpretations of this famous Romantic artwork due to its mysterious nature. The most common interpretation is that we are viewing the contents of the woman’s nightmare. This illustrates the darker side of the human psyche and shows that whilst there are many things a man can master, his mind is not always one of them. This famous Romanticism painting shocked and horrified audiences. It was completely unique, leading to its great popularity.

Fuseli explored sexual themes in The Nightmare in a suggestive rather than explicit fashion. Some believe that this Romantic-era painting depicts female orgasm, a very taboo notion at the time. Another thing that made The Nightmare so unusual was its apparent lack of moral lesson.

It was sinister simply for the sake of terrifying the viewer, not to deter them from any immoral behavior.


The Third of May 1808 (1814) by Francisco Goya

ArtistFrancisco Goya
Date Painted1814
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions268 cm × 347 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

The Third of May 1808 created in 1814 by Francisco Goya, is one of the most famous Spanish examples of Romantic-era art. Goya came to be known as one of the most important Spanish painters of his time. He is often thought of as one of the first modern artists and his paintings helped to shape the Romanticism art movement.

The Third of May 1808 portrays the public execution of Spaniards that revolted against the Napoleonic troops occupying Madrid. The French troops had taken the Spanish capital by siege earlier that year. His painting, The Second of May 1808, depicts the uprising itself whilst the more famous The Third of May 1808 shows the repercussions.

Famous Romantic Period ArtistThe Third of May 1808 (1814) by Francisco Goya, located in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain; Francisco de Goya, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The emotional chaos of the execution is shown to the viewer by the expressions and gestures of those within the painting. In the center, a man dressed in white is about to be shot. He is believed to be an allusion to Christ. This is shown by his upraised arms, posed as if he were being crucified. Many, already dead, lie in a heap on the floor whilst others cower behind the man in white, knowing that they will be next.

This famous Romanticism painting is a revolutionary piece of art. The painting style used, as well as the depiction of war in a way that did not glorify it, had not been seen before. 

One of Picasso’s most famous artworks Guernica owes its influence to The Third of May 1808. Many other artists of the ensuing Realist and Surrealist movements also credited The Third of May 1808 as a major influence on their work.


Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (c. 1818) by Caspar David Friedrich

ArtistCaspar David Friedrich
Date Paintedc. 1818
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions94.8 cm × 74.8 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany

Caspar David Friedrich painted countless landscapes popular during the Romantic era. His painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog created in about 1818 is one of the most famous Romanticism paintings of the whole movement. The human figure, which is outshone by the landscape, is typical of the German artist’s style and can be seen in different variations in a number of his paintings.

Although the scene depicted in Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is a fictionalized landscape it is thought to be based on the sketches he made en plein air of Saxony. In the famous Romanticism artwork, one can see a man looking out on a beautiful, fog-covered valley. By turning the figures back towards us Friedrich shows that it is the view that is the most important element of the painting.

Example of Famous Romantic ArtWanderer above the Sea of Fog (c. 1818) by Caspar David Friedrich, located in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany; Caspar David Friedrich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is a perfect example of Romantic-era art. The notion of nature as sublime, clearly evident in this painting, is a key characteristic of the movement. The relatively small figure shows the overwhelming abundance and beauty of nature. Friedrich also illustrates that humans are tiny in comparison to nature and not the superior beings that many believe us to be.

Like many other Romantic period artists, Friedrich exhibited the wonder of travel and exploration in his artworks. Some have interpreted the man in the painting as a personification of curiosity and adventure. Others believe that it is a self-portrait due to the man’s auburn hair, much like that of the artist himself.

Whatever one’s interpretation, it is undeniable that this Romantic artwork is a vital contribution to the movement.


The Raft of the Medusa (c. 1818 – 1819) by Théodore Géricault

ArtistThéodore Géricault
Date Paintedc. 1818-1819
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions490 cm × 716 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed The Louvre Museum, Paris, France

The Raft of the Medusa was painted somewhere between 1818 and 1819 by the French artist Théodore Géricault. It is considered to be his most well-known artwork and is one of the most famous Romanticism paintings in art history. Géricault was a painter and lithographer by trade. His early death at the age of 32 is viewed as a tragedy, as he was believed to be one of the pioneering artists of the Romantic era.

The Raft of the Medusa shows the survivors of the shipwreck of the French naval ship, the Medusa. The Medusa was not wrecked in battle, but rather hit a sandbank off the Senegalese coast after it was sent there to establish a colony.

Of those on board, 400 managed to evacuate, however, due to a shortage of lifeboats 151 passengers were forced to utilize makeshift rafts. After 13 days at sea, these survivors experienced a very gruesome ordeal, many having to turn to cannibalism to survive. By the time they were discovered only 15 of the original 151 survived.

Romantic Period ArtistThe Raft of the Medusa (1818 – 1819) by Théodore Géricault, located in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France; Théodore Géricault, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In The Raft of the Medusa, the Romantic theme of nature as beautiful and dangerous is clearly displayed. Géricault contrasts a glorious, tempestuous seascape with the death and suffering of those stranded. The scene is incredibly emotive due to the expressions of hopelessness on the people’s faces and the dead that lie all around them.

Géricault not only tells the tale of struggling to survive a disaster, but also another type of struggle.

In The Raft of the Medusa, a social commentary is made about how the lower-class and marginalized members of society are always the ones to suffer. Although it was not their decision to colonize Senegal, but rather the wish of those in higher places, they are still the ones to suffer. This is often the case when those in power make decisions that only their people will really feel the consequences of.


Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1819 – 1823) by Francisco Goya

ArtistFrancisco Goya
Date Paintedc. 1819 – 1823
MediumMixed media mural transferred to canvas
Dimensions143.5 cm × 81.4 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Saturn Devouring His Son, created sometime between 1818 and 1823, is one of Francisco Goya’s most horrifying and unusual paintings. It is the most famous of the 14 paintings that make up the ‘Black Paintings’. These were painted as murals on the walls of his farmhouse and were transferred to canvas 50 years after their creation. This is one of the darkest of the famous Romanticism paintings.

The painting shows the Roman titan Saturn eating one of his children. The legend goes that it was prophesied that one of Saturn’s sons would dethrone him, just as he had done to his own father. In order to prevent this, he devoured each of his offspring right after his wife Ops gave birth to them.

Romanticism ArtSaturn Devouring His Son (between 1819 and 1823) by Francisco Goya, located in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain; Francisco de Goya, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, Ops managed to hide one of their sons, Jupiter, who then fulfilled the prophecy and overthrew his father. Saturn Devouring His Son exhibits the darker side of Romantic-era art, that of nightmarish fantasy. Some believe that this painting shows Goya’s pessimistic outlook on humanity. During this time period, Spain was plagued by a despotic government and the Napoleonic Wars.

Saturn Devouring His Son is said to represent humanity’s greed for power, something that Goya would have witnessed first-hand in his lifetime. This famous Romantic art piece is highly emotive, just like many others of the movement.

However, what makes it truly unique is that it was never intended to be seen by the public. The painting was not even named by Goya but rather was given its name years after his death. Many art historians believe that Saturn Devouring His Son is a representation of Goya’s depression and the paranoia he felt about death.


The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable

ArtistJohn Constable
Date Painted1821
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions130.2 cm × 185.4 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed National Gallery, London, England

The Hay Wain was painted in 1821 by the British landscape artist John Constable. Although he is now thought to be one of the most famous Romantic period artists, he never really experienced this success in his lifetime. After displaying his paintings in the 1824 Paris Salon his work became reputable in France, but still not to the extent that it is today.

His most famous Romantic artwork, The Hay Wain, shows the English countryside somewhere between Suffolk and Essex. Constable based his painting on sketches he had conducted en plein air of the area in which he lived.

In later years, after his art became successful, this area came to be known as Constable-country. The Hay Wain and other landscapes created by Constable were said to have influenced other acclaimed Romantic period artists such as Eugéne Delacroix.

Example of Romanticism ArtworkThe Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable, located in the National Gallery in London, United Kingdom; John Constable, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Hay Wain shows a horse pulling a hay wain across a river. This represents a desire for the traditional way of doing things in a time in which technology was rapidly changing. This nostalgia can also be seen in many other examples of Romantic-era art. Many feared that this simple and beautiful way of life would be lost forever and it seems as though their fears were warranted.

The Romantic’s devotion to the beauty of nature is clearly illustrated in The Hay Wain. Although there are human figures in the painting, they are minuscule when compared to the landscape.

These human figures also seem to be in harmony with nature and each other. Constable conveys his own fear of losing this simplistic way of life through this artwork. He chooses only to show the beauty of rural life and not the hardships that those that live it can face.


Liberty Leading the People (1830) by Eugène Delacroix

ArtistEugène Delacroix
Date Painted1830
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions260 cm × 325 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Louvre, Paris, France

Liberty Leading the People is considered the most famous Romanticism painting. It was painted in 1830 by French artist Eugène Delacroix to commemorate the July Revolution of the same year. Although the painting was bought by the French government it was considered to be too inflammatory and was removed from public view in 1832. After Napoleon III came to power, it was made public once again.

The painting immortalizes the uprising of the lower class that led to the overthrowing of Charles X of France. Liberty Leading the People is considered to be a symbolic representation of the event rather than an accurate one.

One can see Notre Dame in Liberty Leading the People, placing the scene in Paris. The painting is centered around Liberty, who is personified as a beautiful woman. Her clothing and nudity allude to the women of antiquity, however, the hair under her arms illustrates that she is something real and not simply an idea.

Famous Romantic ArtLiberty Leading the People (1830) by Eugène Delacroix, located in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France; Eugène Delacroix, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

She is shown with a firearm in one hand and the Tricolore in the other. She came to be seen as a symbol of the French Republic throughout the French Revolution. Liberty Leading the People is a politically loaded work of Romanticism art. People from many different facets of society can be seen fighting alongside Liberty. This was a call for the French to unite in their joint cause. Common themes of the Romantic movement such as heroism, death, and suffering are clearly present within the painting.

Liberty Leading the People is said to have influenced the Statue of Liberty, a gift given to the U.S by France in 1886.

Many also believe that the young boy in the painting inspired the character Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Delacroix’s use of color and symbolism made an impact on the subsequent Impressionist and Symbolist movements


The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 (1839) by J. M. W. Turner

ArtistJ. M. W. Turner
Date Painted1839
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions90.7 cm × 121.6 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed National Gallery, London, England

The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 is one of the most famous seascape paintings of the Romantic era. It was painted in 1839 by J. M. W. Turner, known in his time simply as William Turner. Turner was known for his skills as a painter, printmaker, and watercolorist. He was a child prodigy and began studying at the Royal Academy of Arts at the young age of 14.

The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 represents a crucial moment in British history. During the 19th century, many of the older, more majestic warships were replaced with iron-hulled steamboats. Turner captured the last moments of the Temeraire, a famous British naval vessel praised for the pivotal role she played in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.

Romantic Era PaintingsThe Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 (1839) by J.M.W. Turner, located in the National Gallery in London, the United Kingdom; J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Turner’s representation of the Temeraire is beautiful, emotional, and full of symbolic significance. The sun sets on the scene, showing the end of an era in naval history and the beginning of a period of rapid modernization. The Temeraire is also painted in lighter, more whimsical colors, making it seem dream-like as it fades off into the distance. Turner’s lamentations about the changing world are clear through The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838. 

The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 was well-received during its time as well as after.

Art critics of the Romantic period credited Turner with changing the way landscape painting was viewed forever. In recent years, The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 was voted Britain’s favorite painting in a poll conducted by the BBC.


The Slave Ship (1840) by J. M. W. Turner

Artist J. M. W. Turner
Date Painted1840
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions91 cm × 123 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States

The Slave Ship, painted in 1840, is another of J. M. W. Turner’s famous seascapes of the Romantic era. However, unlike The Fighting Temeraire, it is not mystical and solemn. Rather, The Slave Ship is angry and chaotic, recalling biblical depictions of God’s wrath. When viewing The Slave Ship, it is clearly evident why Turner was known as ‘the painter of light’.

In The Slave Ship, a fiery sky hangs over a tumultuous sea. A sailboat in the background is about to enter the storm and, in the foreground, the bodies of slaves thrown overboard can be seen fighting the waves. Sealife swims around the bodies adding a further element of danger to the scene.

Example of Romanticism ArtThe Slave Ship (1840) by J.M.W. Turner, located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, United States; J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Slave Ship is a perfect illustration of the penchant Romantic period artists had for showing the sublimity of nature. In this example, nature can be seen bringing about divine retribution. It is punishing man for his wrongs, in this case, the human cargo the ship has onboard.

Turner shows nature as dangerous and abundant, as is typical in Romanticism art pieces.

Turner painted The Slave Ship after reading Thomas Clarkson’s The History and Abolition of the Slave Trade (1808). He was an outspoken abolitionist and painted The Slave Ship to bring awareness to the horrors of slavery. Although slavery had been abolished in Britain by this time, Turner hoped his painting would pressure the British monarchy to increase their anti-slavery efforts abroad.


The Kiss (1859) by Francesco Hayez

ArtistFrancesco Hayez
Date Painted1859
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions110 cm × 88 cm
Where It Is Currently Housed Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy

The Kiss was created in 1859 by the Italian painter and printmaker Francesco Hayez at the peak of the Romantic movement. Hayez is notorious for his Romanticism portraits and historical scenes. He had a passion for Italian history and politics, which can be seen in the most famous of his works.

The Kiss shows a man and a woman in an intimate embrace. Although the concept of the painting is simple, Hayez is able to convey deep, sensual emotion through it. One gets the impression that it is a stolen kiss that is being portrayed. As if the figures were overcome with passion and lost their sensibilities in the process.

Romantic Art EraThe Kiss (1859) by Francesco Hayez, located in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, Italy; Francesco Hayez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This preference for emotion over rationality is a key ideal of the Romantic movement. What also makes The Kiss a typical Romanticism portrait is its setting in the Middle Ages, which can be seen in the clothing worn by the figures. Romantic period artists idolized the Middle Ages, thinking that it was a time of mysticism and spontaneity, something they believed to be missing from the modern world.

It is believed that The Kiss is not simply a kiss, but was painted by Hayez to represent Italian patriotism and military commitment.

Whatever Hayez’s intention, The Kiss has been praised worldwide for its bright colors and incredible attention to detail. It has become one of the most famous examples of Italian art during the Romantic era. The Kiss is also considered to be one of the most emotional portrayals of a kiss in Western art as a whole.


Artworks created during the Romantic period are some of the most recognized pieces of art in the world. They changed the way that art was viewed, particularly that of landscape painting, which earned the respect it deserved during this time. Some of the most influential painters in art history came from the Romantic era. The emotions portrayed in these famous Romantic paintings, as well as their unique subject matter, would go on to inspire a number of subsequent movements. Whilst our list only contains 10 of the most famous Romanticism paintings there are many more masterpieces from this era. If you enjoyed reading about these amazing artworks, we encourage you to explore further.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Did the Romantics Believe?

Primarily, the Romantics believed in emotion and imagination over rational thought. They believed that adults grew up and lost their childlike innocence and spontaneity, which was one of the major causes of their problems. Romantics believed that nature is sublime and should be respected. Finally, they believed in civil liberties and thought the exploitation of the weak to be the root of all evil.


How Did Romanticism Impact Modern Art?

More than anything Romanticism changed the way people viewed landscape painting. Before the Romantic era it was seen as the lowest form of art, but afterward became celebrated. The Romantics also changed the way in which nature was depicted in art. Before the Romantic period, nature was only shown to be calm and beautiful, however, the Romantics showed that although beautiful it could be dangerous and merciless too. The Romantics explored more macabre subject matter which paved the way for other artists to do the same. The Realist and Surrealist art movements were heavily inspired by Romantic artists such as Goya.


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