Romanticism was a movement which flourished between 1750 and 1850. It was a revolt against the Enlightenment and the strict rules of Neoclassicism. While the Age of Reason had upheld the primacy of harmony, balance and rationality, Romanticism emphasised intuition, imagination and the irrational.

Romantic artists explored the extremes of human nature, ranging from heroism to insanity and despair. Strong feelings were an authentic source of artistic inspiration, placing new emphasis on such emotions as fear, horror and terror, especially when confronting the untamed forces of nature.

The Romantic movement was inspired by the writings of Sir Walter Scott and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In 1774, Goethe published The Sorrows of Young Werther, which had young men throughout Europe emulating its protagonist, a young artist with a sensitive and passionate temperament.

Romanticism in English literature was mostly associated with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats. In predominantly Roman Catholic countries, Romanticism was less pronounced than in Germany and Britain, and tended to develop later, after the rise of Napoleon.

Romanticism in Russia was never a single or united trend. Romantic works were created by both inherently Romantic artists and by masters adhering to other inclinations. Works in the spirit of Neoclassical, Romantic, Realist and other traditions were displayed side by side at exhibitions of the Imperial Academy of Arts and, after 1824, at the Society for the Encouragement of Artists.

The first half of the nineteenth century was a momentous period in Russian history. The main event was the war with the French army, which lasted from April 1805 (when Russia joined the anti-Napoleonic coalition) to March 1814 (when Russian soldiers entered Paris and Napoleon was exiled to the isle of Elba).

The whole of Russian society was drawn into the war. General calamities and afflictions, common hopes and joys erased the social borders between classes. Titled generals and serf soldiers alike proved to be mortal. The enemy burnt down peasant shacks and aristocratic estates with equal rigour.

While the war ended with the victory of the Russian army, it left a deep trace on the outlook of an entire generation. The Russian art of the first two decades of the nineteenth century, either directly or indirectly, expressed the new mood of society.

Orest Kiprensky's Portrait of Yevgraf Davydov (1809) is a perfect example of early Russian Romanticism. The subject’s aloof and dreamy air and natural yet theatrical image reflect the philosophy and manner of conduct fashionable in Russian society at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The soldier is portrayed in military uniform, wearing decorations, though the focal point of the portrait is the face, the eyes and the emotions. For Kiprensky and his contemporaries, the most important object of exploration and embodiment was man’s inner world.

The Romantic perception of the world, which penetrated the art of the early nineteenth century, made an important contribution to Russian landscape painting and drawing. Previously unnoticed corners of simple nature, unexpected angles and the everyday surroundings of famous monuments of art often became sources of inspiration for Russian artists, such as Maxim Vorobyov.

Sylvester Schedrin worked in Italy alongside the painters of the Posillipo school, creating inspired and lyrical views of Rome, Naples, Sorrento and other Italian towns. The representations of the outskirts of Rome painted by Mikhail Lebedev, filled with sunshine and air, are also tinted with moods of sorrow, joy and languor.

Russian Romanticism underwent a number of changes, enjoying a relatively long life and combining with other trends and movements. In the 1820s and 1830s, the poetic and intimate images of man typical of early Romantic portraits combined with a garish, often theatrical treatment of the subject.

Official portraiture came back into fashion in the 1820s. The undisputed king of this genre in the Russian art of the first half of the nineteenth century was Karl Brullov, who was the first Russian artist to win European fame during the course of his lifetime and world fame by the time of his untimely death in Italy in 1852.

Random articles