After teaching students Romanticism's new vision of nature in reaction to Neoclassicism, what could be a simple way to teach them about the sublime, the scary, powerful aspect of nature as depicted in Romantic works? What could be an iconographic Romantic picture of sublime nature, maybe The Waterfall by Joseph Mallord William Turner?
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Joseph Mallord William Turner, recognized as the greatest landscape painter of the 19th century, certainly paved the way for a rebellion against the Neoclassical movement. Neoclassicism, as portrayed by such artists as Raphael, Nicolas Poussin, and Claude Lorrain, focused on "harmony, simplicity, and proportion" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, "Neoclassicism"). In addition, ancient Greek and Roman history, mythology, and architecture were major themes in Neoclassical paintings. In contrast, Turner's Romanticism focused on the beauty and power of nature. Romanticism also dealt with "themes of man's self-glorification, man's part in nature, divinity found in nature, and emotion" (Artble, "Joseph Mallord William Turner").
Turner's A Waterfall is certainly a beautiful representation of nature. The contrast of the harshness of the rocks with the softness of the water helps capture the harshness of nature and juxtaposes it with essential elements nature offers for survival. Water is essential for mankind's survival and can only be found in nature. At the same time, nature is a very harsh, even deadly, environment. But to capture the sublimity of nature, the scary, awe-inspiring, powerful aspect of nature, one might consider some of his other works.
Turner was also brilliant at capturing the sublimity and destruction of storms. Fisherman at Sea was his very first oil painting to be exhibited and captures fisherman being caught in a storm in the night. The blackness of the painting captures how deadly nature can be. Yet, the blackness is also contrasted with yellow and white to capture the light of the full moon. The light offers a ray of hope to the fisherman. In addition, Turner brilliantly captures the swell and movement of the ocean waves as they toss the helpless fisherman about.
A second work to consider that captures the power and sublimity of nature is Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, completed in 1842 and depicting a famous shipwreck during a storm off the coast of England. Turner was once quoted as stating that he asked sailors to tie him to the mast of a ship during a storm just so he could observe the storm from the ship's perspective and capture it well on canvas. As a result of his adventure, he was able to very effectively capture a storm. In particular, he uses very swirling lines to capture the violent strength of the storm. He also uses both light and dark colors to again juxtapose any glimmer of hope the sailors held against the sublimity of the storm.
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