Identifying Romantic art is a bit tricky since, unlike other movements such as Impressionism, Neoclassical, or Expressionism, Romanticism does not have its own unique style. Instead, since Romanticism has to do with individualism and the expression of deep, intense feelings, characteristics in Romantic art will differ per Romantic artist in order to capture that artist's own uniqueness. However, there are a few elements Romantic works of art have in common, such as subject matter, line, color, and texture.
Romanticism emerged as a rebellion against Enlightenment ideals. The Enlightenment emphasized logical and scientific thought. Romanticism, seeing society as having been corrupted by Enlightenment ideals, placed more value on nature as the one thing that has not yet been corrupted. Hence, one thing Romantic art works share in common is that the subject matters are primarily nature and landscapes. Joseph Mallord William Turner is especially famous for his landscapes.
Romantic artists also shared in common the use of vibrant colors in order to capture intense emotions. In his painting The Fighting Temeraire, artist Turner used the vibrant color of sky blue and warm tones like gold to express the emotional scene. In this painting, he is depicting the British ship named the Temeraire being tugged back to shore after having fought bravely and turned the tides of the Napoleonic wars in the Battle of Trafalgar. The ship is being tugged back to shore to be turned into scrap because it is too damaged for further use. The scene is sorrowful because Turner felt being tugged to shore for scrap was a heartbreaking ending for such a glorious ship. Hence, he surrounded the ship and tug boat in a triangle of blue sky to help capture the sorrow of the moment; made the tug boat dark and black to capture its bleak, depressing role in the scene; and colored the ship, the waters, and setting sun in gold hues to capture the glory of the ship.
Romantic artists also used curving shapes and lines to help capture the intense emotions of their subjects. Apart from the ship's masts, Turner used curving lines to depict the Temeraire, as well as shadows to emphasize the curves. The curves of the ship help capture the historicity of the moment; the curvy lines create a dream-like effect that helps place the moment in days past, not in the present.
Finally, the brush strokes of Romantic artists were unbridled and emotional, which also helped capture the intense emotions in the pieces. In The Fighting Temeraire, Turner used very "light and loose" brush strokes that created a very hazy effect, as if we are watching the scene through a bank of fog ("The Fighting Temeraire Analysis"). The soft, hazy texture created by his brush strokes also helps set the moment in the past and capture Turner's longing for the glory of yesterday.
Intensity is implemented by the strong colors of the sunset and the steamship. They are meant to stand out against the other colors that are muted to present an image of the connection between the two. The sadness expressed in the painting is shown by the careful details in the painting of the old battleship. The artist used light colors with a stark emphasis on his lines.
The artist provided two points of reference. The two points are the sun in the background and the steamship that is pushing the battleship away from the sun. If one were to take the painting and divide it down the middle, one would almost see two paintings. Two separate points of reference attract the eye. The thickness of the paint takes the bold colors and shows the sun strikes over the clouds.
The plane of the sea and sky are broad and expansive. The element shows Turner's mastery of the use of space.