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Romantic English Painting and the Industrial Revolution


The more fiercely the Industrial Revolution revved up, the more Romantic artists longed to escape into the healing wonder of nature. William Turner was a leader in capturing the power and majesty of nature on canvas.

Complete Video Script

[22] Even amid Europe's surging national movements, another revolution was transforming the landscape — the Industrial Revolution. Europe built more in the 19th century than in all previous centuries combined. But all this had a downside: an increasingly machine-like pace of life. Artists — with their free spirits — pushed back. Nature was appreciated as never before: painters were climbing mountains, poets were hugging trees.

[23] Here in the English countryside, artists retreated to take long walks and commune with nature. Romantic painters captured the majesty of soaring clouds…an almost supernatural power, charged from within…and soul-stirring mountains and rainbows that say: Nature is big, we are small.

[24, J. M. W. Turner, 1775–1851; The Fighting Temeraire, 1838, Turner, National Gallery, London] The English artist William Turner infused his canvases with the Romantic forces of Nature — burning sun, swirling clouds, churning waves, storm-tossed souls. His old sailing ship being towed into the sunset by a steamship was a metaphor for the coming of the modern world. As he aged, Turner's brushwork became frenetic and more intense, capturing the stormy and tumultuous inner passions that defined the Romantic Age.