The first half of the 19th century was the heyday of Romanticism. Painting from this period was initially strongly inspired by that of the Golden Age. On the one hand, this was the result of the appreciation at home and abroad for Dutch 17th-century masters. In addition, there was a growing nationalism in our country, fed by the French Napoleonic rule (1795-1813) and reinforced by the secession from Belgium in 1830. In search of their own identity, people looked back with pride on the Golden Age, a period of great prosperity: Holland ruled the oceans, artists such as Rembrandt and Frans Hals painted their most famous canvases and the oversized Town Hall (later Palace) was built on Dam Square, as a symbol of the power and prosperity of the Republic. The Romantic painters were inspired by subjects that were popular in the 17th century, such as interior, landscape, cityscape, seascape and genre painting. The romantic attitude to life was a reaction to the rationalist thinking of the 18th century Enlightenment.
In search of the ideal landscape
The romantic feeling and thinking focused on nature. The landscape painter was struck by its greatness, by its serene beauty, but also by its whimsical and sometimes devastating power. Raging storms, threatening thunderstorms, harsh frost and sometimes shipwrecks triggered strong emotions in the artist. But the quiet, untouched nature could also touch him deeply: mysterious moon nights, almost empty ice plains in the late afternoon sun and idyllic mountain landscapes at a "golden" sunset. Landscape painting focused on the insignificance of man in relation to the overwhelming nature. Large-scale panoramic views, such as those of Andreas Schelfhout, and forest views with impressive voodoo oaks by B.C. Koekkoek and his students are evidence of this. The romantic landscape painting is not an exact representation of nature as it presented itself to the painter. It appears to be painted deceptively true to nature, but is in fact a composite of the most beautiful parts of reality. To this end, nature had to be studied and sketched. Painters made studies on their journeys, often spontaneous impressions, which they used in the studio to create idealized images. Beauty and decency were considered important, a painting had to be pleasant to look at and surpass reality in beauty.
Painters in other genres also worked according to this ideal. As far as one can now ascertain, cityscapes were sometimes topographically correct, but usually the painters tinkered with a composition until a beautiful whole was obtained. The historicizing Dutch cityscape was very popular in the 19th century, both at home and abroad. One of the most important interpreters of the cityscape was the Amsterdam Cornelis Springer. From about 1875 he painted meticulous city portraits with a town hall or rich merchant houses in the Dutch Renaissance style at the center of the image, often furnished with figures in 17th-century clothing. In doing so, he embellished reality somewhat through changes in the composition and the omission of disturbing, contemporary elements. By depicting the 16th and early 17th century buildings, he responded to the growing interest of buyers in their own past. Springer was also loved for his realistic details and lively upholstery, borrowed from everyday life.
This was also found in the beach scene, for example. In English and French Romanticism, painters sometimes turned the beach into a scene of drama and agony, where shipwrecks took place in a flying storm, in Dutch Romanticism the quieter beach scenes predominated, with ships safe on dry land and the everyday activity of fishermen. Interior scenes reflected the bourgeois conservatism of this time. The 17th century also served as an example here: peeks into Old Dutch bourgeois houses, with figures in ditto clothing, strict wooden furniture, black and white tiled floors and stained glass windows. But also church interiors à la Pieter Jansz. Saenredam and Emanuel de Witte were painted. In addition to historicizing 17th-century scenes, later living styles can be found in Romanticism in paintings of rococo, neoclassical or Biedermeier interiors.
The romantic penchant for the past and glorification of nature manifested itself as a political, social and cultural phenomenon. The above shows that painting from the first half of the 19th century was also profoundly influenced by this. Not only did artists paint history pieces, with the glorious national past as their subject, but an idealized, typical (Old) Dutch atmosphere image was also created in other ways.