Romanticism and Neoclassical Art


Art has over the years been used as a device by many artists to communicate more than a few different themes that are of significance to the society. The field of art has the potential to provoke and evoke feelings and sensations depending on how the artist provides the final piece.

Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David lived from 30th August 1748 – twenty ninth December 1825. He was a widely famend French painter in the Neoclassical style. His painting was regarded highly revolutionizing from the old strategies to the new improved classical austerity and severity. He was regarded to be a friend to the French revolutionist Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794), however after the latter's fall from power, David was imprisoned, only to later subscribe to the Napoleon politics after his release. After Napoleon's fall from power, David exiled himself to Brussels, which was then known as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, where he died. He remained to be a strong influence in the early 19th-century French art, especially the academic Salon painting (Senici, 2017).

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, a French patriot, lived from 26th April 1798 – 13th August 1863, he was a renown Romantic artist who had self-proclaimed himself as the leader of the French Romantic school. In addition to painting, he was a muralist, who was known for his expressive brushstrokes in his works to bring out the romantic effect (Blanchet, 2017). He combined his expertise with the optical effects of color to also impact impressions upon his works. His famous works are the Liberty Leading the People as will be provided in the paper. These two renown painters expressed their arts is two main categories; Neoclassicism for Jacques-Louis David and Romanticism for Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix.


Neoclassicism is the term ascribed to Western movements especially in the decorative and visual arts, written or expressed literature, theater, music, and architecture. They derive much inspiration from the "classical" themes of art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome empires in the mid-18th century, though its influence spread all over Europe. It bases its uniqueness on the principles of simplicity and symmetry in art as immediately derived from 16th-century Renaissance Classicism (Taruskin, 1993).


Romanticism is the term ascribed to any artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe up towards the end of the 18th century. Though most of its unique themes were adopted during the comparative period from 1800 to 1850. It was characterized by its insistence on emotions and individualism not forgetting the overall idea of glorifying less the past themes and more on the then present artistic themes of nature, poetry, and love. It was more medieval than classical in its approach and had its source of aesthetic experience, and incorporated emotions and sentiments such as apprehension, horror, and terror, and awe into art. Romanticism can be defined as the free expression of the feelings of the artist (Wood, 2016).

Oath of Horatti by Jacques-Louis David

These two painters lived at a time when the French Revolution was just in its initial stages, and there were mixed reactions as to how the state and the people should respond to those new and sweeping changes. Most of them choose to express their thought in art, and Jacques-Louis David was a notable figure that depicted his view in the famous painting; Oath of Horatti. In this picture in 1784 well incorporated the idea of uniformity in David desired, he derived this from the ancient Rome and Greek empires unity, Neoclassicism as illustrated was a style of art that insisted on the use of symmetry and straight lines to depict order and uniformity. The political theme then was that the states must unite against the rise of the French revolution and so themes of patriotism and unity were very vital. David expressed his art as the classical message of patriotism; he introduces the neoclassical symmetry by creating a focal point in his painting (the swords in the middle of the picture) then he utilizes the two opposite sides of the painting by placing the inequality of gender as was then. Societies were highly patriarchal, and so, on the one hand, he puts an enlarged image of three men and on the opposite a smaller image of several women. Therefore, it served as a call to men of every capacity to rise to the occasion and defend their state from the different attacks waged during the French Revolution (Burke, 2017). His use of straight lines goes along with the then belief that straight meant no deception or malice hence as (depicted in the straight swords) it was indicative of loyalty to the king then. The work was expected to inculcate the idea that loyalty and patriotisms were the values to embrace if the people were to survive the revolution. He portrayed the success of the revolution as a masculine affair.

Liberty Leading the People by Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix

The other renown painting by Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, highlights the contrast between the romantic approach and the neoclassical style. Although Delacroix was inspired by more medieval trends of change and liberation, he chooses to invoke the romantic sentiments of the spirit of liberty; he appeared to be trying to communicate the insistent will and character of the people as a whole, rather than glorifying a single actual event. He chooses to depict the far underlying emotions of the ordinary individuals who were fatigued by the status quo then. He introduces the free expression by deliberately positioning images asymmetrically in his painting; he brings out the idea that there can be loyalty to the state if the state is loyal to its peoples first. This is unlike the painting by David; Oath of Horatti that had insisted on a one-way loyalty to the king. Moreover, the dead warriors lying on the ground offer the poignant counterpoint to the symbolic female figure, Delacroix, seems to have wanted to express the potential in the feminine gender which was quite unheard of in those patriarchal empires (Morabia, A. (2017). The medieval times brought with them some sense of enlightenment and the issues of gender equality had started to emerge. In his free expression, he depicts a successful woman and dead male soldiers on the foreground as indicative of the feminine potential; that patriotism to the state was as all-inclusive and not a masculine responsibility only.


These two paintings; Oath of Horatti by Jacques-Louis David and Liberty Leading the People by Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix are classical pieces of artwork that inculcated the messages that their painters wished to express. They depict themes both elaborative and clear to match the political moods of their times. Romanticism as a theme is clearly elaborated by these two great painters and their works continue to dazzle many art lovers across the globe.


Blanchet, C., & Dard, B. (2017). The Statue of Liberty. New Word City.

Burke, P. (2017). Illustrating National History. In Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education (pp. 153-167). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Morabia, A. (2017). Spirit of 1848.

Senici, E. (2017). Rossini and post-napoleonic Europe.

Taruskin, R., Messing, S., Hinton, S., Hindemith, P., Osthoff, W., &Wiesend, R. (1993). Back to whom? Neoclassicism as Ideology.

Wood, G. (2016). The shock of the real: romanticism and visual culture, 1760-1860. Springer.

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