The current exhibition, Romantic Spirits: 19th Century Paintings of the South from the Johnson Collection, addresses four major themes related to romanticism and the south: Heroic Individual, Personal Chivalric Code of Honor, Sublime in Nature, and Inevitability of Change. The themes are addressed in the exhibition catalog written by Estill Curtis Pennington.
EARLY DEFINITION OF ROMANTICISM
Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Source)
OF THE SUBLIME
WHATEVER is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.
Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime | Critique of Judgment (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
ANALYTIC OF BEAUTY (KANT)
While the sublime is formless, Kant defines beauty as having a particular form. The "judgment of beauty" is subjective, but differs from other types of judgments. In the case of beauty, we don't rely on reason or agreement to determine what is beautiful. Rather, we presuppose that our subjective judgments of beauty are universal or
BASIC DEFINITION OF ROMANTICISM
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Romanticism, first defined as an aesthetic in literary criticism around 1800, gained momentum as an artistic movement in France and Britain in the early decades of the nineteenth century and flourished until mid-century. With its emphasis on the imagination and emotion, Romanticism emerged as a response to the disillusionment with the Enlightenment values of reason and order in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789.
Romanticism (Birmingham Museum of Art)
A 19th-century movement in the arts that prized human feelings, imagination, and expression.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Immanuel Kant provides a definition of aesthetic judgment that can be used as a guide for building discussions in the gallery.
Romanticism, when related to the major themes of the exhibition, can be defined as representations in art that elude our conceptual foundations. This closely resembles what Kant referred to as "aesthetic judgment." In other words, a painting may reveal certain objective details, but our concepts, our subjective judgments, for grasping their meaning elude our comprehension. Instead, the naturalism and realistic depictions of nature and scenes from everyday life engender ideas that are amorphous - encompassing larger issues (e.g. the Civil War, Manifest Destiny, Reconstruction, and Transcendentalism).
From romantic vistas to dramatic moments -whether of the domestic sphere or the Civil War - the unifying themes are mood and feeling, with an emphasis placed on the individual and the subjective.