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The term neo-romanticism is used to cover a variety of movements in music, painting and architecture. It has been used with reference to very late 19th century and early 20th century composers such as Gustav Mahler particularly by Dalhaus who uses it as synonymous with late Romanticism. It has been applied to contemporary composers who rejected or abandoned the use of the devices of avant-garde modernism.

Late 19th century and early 20th century

It is considered in opposition to naturalism. The naturalist in art stresses external observation, whereas the neo-romantic adds feeling and internal observation. These artists tend to draw their inspiration from artists of the age of high romanticism, and from the sense of place they perceive in historic rural landscapes; and in this they react in general to the 'ugly' modern world of machines, new cities, and profit. Characteristic themes include longing for perfect love, utopian landscapes, nature reclaiming ruins, romantic death, and history-in-landscape. Neo-romanticism is often accused by critics of being too insular, too interested in figurative painting and beauty, too fond of intuition, too distrustful of ideological & theoretical ways of comprehending art, and too in love with the past and the idealised / spiritual / haunted landscape. A more persuasive criticism is that neo-romanticism lacks an adequate conception of evil in the modern world.

Neo-romanticism tended to shed somewhat the emphasis of Romanticism on 'the hero' and romantic nationalism. This was particularly so in the decades after both of the world wars.

In Britain


Neo-romanticism emerged strongly in the period from about 1880 to about 1910, in Britainmarker.



In the 1920s, artists such as F. L. Griggs had begun to re-evaluate and re-discover the works of their Romantic forebears; from the visionary work of Samuel Palmer and William Blake via high Romanticism, to the neo-romanticism that flowered between 1880 and 1910. This led to a further re-flowering - in the Depression and war years between 1930 and 1955 - and this can be seen in the work of: artists such as John Piper; John Tunnard, David Jones; Graham Sutherland; John Craxton; John Minton; Stanley Spencer; Eric Ravilious; Robin Tanner; Bettina Shaw-Lawrence; writers such as John Cowper Powys; J. R. R. Tolkien; Mervyn Peake; C. S. Lewis; Arthur Machen; T. H. White; Dylan Thomas; Geoffrey Grigson; and Herbert Read; film-makers such as Humphrey Jennings; Powell and Pressburger (e.g.: A Canterbury Tale, 1944 and Gone to Earth, 1950); and photographers such as Edwin Smith; Roger Mayne; and John Deakin. Many working in this vein benefited from efforts to record the Englishmarker home front during World War II, proving able to provide a timely and useful romantic vision of the national heritage at a time of war.


Neo-romanticism suffered neglect in the art world, when the strong waves of state-sponsored abstract expressionism and Warhol-ian pop art swept in from the USAmarker from the 1950s to the 1970s. But as major ecological awareness and 'back to the land' movements began in the mid to late 1970s; then the work of the neo-romantics began to be, once again, re-discovered and re-evaluated, often through the work of magazines such as Resurgence. Before this it survived most strongly in British poetry, for example in the growing posthumous reputation of Dylan Thomas, in the work of Vernon Watkins, Laurie Lee, and the celebratory poems of Ted Hughes. One can also see neo-romanticism emerging in the serious science fiction and fantasy writing of the period. Benjamin Britten might be noted in this period; given his strong attraction to supernatural themes, folk music and the use of 'the innocent boy' as a motif.


Neo-romanticism continues, to this day, as a viable current in the English underground: notable artists being Alan Reynolds, Graham Ovenden and the Ruralists; Christopher Bucklow; Robert Lenkiewicz; Andrew Logan; Christopher Boyd; and Ian Hamilton Finlay; photographers as Simon Marsden; the writers Angela Carter; Russell Hoban; Ted Hughes; Pauline Stainer; and Peter Ackroyd. It is also strongly present in the early super-8 and later personal films of Derek Jarman (e.g. The Garden, The Angelic Conversation). In serious popular music, one might cite Virginia Astley (From Gardens Where We Feel Secure); Shriekback (Big Night Music and subsequent albums up to 2007's Glory Bumps); John Foxx (Systems of Romance and The Garden); and some have seen the early eccentric songs of Brian Eno (such as "Julie With…" and "St Elmo's Fire"), and even his later sound-scapes, as neo-romantic in nature. A group of British synthpop bands including Japan, Visage, Spandau Ballet are often credited with starting the so-called "New Romantic" movement as an offshoot of New Wave.

Neo-romanticism can be noted also as a strong current in British children's literature of the 1970s and 80s (e.g.: Alan Garner). It is also a current in post-1945 British photography - Fay Godwin; James Ravilious; Raymond Moore and Andy Goldsworthy being a few notable names.

In Estonia

In Europe

The aesthetic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer has contributed greatly to neo-romantic thinking, especially in Europe.

In Russia & Eastern Europe

In the USA

Much of the primarily U.S. sculptural art movement called earth art or environment art - from large-scale earth-moving to ephemeral works made from leaves & moss - echoes the neo-romantic call to re-enchant the landscape.

In popular culture

A Gothic-tinged variety of neo-romanticism abounds in modern popular culture, often aimed at youths. A focal point of that phenomenon is in England and Germany. Some of the examples would be: fantasy Role playing games (e.g.: Dungeons & Dragons); 1970s progressive rock (e.g.: Marc Bolan), Gothic metal (e.g.: Sirenia) and contemporary heavy rock (e.g.: DragonForce).Within the goth subculture, bands such as Deine Lakaien or Dead Can Dance and in addition visual artists as Viona Ielegems or Gerald Brom.

Further reading


  • David Mellor. Paradise Lost: the neo-Romantic imagination in Britain, 1935 - 1955. (1987).
  • Peter Woodcock. This Enchanted Isle - The Neo-Romantic Vision from William Blake to the New Visionaries (2000).
  • Malcolm Yorke. The Spirit of Place - Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and Their Times (1989).
  • Michael Bracewell. England Is Mine (1997).
  • Peter Ackroyd. The Origins of the English Imagination (2002).
  • P. Cannon-Brookes. The British Neo-Romantics (1983).
  • Johnson & Landow (Eds). Fantastic Illustration and Design in Great Britain, 1850-1930 The MIT Press. (1980).
  • Corbett, Holt and Russell (Ed's.) The Geographies of Englishness: Landscape and the National Past, 1880-1940 (2002).
  • Graham Arnold. The Ruralists - A Celebration (2003).
  • Christopher Martin. The Ruralists (An Art & Design Profile, No. 23) (1992).
  • S. Sillars. British Romantic Art and The Second World War (1991).
  • Trentmann F. Civilisation and its Discontents: English Neo-Romanticism and the Transformation of Anti-Modernism in Twentieth-Century Western Culture (1994, Birkbeck Collegemarker).
  • Edward Picot. Outcasts from Eden - ideas of landscape in British poetry since 1945 (1997).

See also

Modern manifestations

External links

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