Romanticism was an artistic movement that reacted to artist norms set during the Enlightenment. In Enlightenment- inspired art (which includes literature, music, and visual arts), it focuses on the rational and organized part of art. The art is intellectual, and includes the ideas of controlling nature and the importance of majority. Romanticism is completely different. It focuses more on the irrational aspect of art, and plays to the emotional side of people. In Romanticism, it is all about the importance of the individual. Unlike Enlightenment art, nature was viewed as a greater power that could not be controlled. Romantic pieces of art were in awe of nature. This period of art was also grotesque and horrific. The painting The Surf by Arnold Böcklin has many aspects of Romanticism, but the four main ones are awe of nature, importance of the individual, irrational, and emotional.


The Surf by Arnold Böcklin, 1883 (


  1. Awe of nature: This painting shows nature as being strong and overpowering. The human is portrayed in a way to make the steam look as if it cannot be controlled because it is flowing wildly. It looks as if the human in bondage is powerless compared to the steam, which is free to go wherever it wants to. The rocks also look powerful and daunting to the women.
  2. Importance of individual: Since there is only one person in the painting, the focus is on the individual. The artist also makes the women the lightest aspect, which makes the viewer’s eye go directly to her. This shows the importance of the individual because the woman is fending for herself, and is the only one in the painting.
  3. Irrational: This painting is irrational mainly because of the woman and the setting. It does not make sense to why the woman is naked and alone near rocks and a waterfall- she could easily fall and die.
  4. Emotional- The emotion in this painting is felt through the viewer as well as through the woman’s face. First, the viewer feels scared and nervous for the woman, because she is naked standing over a dangerous area. The woman’s face is also showing emotion. She looks in distress, as well as nervous.

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