March 6–July 26, 2015
In spring 2015, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art present their first major joint exhibition, bringing together treasures of the Romantic art movement from their respective collections. The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760–1860 comprises more than 300 paintings, sculptures, medals, watercolors, drawings, prints, and photographs by such iconic artists as William Blake, John Constable, Honoré Daumier, David d’Angers, Eugène Delacroix, Henri Fuseli, Théodore Géricault, Francisco de Goya, John Martin, and J. M. W. Turner that expand the view of Romanticism as a movement opposed to reason and the scientific method. The broad range of works selected challenges the traditional notion of the Romantic artist as a brooding genius given to introversion and fantasy.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Wreckers—Coast of Northumberland, with a Steam-Boat Assisting a Ship off Shore, 1833–34. Oil on canvas, 35 5/8 x 47 9/16 in. (90.5 x 120.8 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Exhibition OverviewThe exhibition’s eight thematic sections juxtapose arresting works of art that reveal the Romantics to be attentive explorers of their natural and cultural worlds as well as artists deeply engaged with the mysterious and the spiritual. Two sections of the exhibition explore the tension between subjective expression and scientific description in the Romantic era. “Nature: Spectacle and Specimen” showcases works that straddle the line between art and science; these range from spectacular views of Mount Vesuvius to anatomical and botanical studies.
George Stubbs’s A Lion Attacking a Horse (1770), for example, presents an exacting depiction of mammalian anatomy while dramatizing the wildness of its subjects in a highly theatrical composition. “Landscape and the Perceiving Subject”—one of the largest sections in the show—boasts some of the most breathtaking works in Yale’s museum collections. In this section, paintings such as
John Constable, Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night, 1829. Oil on canvas, 48 x 64 3/4 in. (121.9 x 164.5 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection - See more at: http://artgallery.yale.edu/press-release/critique-of-reason#sthash.wQWOgmep.dpuf
John Constable, Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night, 1829. Oil on canvas, 48 x 64 3/4 in. (121.9 x 164.5 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection - See more at: http://artgallery.yale.edu/press-release/critique-of-reason#sthash.wQWOgmep.dpufConstable’s Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night (1829) exemplify how the Romantics used their careful observation of nature, space, light, and weather to evoke mood and meaning.
“Distant Lands, Foreign Peoples” reveals the artist as an explorer, fascinated by remote worlds. The Romantics came of age in an era of colonial expansion, travel, trade, and ethnographic study, which led to both scholarly discourses and popular fantasies concerning non-Western cultures and locales that stimulated the artistic imagination. “The Artist as Social Critic” complicates the notion of the Romantic artist as an isolated dreamer removed from society and politics. Using dissident political imagery, many artists of this period became vociferous social critics, carrying out the Enlightenment mission of free thought and action. Works like
Théodore Géricault, Retour de Russie (Return from Russia), 1818. Lithograph with tint stone, 17 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (44.5 x 36.2 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Charles Y. Lazarus, B.A. 1936
Géricault’s Retour de Russie (Return from Russia; 1818) serve as scathing indictments of war and Imperial ambition.
“Religion after the Age of Reason” illustrates the changing approaches to sacred themes in the Romantic era. Diverse compositions reveal that the Romantic engagement with religion was not a naive reversion to mysticism but rather a means of individualizing biblical themes and religious experience to extend their cultural relevance. Complementing this section is “The Literary Impulse,” which showcases a range of works inspired by literature, from classical mythology to modern poetry.
“Beyond Likeness” focuses on Romantic portraiture, which emphasized the psychological state of the subject, evoking an empathetic relationship between sitter and viewer. Finally, “The Changing Role of the Sketch” features objects that illustrate how technical processes changed in tandem with widening ambitions for art. Favoring direct perception over highly constructed compositions, the Romantic sketch would come to be reflected in a broad range of developments in modern art, from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism.
In addition to bringing together outstanding works from the Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, the exhibition features select loans from important private collections and from Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library. The Critique of Reason celebrates the richness and range of Romantic art at the University, representing it afresh for a new generation of museumgoers.