Neo-romanticism is a broad movement crossing artistic boundaries that gave more importance to the representation of internal feelings. It started as a reaction to naturalism in the 19th century and harked back to the Romantic era, but it has since become a reaction to modernism and post-modernism. Neo-romanticism began in Britain around 1880, but later spread to other parts of the world including Eastern Europe, America and even India. It covers painting, literature and music.
Characteristics of neo-romanticism include the expression of strong emotions such as terror, awe, horror and love. The movement sought to revive romanticism and medievalism by promoting the power of imagination, the exotic and the unfamiliar. Other characteristics include the promotion of supernatural experiences, the use and interest in Jungian archetypes and the semi-mystical conjuring of home and nation.
Human emotions were as important as the supernatural. Neo-romanticism sought to promote ideas such as perfect love, the beauty of youth, heroes and romantic deaths. These included the romantic traditions of Lord Byron.
In terms of style, paintings tended to veer towards the historical and the natural. There was a conscious and intellectual movement away from the ugly machinery of the industrial revolution and towards the simplified beauty of a bygone era. Most of this was nostalgia mixed with fantasy, ideas of the past shorn of their grim realities.
Neo-romanticism continued into the 20th and 21st centuries in painting. They perhaps reached their pinnacle after World War 1 and again after World War 2, when the style was used to represent the somber experiences of war. Such paintings include Keith Vaughn’s “Communication of Hate” and John Caxton’s “Dreamer in Landscape.” Other renowned neo-romantic painters include Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Eugene Berman.
Writers and poets from Lewis Carroll to Alan Ginsberg have been called neo-romantics. Other writers include J.R.R. Tolkien and Dylan Thomas. Tolkien, for one, was influenced by the landscapes of the village of Sarehole in comparison to the industrial revolution’s ravaging of nearby Birmingham. This juxtaposition greatly influenced his writing and the “Lord of the Rings” contains a number of neo-romantic characteristics including comparing the love of nature seen in the Hobbits and Rohan against the industrialization imposed by Saruman.
The term neo-romanticism has also been used in music. It began earlier than in literature and is generally accepted as covering a style of music from 1950 onwards. Richard Wagner first used the term to denounce poor versions of romantic music being made in France, but in an ironic twist, the term was then used to categorize his own musical creations.