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Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal one of the points of reference for Neo-Romantic architecture

The term neo-romanticism is used to cover a variety of movements in philosophy, literature, music, painting, and architecture, as well as social movements, that exist after and incorporate elements from the era of Romanticism. It has been used with reference to late-19th-century composers such as Richard Wagner particularly by Carl Dahlhaus who describes his music as "a late flowering of romanticism in a positivist age". He regards it as synonymous with "the age of Wagner", from about 1850 until 1890—the start of the era of modernism, whose leading early representatives were Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler (Dahlhaus 1979, 98–99, 102, 105). It has been applied to writers, painters, and composers who rejected, abandoned, or opposed realism, naturalism, or avant-garde modernism at various points in time from about 1840 down to the present.

Late 19th century and early 20th century[edit]

Neo-romanticism as well as Romanticism are considered in opposition to naturalism—indeed, so far as music is concerned, naturalism is regarded as alien and even hostile (Dahlhaus 1979, 100). In the period following German unification in 1871, naturalism rejected Romantic literature as a misleading, idealistic distortion of reality. Naturalism in turn came to be regarded as incapable of filling the "void" of modern existence. Critics such as Hermann Bahr, Heinrich Mann, and Eugen Diederichs came to oppose naturalism and materialism under the banner of "neo-romanticism", demanding a cultural reorientation responding to "the soul’s longing for a meaning and content in life" that might replace the fragmentations of modern knowledge with a holistic world view (Kohlenbach 2009, 261). The naturalist in art stresses external observation, whereas the neo-romantic adds feeling and internal observation.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Late 20th century[edit]

"Neo-romanticism" was proposed as an alternative label for the group of German composers identified with the short-lived Neue Einfachheit movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Along with other phrases such as "new tonality", this term has been criticised for lack of precision because of the diversity among these composers, whose leading member is Wolfgang Rihm (Hentschel 2006, 111).



Neo-romanticism emerged strongly in literature and music in the period from about 1880 to about 1910, in Britain.[citation needed]



In British art history, the term "neo-romanticism" is applied to a loosely affiliated school of landscape painting that emerged around 1930 and continued until the early 1950s. It was first labeled in March 1942 by the critic Raymond Mortimer in the New Statesman. These painters looked back to 19th-century artists such as William Blake and Samuel Palmer, but were also influenced by French cubist and post-cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso, André Masson, and Pavel Tchelitchew (Clark and Clarke 2001; Hopkins 2001). This movement was motivated in part as a response to the threat of invasion during World War II. Artists particularly associated with the initiation of this movement included Paul Nash, John Piper, Henry Moore, Ivon Hitchens, and especially Graham Sutherland. A younger generation included John Minton, Michael Ayrton, John Craxton, Keith Vaughan, Robert Colquhoun, and Robert MacBryde (Button 1996).

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.[contradiction] 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.[citation needed] Many working in this vein benefited from efforts to record the English 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.


As major ecological awareness and 'back to the land' movements began in the mid to late 1970s, 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, Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants 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 1980s (e.g.: Alan Garner). It is also a current in post-1945 British photography—Fay Godwin, James Ravilious, Raymond Moore, Peter Callesen and Andy Goldsworthy being a few notable names.

Western Europe[edit]

The aesthetic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche has contributed greatly to neo-romantic thinking.

Eastern Europe[edit]



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.[citation needed]


Beginning in the mid-1930s and continuing through World War II, a Japanese neo-romantic literary movement was led by the writer Yasuda Yojūrō (Torrance 2010, 66).

In popular culture[edit]

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 examples are: 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Modern manifestations[edit]


  • Button, Virginia. 1996. "Neo-Romanticism". Dictionary of Art, 34 volumes, edited by Jane Turner. New York: Grove’s Dictionaries. ISBN 9781884446009.
  • Clarke, Michael, and Deborah Clarke. 2001. "Neo-Romanticism". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl. 1979. "Neo-Romanticism". 19th-Century Music 3, no. 2 (November): 97–105.
  • Hentschel, Frank. 2006. "Wie neu war die 'Neue Einfachheit'?" Acta Musicologica 78, no. 1:111–31.
  • Hopkins, Justine. 2001. "Neo-Romanticism". The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866203-7
  • Kohlenbach, Margarete. 2009. “Transformations of German Romanticism 1830–2000”. In The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism, edited by Nicholas Saul, 257–280. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521848916.
  • Torrance, Richard. 2010. "The People’s Library: The Spirit of Prose Literature versus Fascism". In The Culture of Japanese Fascism, edited by Alan Tansman, 56–79. Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society. Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822390701.

Further reading[edit]


  • Ackroyd, Peter. 2002. The Origins of the English Imagination.[full citation needed]
  • Arnold, Graham. 2003. The Ruralists: A Celebration.[full citation needed]
  • Michael Bracewell. 1997. England Is Mine.[full citation needed]
  • Cannon-Brookes, P. 1983. The British Neo-Romantics.[full citation needed]
  • Corbett, Holt, and Russell (Eds.). 2002. The Geographies of Englishness: Landscape and the National Past, 1880-1940.[full citation needed]
  • Martin, Christopher. 1992. The Ruralists (An Art & Design Profile, No. 23).[full citation needed]
  • Martin, Simon. 2008. Poets in the Landscape: The Romantic Spirit in British Art.[full citation needed]
  • Johnson and Landow (Eds).[full citation needed] 1980. Fantastic Illustration and Design in Great Britain, 1850-1930. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  • Mellor, David. 1987. Paradise Lost: the neo-Romantic imagination in Britain, 1935–1955.[full citation needed]
  • Picot, Edward. 1997. Outcasts from Eden: Ideas of Landscape in British Poetry Since 1945.[full citation needed]
  • Sillars, S. 1991. British Romantic Art and The Second World War.[full citation needed]
  • Trentmann, F. 1994. Civilisation and its Discontents: English Neo-Romanticism and the Transformation of Anti-Modernism in Twentieth-Century Western Culture. London: Birkbeck College.
  • Woodcock, Peter. 2000. This Enchanted Isle: The Neo-Romantic Vision from William Blake to the New Visionaries.[full citation needed]
  • Yorke, Malcolm. 1988. The Spirit of the Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and Their Times. London: Constable & Company Limited. Paperback reprint, London and New York: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2001. ISBN 1-86064-604-2.


  • (Sir) Brajendranath Seal. The Neo-Romantic Movement in Literature, in New Essays in Criticism (1903).

External links[edit]