Capitalism, Socialism, Romanticism

This turbulent period determined the birth of the modern world, followed by revolutions and social unrest.

J. W. M. Turner, "Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway", (1844).
J. W. M. Turner, “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway”, (1844).

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A Disrupting Innovation

The Industrial Revolution spread from Britain in the 18th century and is one of the most significant events for the birth of the modern world. The period of this disrupting innovation is characterized by ideology clashes and revolutions and was possible thanks to the modern economic system: Capitalism. The dramatic condition of the Industrial Revolution, the abuse of children, urbanization, and the destruction of nature triggered Romantic poetry’s sensibility, serving as antithesis for Romantic Art. Meanwhile, the typical heavy control of the market of mercantilism was supplanted by the new dream of free trade with a lesser role of the government, thanks to Adam Smith’s treatise “Wealth of Nations”. But, before long, came to light the criticalities of the new capitalistic model, and in the Old World was making its way a contrasting ideology, fuelled by popular unrest. Socialism, conceptualized by Karl Marx along with Fredrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto, was considered the working-class opportunity to create a new equitable distribution of income. 


This artistic, literary, and intellectual movement characterized Western civilization between the late 18th and the half of the 19th century. This intellectual orientation arose in reaction to the order and rationality typical of Neoclassicism. Science could not explain the appearance of reality, and in the face of this obvious truth, the only refuge was the emotion and the sensibility of the artist. The need for original purity was expressed in the refusal of industrialization and large agglomerations, in favor of the “return to nature”, pioneered by Jean-Jacque Rosseau during the Enlightenment. In art and poetry, nature was the key subject matter, marking the start of landscape painting. It was the beginning of a new technique, later picked up by the Impressionist: the en plein air, which consisted of painting outdoor and quickly to capture the impression of light at that very moment. But the force of nature was sometimes terrifying, as represented by English landscapists: shipwrecks, eruptions, and storms are protagonists of this movement artworks.

Caspar David Friedrich, “Sunset (Brothers) or Evening landscape with two men”, (1830-1835).

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Beyond the Darker Aspects of Nature

Romanticism rejected idealized painting, and romantic art did not use to shy away from horrible, macabre, and grotesque, which were key elements in some renowned works of that period. Notable examples of this trend are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Marquis de Sade, in literature, or Francisco Goya’s paintings. The fascination in reality represented in its “unfiltered” form, inspired the Pre-Impressionist art movement known as “Realism”. The Realist movement originated in France, lead by Gustave Courbet, and aimed to portray contemporary people by focusing on unidealized subjects, not avoiding the darker and menacing aspects of nature

Francisco Goya, "Saturn Devouring His Son", (1819-1823).
Francisco Goya, “Saturn Devouring His Son”, (1819-1823).

Image source:,_Saturno_devorando_a_su_hijo_(1819-1823).jpg

A Modern Economical System: Capitalism

Capitalism was born with the failure of mercantilism and was theorized by Adam Smith. It was a component of classical liberalism, based on private ownership, competition, free trade as a way of achieving prosperity and was fundamental for the development of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization was possible due to significant investments from individuals, guided by the profit motive: in Britain, for instance, wealthy entrepreneurs created factories and mines. Later the Industrial Revolution lead to mass production and standardized products, based on the use of assembly lines. This method was devised by Henry Ford and permitted the mass production of the popular Ford T.

Philip James De Loutherbourg, “Coalbrookdale by Night”, 1801.

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Artists and Innovations

Mass production had a great impact on the role of the artist. While, as happened for Romanticism, some artists considered themselves supplanted by the work of the machine, others did not give up and invented new strategies consistent with the mass market. A perfect example is Pop Art and Andy Warhol, who combined in his “Factory” artistic production with the assembly line. In this way was possible to printed images quickly. Another important innovation was industrial design, which refers to the creative design of a product’s form and features. It concerns the sector of general industrial products, including automobiles, furniture, and any other kind of product. Regarding architecture, the city of Chicago recently destroyed by fire became a symbol of the economic boom. The Chicago School created new principles, and the first modern skyscrapers were born.

The Marilyn Monroe series by Andy Warhol.

Image source: Author: pvdberg

Marx, The Communist Manifesto

By the 19th century, capitalism began to shift with the rise of socialism. Many people, especially the working class, began to question whether this model was meeting the needs of society. Socialism developed as a response to the wide income gap in society between businessmen and the lower classes. Such disparities, including child labor or dramatic working conditions, were in the public eye. This left-wing economic model aims to favor government intervention to decrease the gap created by capitalism. A key figure in socialism theorizing was Karl Marx. One of the most influential philosophers of all time, his writing “The Communist Manifesto” was adopted by the newly founded Communist Party and inspired social unrest all over Europe. According to this pamphlet, the only way to overturn the status quo was a class struggle between the proletariat and the wealthy owners.  

Karl Marx portrait photography.

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Soviet Art

Soviet Art is the art produced in the Soviet Union after the October revolution. An avant-garde of renowned artists, such as Wassily Kandinsky or Kazimir Malevich, opposed to bourgeois art rediscovering the leftist values of the original “Proletkult”, a department created years before to support the dictatorship. Socialist realism, an idealized realistic art born in the Soviet Union, was considered the official style of socialist countries for much of the 19th century. This style represents and depicts the typical communist values, as the liberation of the working class. Subjects, particularly in sculpture, are often idealized and inspired by the classical canon.

Kazimir Malevich, "Mower", 1930.
Kazimir Malevich, “Mower”, 1930.

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