From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
American Romanticism was largely influenced by British Romanticism. The poetry of Emily Dickinson – nearly unread in her own time – and Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick can be taken as epitomes of American Romantic literature, or, by interpreting their sometimes subversive subtexts, as successors to it. As elsewhere (England, Germany, France), literary Romanticism had its counterpart in American visual arts, most especially in the exaltation of untamed America found in the paintings of the Hudson River School. Edgar Allan Poe's tales of the macabre and his balladic poetry were more influential in France than at home, but the romantic American novel developed fully in Nathaniel Hawthorne's atmosphere and melodrama.
In the United States, the romantic gothic made an early appearance with Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) and Rip Van Winkle (1819), followed from 1823 onwards by the fresh Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper, with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and their fervent landscape descriptions of an already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by "noble savages", similar to the philosophical theory of Rousseau, exemplified by Uncas, from "The Last of the Mohicans". There are picturesque "local color" elements in Washington Irving's essays and especially his travel books.
Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson still show elements of Romanticism's influence, as does the romantic realism of Walt Whitman. But by the 1880s, psychological and social realism was competing with romanticism in the novel. The poetry which Americans wrote and read was all romantic until the 1920s: Poe and Hawthorne, as well as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Dark romanticism is a literary subgenre that emerged from the Transcendental philosophical movement popular in nineteenth-century America. Works of literature that were influenced by Transcendental thought but which didn't completely embrace the movement comprise the category. Such works are notably less optimistic than Transcendental texts about mankind, nature, and divinity. American authors considered most representative of dark romanticism are Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Painters like Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church and others often expressed Romantic themes in their paintings. They sometimes depicted ancient ruins of the old world, such as in Fredric Edwin Church’s piece Sunrise in Syria. These works reflected the Gothic feelings of death and decay. They also show the Romantic ideal that Nature is powerful and will eventually overcome the transient creations of men. More often, they worked to distinguish themselves from their European counterparts by depicting uniquely American scenes and landscapes. This idea of an American identity in the art world is reflected in W. C. Bryant’s poem, To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe, where Bryant encourages Cole to remember the powerful scenes that can only be found in America. This poem also shows the tight connection that existed between the literary and visual artists of the Romantic Era.
Some American paintings promote the literary idea of the “noble savage” (Such as Albert Bierstadt’s The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak) by portraying idealized Native Americans living in harmony with the natural world.
Thomas Cole's paintings feature strong narratives as in The Voyage of Life series painted in the early 1840s that depict man trying to survive amidst an awesome and immense nature, from the cradle to the grave.