The school was notable for its dramatically lit historical subjects, often featuring scenes like shipwrecks, noble peasants, or epic mountainscapes.
The artists associated with the school include Wilhelm von Schadow, Karl Friedrich Lessing, the brothers Andreas and Oswald Achenbach, and Hans Fredrik Gude. Johann Wilhelm Schirmer is shown above. Some of them had experience painting theatrical backdrops, and they took some of those sensibilities into their easel paintings. Some of those pictorial features include:
Realistic and detailed treatment of form.
Strongest accents and focal point in middle ground.
Dark framing masses at the sides of the compositions.
Stormy skies and dramatic lighting.
Road or trail leading into the picture.
Filmy or atmospheric distances.
Literary references in genre scenes.
Americans who studied there included George Caleb Bingham, Eastman Johnson, Worthington Whittredge, William Stanley Haseltine, James McDougal Hart, and William Morris Hunt, and Emanuel Leutze, who painted "Washington Crossing the Delaware" in Germany using American Dusseldorf students as models.
Although he wasn’t formally enrolled at the academy, Albert Bierstadt worked and studied among the community of artists, and became probably the best exponent of the style. The Russian painter Ivan Shishkin also spent time there soaking up the landscape vocabulary.
Above: Oswald Achenbach, "The Bay of Naples."
The goal of the Dusseldorf artists was to infuse the landscape with “stimmung” (mood). Their romantic sensibilities were tied to “Volkskarakter” or national character. According to Henk Van Os,
“The idea is that the soul of a people is expressed through its countryside, its landscape; painters make this soul visible. This was to become the cornerstone of realistic landscape in the second half of the nineteenth century.”
Quote from Russian Landscape, National Gallery exhibition, link.