In order to make sense of movements in landscape painting since the 18th century it would be prudent to take a quick look at what actually constitutes a landscape.
For it to be considered a landscape the painting had to depict a landscape and show some sort of perspective or scale to indicate distance. Now, the term landscape would refer to the depiction of landscapes in art to include natural scenery such as mountains, rivers, trees and forests where the main subject would be a wide view of such elements. In some paintings, landscapes are used as backgrounds for figures but the landscape would be a significant part of the painting. Landscapes can be painted entirely from the imagination or from actual places. Paintings depicting actual places, including buildings is known as a topographical view. The earliest landscapes (with no human figures) were found in Greece dating back to 1500BC.
As I flicked through styles of landscape paintings throughout the centuries it became clear that this subject is huge, and to focus even on the evolution of landscapes since the 18th century could potentially take a very long time. So, I am going to narrow my search by looking at examples from that timeline, briefly discussing how different artists see and depict them in their particular style.
Staring from Rococo, which developed in the early 18th century in France. It was a pointed move away from the rigid, symmetrical grandeur of the Baroque style towards a more fluid and graceful approach. Some still call Rococo late Baroque even though the composition of Baroque consisted of poses that were regimented by the contrapposto (an Italian term that means counterpose) which amounted to the arrangement of figures on the horizontal plane. Artists Jean Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean-Honore Fragonard painted idyllic countrified scenes with their models arranged in almost theatrical poses.
Der Jäger des Nestes by Jean-Antoine Watteau
In a critical assessment of the work of Jean-Antoine Watteau it was said that rather than create the extravagant composition that was a feature of Rococo, Watteau’s paintings were marked with a note of sympathy, wistfulness, and sadness linked to the nature of love and relationships.
The Scale Of Love by Jean-Antoine Watteau
The interrupted sleep by François Boucher
François Boucher was influenced by Watteau and Peter Paul Ruben. His landscapes were considered to be synonymous of Rococo art in his portrayal of evocative characters often in erotic compositions.
Boucher was also a draftsman. Many of his sketches were preparatory studies for his paintings or for the printmakers. His sketches were sought after as pieces of art in there own right.
Blind man’s buff by Jean-Honore Fragonard
Jean-Honore Fragonard was also an artist from the Rococo period. After a prolonged tour of Italy he returned to Paris where he exhibited his landscape paintings. King Louis xv purchased two of his pieces and commissioned him to paint a pendant or campanion piece.
William Gilpin (1724 – 1804) created the concept of Picturesque. Picturesque landscape combines beauty with its emphasis on smoothness and regularity and sublime, which is about vastness and suggestions of power and greatness. Gilpin also maintained that a picturesque landscape should include texture.
Broodmares and Colts in a Landscape by William Gilpin
The Romantic movement which began in the early to mid 18th century was in part a reaction to the Industrial revolution and was characterized by its emphasis on emotion, deep value of the past undisturbed by industry and a glorification of nature.
Caspar David Friedrich was a German Romantic landscape painter of the nineteenth-century. He is now considered the most important painter of the German Romantic Movement.
He was disillusioned by the over-materialistic society he lived in. This led him towards an appreciation of spiritualism which he expressed in his landscape. It was to all intents and purposes a mindful approach to landscape painting. This mindfulness is echoed in beautiful landscapes that appear so still and peaceful.
Riesengebrige by Casper David Friedrich
Friedrich’s English counterparts Joseph Mallord William Turner and John Constable’s work also embodied this spiritual approach to landscape.
The Hay Wain by John Constable
John Constable is best know for his paintings of the English countryside, particularly his landscaped around the River Stour where he lived. He visited many beautiful places in England including the Lake District and Hampstead Heath where he would sketch and paint small, meticulous paintings that he would later transfer onto larger canvases. Later in his career he experimented with different surfaces and optical effects as well as exploring the use of more vibrant colours. Many saw his work a precursor to Impressionism.
Popes Villa at Twickenham by Joseph Mallord William Turner
In Turner’s early work he concerned himself with the accurate depiction of place (topographical). He filled sketchbooks of pictures he would later finish in watercolours. In all Turner left 19000 watercolours, drawings and oil paintings to the British nation. He was commonly known as ‘the painter of light’. Turner was a devout Christian who used light to show God’s spirit in his work.
Landscape Art and Realism
The Realist movement began in France in the 1850s. They rejected Romanticism and sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy. Realist’s works depicted people of all classes in situations everyday life situations, and often reflected the changes brought by the industrial revolution.
The Reaper with a sickle Camille Corot
Corot was born in Paris in 1796. He was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as a draper but his love for painting and a helping hand from his wealthy parents pursue his love for painting. By the 1850’s Corot had become a much sought after landscape artist.
During warm summer days Corot sketched outdoors then painted landscapes informed by his sketches in his studio.
Corot was influenced by realistic BarbizonJean-François Millet, Théodore Rousseau and Charles-François Daubigny. Later Corot influenced many artists such as Charles Daubigny, Berth Morisot and Camille Pissaro.
Jean-Francois Millet – The Gleaners, 1857
Jean-Francois Millet was best remembered for his paintings of peasant farmers. His work conformed with the Realist movement as he became increasingly moved by social injustice. Millet’s paintings broke with the convention of ‘normal’ academic practice in that scenes of rural life were expected to be small and target towards the middle-class. Instead he chose to paint on a scale that was normally reserved for religious and historical themes. He faced severe criticism and was often accused of being a socialist. His popularity picked up in the 1860’s.
Despite his rollercoaster of popularity he influenced great artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Georges Seurat. His work also inspired artist to write plays and poems as well as further artistic efforts by Mark Twain and Salvador Dali.
The-Young-Ladies-Of-The-Village Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet also received criticism for his approach to rural peasant life. However, he continued to paint in defiance of convention and criticism and worked in all genres to execute paintings that wowed the world of art. He observed how weather affected the landscape, he carefully depicted raging seas and celebrated every aspect of rural life in his landscapes. His use of light and colour paved the way for Impressionism.
Impressionism was developed in the late 19th century. It was a style that was characterized by the use of bright colours and the use of complementary colours to represent the effect of light. The manner in which an impressionist painting was executed was usually rapid and consisted of short brushstrokes. The application of thickly applied paint also contributed to the illusion of light and tone.
Monet was the father of Impressionism. The name Impressionism derives from the title of his painting ‘Impression, Sunrise.
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet
In the early 1860s Claude Monet met with Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. They shared an interest in painting landscape and contemporary life rather than historical or mythological or religious scenes. The four would venture into the country to paint plein air. The notion of painting this way was that it allowed the artist to capture the sunlight and weather on the landscape as it was happening. They did not sketch then return to their studio to finish a piece of work. Instead their masterpiece unfolded there and then and they were able to capture the subtle changes in light.
Luncheon of the boating party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Loing Canal – Alfred Sisley
Sisley began painting as an amateur. He developed his style as he worked with and forged alliance with Monet, Renoir and Bazille.
The Franco-German war caused financial ruin for the Sisley family, forcing him to flee to London. Alfred Sisley struggled with poverty throughout his career. It seems unfair that his talent became widely recognized after his death. His earlier work was influenced by Camille Corot. Sisley’s best works came when he worked with Monet. This was a time when his work was more lively and spontaneous.
Although Frédéric Bazille was a wealthy man who helped to support his friends Monet, Sisley and Manet, it was short lived. The Franco-German war claimed his life.
Family reunion by Frédéric Bazille
Landscape Art and Post Impressionism
Post Impressionists was an extension of the Impressionist movement. Rather than create topographical representation, they moved towards abstract expression, rejecting the limitations of Impressionism. They acknowledged aspects of Impressionism – use of complementary and bright colours but moved towards a more expressive approach to landscape.
Paul Gauguin began his work as an Impressionist and was included in the fifth Impressionist exhibition in 1880. He moved towards a Symbolic approach to landscapes, painting from his imagination, applying thick paint onto a raw canvas. Symbolism, was a reaction against naturalism and realism in favour of spirituality.
Landscape with Two Breton Women by Paul Gauguin
Vincent Van Gogh struggled for recognition throughout his career as an artist. When his brother Theo introduced him the work of Monet he changed his dark pallet for brighter colours. Under the influence of the Impressionists Vincent shifted away from dark paintings such as The Potato Eaters and Landscape with Dunes to much brighter landscapes. His style also began to change – short brush strokes with swirls of paint that became his unique style. This style offended art critics. In his lifetime he only sold one painting. Van Gogh really only became famous after his death, when his brother and sister-in-law took up the mantle of getting recognition for his work.
I think it is interesting to see how different his early work was by comparison to his later work. The same could be said of Paul Cezanne.
Landscape with Dunes1883 Wheat Field with Cypresses 1889
Like Van Gogh, Cezanne started off with a somber pallet. After working with Pissarro, Cezanne soon realized that painting had to be straight from nature.
“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.” – Paul Cezanne
1872-73 Village Road, Auvers
Road Before the Mountain Sainte-Victoire 1898-1902 by Paul Cézanne
Meule et citerne en sous-bois (1892)
Paul Cezanne’s work towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century changed. It became lighter with blocks of colour that he almost ‘outlined’ with dark angular lines. His work paved the way for Cubism.
Paul Nash (1889 –1946) was a surrealist painter and war artist. He played a significant role in the development of Modernism. During the was he saw himself as a messenger to those who glorified the war. Nash wanted the world to see the detestation that war brings.
Landscape and dream by Paul Nash
After only three months on the front line Nash was injured and returned to England. He later found out that most of his comrades were killed during that particular raid. Nash was devastated. Whilst resting he continued to draw war pictures. When he recovered he returned to France in the aftermath of Passchendaele, with new fueled anger at the devastation of this dreadful war, he was inspired to produce up to a dozen drawings a day. His paintings show the destruction of nature – trees snapped and burnt in a battered landscape, barbed wire from ‘no man’s land’ to represent the tragedy of war.
David Hockney July 9, 1937 –
David Hockney, pop artist, began painting stunning landscapes. His most recent work has been done using his iPad or phone. In an exhibition called ‘A Bigger Picture’ he created a series of Yorkshire landscapes using oil, charcoal, film and iPad.
Peter Doig, 1959 is perhaps the most famous figurative artist. His landscapes tend to be abstract taking inspiration from photographs, newspaper clippings and movie scenes. He is also influenced by the work of Edvard Munch, Monet and Klimpt.
“The Architect’s Home in the Ravine,”
Doig’s approach is to layer his landscapes by painting the scene in the background then layering trees and branches in front. As an observer you might feel as if you are ‘peeping’ at something that you ought not to.
Contemporary Landscape Painting
Struie Hill Dornoch by Scott Naismith
Scott Naismith is my favourite contemporary landscape artist. In an online tutorial he demonstrated how he used the colour wheel to give a balance of colour in his work. Naismith would paint a patch of green then he would paint from the opposite side of the colour wheel in order to keep that ‘balance’.
Side by side you might draw similarities between his paintings and that of the impressionists in the way he uses complimentary colours, thick, chunky brushstrokes and lively landscapes. The difference lies in how Naismith applies ‘blocks’ of vibrant colours and his use of secondary and tertiary colours.
Artist who demonstrate ENVIRONMETAL CONCERNS
Artist Jeremy Miranda lives in Massachusetts. He works with acrylic paint to create paintings influenced by nature, technology, and memory. His split level landscapes connected by ladders depict hidden worlds.
When I first saw this painting I interpreted it to be symbolic of the effects of global warming drowning beautiful places. I like the way he has used warmer colours under the sea and darker colours above the water where all appears normal but as we all know the climate changes are really just the beginning. It is a very interesting use of perspective – vertical rather than horizontal.
This Modern Surrealist painting is quite anti ‘New world’. The trees are artificial – metal sponge like appearance. The buildings in the background are tonally recessing to create distance. The cloudy opaque wash create an industrial smog which has eaten up the vegetation leaving it bare and cold.
Earth Crisis by Ikahl Beckford
This landscape has a sinister tone to it. The trees are bare with branches sculpted into the shape of desperate, seeking hands. They are reaching through the red mist towards the blue sky at the top of the painting. I think the blue sky could be symbolic of hope. The leaves falling to the ground represent the end of life and the sphere could be the sun which appears to be blocked by the wall of mist. It is a sad vision of what we are doing to our beautiful planet.
I couldn’t find other work by Ikahl Beckford but the artist statement in this painting is very clear. The planet is in trouble.
Tang Yau Hoong is very creative with negative space. He is an artist and illustrator who works in advertising and design projects. Tang Yau Hoong’s art is conceptual, surreal and imaginative. I love his tree of life with the man walking towards the light, yet above, the branches appear to be dead. It is almost as if he is saying that ‘man’ is interfering with the earth and ultimately life. His cityscape is paradoxically painted green on a green leaf – the city whose pollution chokes nature.
As I mentioned earlier, the evolution of landscape painting is a vast topic. It has changed somewhat since the eighteenth century. The act of painting a photographic scene takes skill. Conceptual art is more than hand eye co-ordination. It engages emotion as well as skill.
If I was asked to select my favourite landscapes I would still say the Impressionists Landscape wins for me. I love the techniques used, how the artist capture movement and play with colour. If a painting can take my mind to somewhere else or somewhere I would like to be then I am most appreciative of how landscape painting has evolved and continues to evolve.