Landscape Art (draft notes)

Landscape photography and printmaking draws on a long tradition of landscape art that can inform different styles and approaches for my own work. I want to work more on the underlying theory of landscape composition and bridging elements, perspective etc. Abstraction. To make my landscape photography and printmaking more conscious of the influences on my work and thereby able to subvert and question to create something new.

!!Post needs a lot of sorting out and re-reading of books most relevant to my actual photographic and printmaking work for Assignment 2 ‘Landscaping England’. See discussion on my Landscape Photography blog: http://photography.zemniimages.info/portfolio/1-3-establishing-conventions/ Notes to be updated from visits to exhibitions at:
VandA: Constable
Tate Britain: Late Turner and Turner galleries
National Gallery : Pedar Balke
National gallery and elsewhere Maggie Hambling
Tate Britain: John Martin

Definition and overview

Landscape painting, also known as landscape art, is the depiction of landscapes, natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still form an important part of the work. Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition. Detailed landscapes as a distinct subject are not found in all artistic traditions, and develop when there is already a sophisticated tradition of representing other subjects.

The word “landscape” entered the modern English language as landskip (variously spelt), an anglicization of the Dutch landschap, around the start of the 17th century, purely as a term for works of art, with its first use as a word for a painting in 1598. Within a few decades it was used to describe vistas in poetry, and eventually as a term for real views. However the cognate term landscaef or landskipe for a cleared patch of land had existed in Old English, though it is not recorded from Middle English. Landscape views in art may be entirely imaginary, or copied from reality with varying degrees of accuracy. If the primary purpose of a picture is to depict an actual, specific place, especially including buildings prominently, it is called a topographical view. Such views, extremely common as prints in the West, are often seen as inferior to fine art landscapes, although the distinction is not always meaningful; similar prejudices existed in Chinese art, where literati painting usually depicted imaginary views, while professional court artists painted real views, often including palaces and cities.

The earliest forms of human art depict little that could really be called landscape, although ground-lines and sometimes indications of mountains, trees or other natural features are included. The earliest “pure landscapes” with no human figures are frescos from Minoan Greece of around 1500 BCE. Hunting scenes, especially those set in the enclosed vista of the reed beds of the Nile Delta from Ancient Egypt, can give a strong sense of place, but the emphasis is on individual plant forms and human and animal figures rather than the overall landscape setting.

The two main traditions spring from Western painting and Chinese art, going back well over a thousand years in both cases. The recognition of a spiritual element in landscape art is present form its beginnings in East Asian art, drawing on Daoism and other philosophical traditions, but in the West only becomes explicit with Romanticism.

Chinese and Japanese traditions

!!Possibly I will do a separate post on this as Japanese ink landscapes and monochrome styles have been important influences on my Black and White photography and printmaking.

Zhan Ziqian, Strolling About in Spring, a very early Chinese landscape, c. 600. Landscape as a subject in itself

In East Asia famous practitioners of imaginary landscapes were highly respected, including several Emperors of both China and Japan. They were often also poets whose lines and images illustrated each other. 

The Chinese ink painting tradition of shan shui (“mountain-water”), or “pure” landscape, in which the only sign of human life is usually a sage, or a glimpse of his hut, uses sophisticated landscape backgrounds to figure subjects, and landscape art of this period retains a classic and much-imitated status within the Chinese tradition.
As in Roman traditions these typically show grand panoramas of imaginary landscapes, backed with a range of spectacular mountains. Sometimes they showed only a distant view, sometimes waterfalls, mist or dead ground bridged the gap between a foreground scene with figures and the distant panoramic vista.

Western tradition

It seems from literary evidence that some rough system of perspective, or scaling for distance was first been developed in Ancient Greece in the Hellenistic period, although no large-scale examples survive. Roman landscapes from the 1st century BCE onwards, especially frescos of landscapes decorating rooms, have been preserved at archaeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum and elsewhere, and mosaics. These typically show grand panoramas of imaginary landscapes, generally backed with a range of spectacular mountains, often including sea, lakes or rivers to bridge the gap between a foreground scene with figures and a distant panoramic vista.

History painting came to require an extensive landscape background where appropriate and for several centuries landscapes were regularly promoted to the status of history painting by the addition of small figures to make a narrative scene, typically religious or mythological. In Kenneth Clark’s analysis, underlying European ways to convert the complexity of landscape to an idea were four fundamental approaches:

  • the acceptance of descriptive symbols
  • curiosity about the facts of nature
  • creation of fantasy to allay deep-rooted fears of nature
  • belief in a Golden Age of harmony and order, which might be retrieved.

Medieval

Hand G, Bas-de-page of the Baptism of Christ,Turin-Milan Hours, Flanders c. 1425 idealised landscape as background

In early Western medieval art interest in landscape disappears almost entirely, kept alive only in copies of Late Antique works such as the Utrecht Psalter; the last reworking of this source, in an early Gothic version, reduces the previously extensive landscapes to a few trees filling gaps in the composition, with no sense of overall space. A revival in interest in nature initially mainly manifested itself in depictions of small gardens such as the Hortus Conclusus or those in millefleur tapestries. The frescos of figures at work or play in front of a background of dense trees in the Palace of the Popes, Avignon are probably a unique survival of what was a common subject. Several frescos of gardens have survived from Roman houses like the Villa of Livia.

During the 14th century Giotto di Bondone and his followers began to acknowledge nature in their work, increasingly introducing elements of the landscape as the background setting for the action of the figures in their paintings. Early in the 15th century, landscape painting was established as a genre in Europe, as a setting for human activity, often expressed in a religious subject, such as the themes of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, the Journey of the Magi, or Saint Jerome in the Desert. Luxury illuminated manuscripts were very important in the early development of landscape, especially series of the Labours of the Months such as those in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which conventionally showed small genre figures in increasingly large landscape settings. A particular advance is shown in the less well-knownTurin-Milan Hours, now largely destroyed by fire, whose developments were reflected in Early Netherlandish painting for the rest of the century. The artist known as “Hand G”, probably one of the Van Eyck brothers, was especially successful in reproducing effects of light and in a natural-seeming progression from the foreground to the distant view. This was something other artists were to find difficult for a century or more, often solving the problem by showing a landscape background from over the top of a parapet or window-sill, as if from a considerable height.

Italian Renaissance

Landscape backgrounds for various types of painting became increasingly prominent and skilful during the century. The period around the end of the 15th century saw pure landscape drawings and watercolours from Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Fra Bartolomeo and others, but pure landscape subjects in painting and printmaking, still small, were first produced by Albrecht Altdorfer and others of the German Danube School in the early 16th century. 

Landscapes were idealized, mostly reflecting a pastoral ideal drawn from classical poetry which was first fully expressed by Giorgione and the young Titian, and remained associated above all with hilly wooded Italian landscape, which was depicted by artists from Northern Europe who had never visited Italy, just as plain-dwelling literati in China and Japan painted vertiginous mountains. Though often young artists were encouraged to visit Italy to experience Italian light, many Northern European artists could make their living selling Italianate landscapes without ever bothering to make the trip. Indeed, certain styles were so popular that they became formulas that could be copied again and again. Salvator Rosa gave picturesque excitement to his landscapes by showing wilder Southern Italian country, often populated by banditi.

Dutch Landscape

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565: Peace and agriculture in a pre-Romantic ideal landscape, without sublime terrors

Joachim Patinir in the Netherlands developed the “world landscape” a style of panoramic landscape with small figures and using a high aerial viewpoint, that remained influential for a century, being used and perfected by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The Italian development of a thorough system of graphical perspective was now known all over Europe, which allowed large and complex views to be painted very effectively.

The publication in Antwerp in 1559 and 1561 of two series of a total of 48 prints (the Small Landscapes) after drawings by an anonymous artist referred to as the Master of the Small Landscapes signalled a shift away from the imaginary, distant landscapes with religious content of the world landscape towards close-up renderings at eye-level of identifiable country estates and villages populated with figures engaged in daily activities. By abandoning the panoramic viewpoint of the world landscape and focusing on the humble, rural and even topographical, the Small Landscapes set the stage for Netherlandish landscape painting in the 17th century. After the publication of the Small Landscapes, landscape artists in the Low Countries either continued with the world landscape or followed the new mode presented by the Small Landscapes.

Rembrandt, The Three Trees, 1643, etching

Dutch Golden Age painting of the 17th century saw the dramatic growth of landscape painting, in which many artists specialized, and the development of extremely subtle realist techniques for depicting light and weather. There are different styles and periods, and sub-genres of marine and animal painting, as well as a distinct style of Italianate landscape. Most Dutch landscapes were relatively small, but landscapes in Flemish Baroque painting, still usually peopled, were often very large, above all in the series of works that Peter Paul Rubens painted for his own houses. Landscape prints were also popular, with those of Rembrandt and the experimental works of Hercules Seghers usually considered the finest.

The Dutch tended to make smaller paintings for smaller houses. Some Dutch landscape specialties named in period inventories include the Batalje, or battle-scene; theManeschijntje, or moonlight scene; the Bosjes, or woodland scene; the Boederijtje, or farm scene,and the Dorpje or village scene.Though not named at the time as a specific genre, the popularity of Roman ruins inspired many Dutch landscape painters of the period to paint the ruins of their own region, such as monasteries and churches ruined after the Beeldenstorm.The popularity of landscapes in the Netherlands was in part a reflection of the virtual disappearance of religious painting in a Calvinist society, and the decline of religious painting in the 18th and 19th centuries all over Europe combined with Romanticism to give landscapes a much greater and more prestigious place in 19th-century art than they had assumed before.

Jan van GoyenDune landscape, c. 1630-1635, an example of the “tonal” style in Dutch Golden Age painting

French 17th and 18th Century

Claude Lorrain, Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, 1682. The landscape as history painting.

Compositional formulae using elements like the repoussoir were evolved which remain influential in modern photography and painting, notably by Poussin  and Claude Lorrain, both French artists living in 17th century Rome and painting largely classical subject-matter, or Biblical scenes set in the same landscapes.

French landscape artists still most often wanted to keep their classification within the hierarchy of genres as history painting by including small figures to represent a scene from classical mythology or the Bible.

French painters were slower to develop landscape painting, but from about the 1830sJean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and other painters in the Barbizon School established a French landscape tradition that would become the most influential in Europe for a century, with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists for the first time making landscape painting the main source of general stylistic innovation across all types of painting.

English landscape: 19th Century

In England, landscapes had initially been mostly backgrounds to portraits, typically suggesting the parks or estates of a landowner, though mostly painted in London by an artist who had never visited his sitter’s rolling acres; the English tradition was founded by Anthony van Dyck and other mostly Flemish artists working in England. In the 18th century,watercolour painting, mostly of landscapes, became an English speciality, with both a buoyant market for professional works, and a large number of amateur painters, many following the popular systems found in the books of Alexander Cozens and others. By the beginning of the 19th century the English artists with the highest modern reputations were mostly dedicated landscapists, showing the wide range of Romantic interpretations of the English landscape found in the works of John Constable, J.M.W. Turner and Samuel Palmer. However all these had difficulty establishing themselves in the contemporary art market, which still preferred history paintings and portraits.

The 18th century saw the rise of the topographical print, often intended to be framed and hung on a wall. These depicted more or less accurately a real view in a way that landscape painting rarely did. Initially these were mostly centred on a building, but over the course of the century, with the growth of the Romantic movement pure landscapes became more common. Landscapes in watercolour became a distinct specialism, above all in England.

Constable:

  • frequent use of the Golden ratio to position horizons at one or two thirds levels in paintings
  • uses a lanes, roads and other devices to lead the eye into the picture
  • interest in plays of light and naturalistic colour
  • linear as well as aerial perspective
  • use of triangles and implied triangles on foreground objects like carts, boats etc.
  • later starts to experiment with dynamic and impasto brushstrokes, as precursor to Impressionists

Turner tends to have his horizons lower, or non-existent. And makes lots of use of dramatic swirls for storms, and brilliant sunsets. But still positions vertical elements and objects around the thirds line.

Romantic movement

The Romantic movement intensified the existing interest in landscape art, and remote and wild landscapes, which had been one recurring element in earlier landscape art, now became more prominent. Caspar David Friedrich had a distinctive style, influenced by his Danish training, where a distinct national style, drawing on the Dutch 17th-century example, had developed. To this he added a quasi-mystical Romanticism.

  • The Trees in the Moonlight Use of diagonals and muted colours.
  • Two Men by the Sea at Moonrise Use of strong horizontals with central horizon line. Silhouettes against an oval pool of light. ‘High Dynamic Range’.

See http://www.caspardavidfriedrich.org

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog/Mists, 1818. A classic image of German Romanticism. Strong contrast in colours and between foreground and background with dramatic silhouette.  Quasi symmetrical balance between right and left side of the image. Diagonals leading to the centre figure.
Monet
Claude Monet, 'Poplars on the Epte' 1891

from Tate.org search

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 'Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights' 1872
from http://www.tate.org.uk/search/Whistler 
mists, high horizons. Strong horizontals and verticals.

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Cremorne Lights 1872
Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5

20th Century

Although certainly less dominant in the period after World War I, many significant artists still painted landscapes in the wide variety of styles exemplified by Neil Welliver, Alex Katz, Milton Avery, Peter Doig, Andrew Wyeth, David Hockney and Sidney Nolan.

Contemporary