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Summary Article: landscape painting
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Representation of inland scenery, such as a countryside view or city skyline; also a format of painting that is wider than its height. Landscape paintings were produced in China in the early centuries AD, but are not thought to have appeared in Western art until the Middle Ages, when they were incorporated as background elements in illuminated manuscripts and paintings. The Italian painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti is credited with making the first painting devoted to landscape in around 1335. However, commissioned works continued to focus on portraiture, and religious and mythological scenes, until the 17th century when ‘classical landscape’ developed, and the works of Rubens and the Dutch School promoted the genre. The depiction of landscape as a display of property is exemplified by Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews (c. 1748), a portrait set against a wide landscape of their land. Impressionism was the last great phase of landscape objectively treated, though it was not the end of its development. Cézanne made landscape into a study of essential structure underlying all natural forms; Vincent van Gogh made it a vehicle for expressing personal emotion. Other significant landscape artists include J M W Turner, whose shimmering works anticipated Impressionism; and Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, the first American school of landscape painting.

Early representations of landscape Landscape commissions were initially less popular because they were seen to serve no particular purpose for the person paying. Paintings were considered a luxury and only commissioned for events such as the commemoration of an important person; or to decorate churches and cathedrals, both as an act of worship and to instruct those of the faith who could not read; or later to display personal wealth and status.

However, natural scenery has been employed as a backdrop since Roman times, and Lorenzetti may have been inspired by an earlier Roman landscape fresco (wall painting) that no longer survives. His Landscape (c. 1335) and great frescoes depicting The Effects of Good and Bad Government on Town and Countryside (1337–39; Town Hall, Siena) are considered the earliest examples of Western landscape. The Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (early 15th century) is notable for its pictorial calendar representing the changes of the seasons and features people at work and play in a landscape backdrop. In the 15th century landscape was used both as detail, as in the work of Jan van Eyck, and often as a dramatic accessory. The Flemish painter Joachim Patenier (c. 1485–1524) made landscape the dominant feature in his religious paintings. Hieronymous Bosch created fantastic landscapes, as in his triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (about 1505–10; Prado, Madrid); and in the 16th century Pieter Brueghel the Elder, uses a snow-covered landscape to great effect in his Census of Bethlehem (Brussels).

Development of landscape painting Landscape painting developed with the interest in their new surroundings of artists travelling to Italy. Dürer, for example, left a notable record of his journey in watercolour.

In Rome ‘classical landscape’ (fictitious landscape with a classical or historic theme) developed through the efforts of such northern artists as Paul Bril and Adam Elsheimer, and the Italian painters Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. Classical landscape is superbly represented by the French artist Claude Lorrain, whose works, although depicting historic or classical subjects, were mainly given over to vast landscapes filled with light and space.

The painting of familiar and domesticated landscapes also developed in the 17th century, as in the compositions of Rubens, and especially in the paintings of the Dutch School – van Goyen, Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Hobbema, Koninck, Cuyp, and others.

English painters were influenced by the Dutch and progressed their own landscape painting in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Wilson, Crome and the Norwich School, Gainsborough, Constable, and Turner produced magnificent landscapes in oils, while Paul Sandby, J R Cozens, Cotman, Turner, Girtin, Bonington, and many others worked in watercolours.

After Constable and Turner, the next great development of landscape was in France. Corot and the Barbizon School of landscape painters in the mid-19th century were followed by Courbet and then by the Impressionists such as Monet, Sisley, Cézanne, and Pissarro. The Impressionists' totally new approach to landscape coincided with the invention of a very simple, but very important product – oil paint in a tube. Previously artists had to mix their own oil paints, a time-consuming, difficult process that could only be carried out in a studio. Now, for the first time, artists were able to go outside and paint with oils directly from the landscape. Consequently, the light in paintings became far more realistic and the scene was painted quickly in order to capture a moment and to give an impression, rather than trying to copy every exact detail. Vincent van Gogh took this to the extreme and painted landscapes in an attempt to express his personal emotions.

British landscape artists, such as Philip Wilson Steer and several members of the Camden Town Group, were influenced by Impressionism and post-Impressionism at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In the period between the two world wars, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland painted landscapes that combined Romantic traditions and the new surrealism, whereas Victor Pasmore and John Piper treated the landscape in a much more modern way. In the 1950s there was a fashion for gritty realism in landscape, paralleling the work of the ‘kitchen sink’ school in literature and drama. However, a more poetic approach has prevailed in, for example, the work of Roger de Grey.

Landscape painting in the USA began with the work of Thomas Cole. Cole was the founder of the 19th-century Hudson River School, made up of landscape painters working mainly in the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains of New York State. The work of the Impressionist painter Homer Martin, originally a member of the Hudson River School, exemplifies later US landscape painting.

The way artists treat the external world continues to change in exciting ways.




Gainsborough, Thomas: method


Constable, John Boat Building by Flatford Mill

Crome, John The Yarmouth Water Frolic

Towne, Francis Grasmere by the Rydal Road

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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