ENGLISH LANDSCAPE PAINTING
ENGLISH ART MUSEUMS
English Landscape Painting (1700-1900)
The modern attitude to nature is so different from that of the eighteenth century that it is not easy for us to understand the prejudices against which the early English landscape-painters had to struggle. At the beginning of the century the very idea that the genre of pure landscape could be a fit subject for art was little more than a hundred years old, and the idea still lingered among persons of 'taste' that a landscape-painting must be dignified by some ostensible figure-subject.
ENGLISH FIGURATIVE PAINTING
The feeling for landscape was strongest in the north of Europe, especially in Flanders, and before the middle of the fifteenth century Van Eyck had painted landscape backgrounds which were as true in their sense of space, lighting, and atmosphere as anything that was produced in the next three hundred years, and it was in Flanders that pictures which approached to pure landscape were first painted. With the decline of religious enthusiasm the interest in the background grew, and some painters, notably Joachim Patenier, and members of the Danube school (1490-1540) in Bavaria and Austria, as well as Pieter Brueghel the Elder, reduced the scale of their figures to insignificance in relation to their landscape backgrounds. But it was not till the seventeenth century that landscape pure and simple really came into its own. In Protestant Holland, painters, looking for new subject-matter to replace the old devotional subjects, turned their attention to landscape, and a school of artists arose numbering among them Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), Salomon van Ruysdael (1603-70), Aelbert Cuyp (1620-90), and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-82), whose work helped to form the conventional English taste in the next century.
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MODERN BRITISH PAINTING
of Classical Landscape Art in Italy
The Two Styles
of 18th Century Landscape Art
Samuel Scott, Charles
Their historical interest is great, for even more perhaps than Wilson and Gainsborough they were the founders of the English landscape school. Thomas Malton (1748-1804), Paul Sandby (1725-1809), MA Rooker (1743-1804), Edward Dayes (1763-1804), Thomas Hearne (1744-1817) are among the masters of this school whose work has a personality and refinement which repays careful study. The most important artist of all was J.R. Cozens, the son of Alexander Cozens, a water-colour painter, drawing-master, and writer on art.
Cozens's subjects, unlike those of most
of his contemporaries, are usually continental and represent scenes in
France, Italy, Switzerland, Sicily, and other countries. His colour is
entirely conventional, but he has a largeness and poetry of vision and
a sense of the 'genius loci' which make his drawings much more than topographical
records. His journeys abroad were mostly made in the company of travellers
who wished to have a record made of places which impressed them, and so
we may assume that his work was topographically accurate, and that his
subjects were sometimes chosen for him, but these cramping limitations
have left no mark on his work which is as free and unhampered as if he
never worked but to please himself. No one, not even Turner, has ever
given the grandeur and vastness of mountain scenery better than Cozens.
No one, not even Girtin, had a larger and more simple vision or extracted
more beauty from the character of his medium.
At about the same date JMW Turner and Thomas Girtin were just beginning to attract attention as promising young water-colourists, and they were destined to enlarge the boundaries of water-colour far beyond anything of which Cozens had dreamed, though not to surpass him within his own limits. Of the two, Turner lived till the middle of the nineteenth century, and the epoch-making developments of his genius belong to a later date, but Girtin belongs to the early English water-colour school, which reached its culmination in his work. Except for a series of views of Paris, executed shortly before his death, Girtin's subjects are entirely English, and he began in the simple timid manner of the topographical draughtsmen. He was a pupil of Edward Dayes, and was employed by Dr. Monro along with Turner, Varley, and other promising young artists, to make copies of water-colours by Gainsborough, Cozens, and other painters. Dr. Monro gave these young artists half a crown and their supper for an evening's work, and the arrangement was a happy one for both parties. The doctor certainly got his money's worth, and the young men acquired a knowledge and experience worth far more than their pay.
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
Some vestiges of earlier convention remain even in his latest work, and, though the range of his colour was so much amplified, he never became entirely naturalistic in this respect. With his death in 1802 the first period of English watercolour comes to an end. And in the new century painters dared to set down the raw, fresh brillance of nature's colour.
History does not as a rule divide itself
into neat lengths exactly coincident with the centuries, and in a sense
the period from William Hogarth to the death of JMW Turner is a single
stage of development. But this period does fall, very naturally, into
two parts, which correspond roughly with the last seventy-five years of
the eighteenth century and the first fifty years of the nineteenth. In
the first part the figure-painters, especially the portrait-painters,
are dominant, and landscape-painters are struggling for recognition; in
the second, landscape comes into its own, and in figure-painting there
is a general decline from the standards of Joshua Reynolds and
Turner, in contrast, learned from all his
predecessors by frank imitation - Claude, Nicolas Poussin, Richard Wilson,
Titian, Van de Velde, Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Girtin, and John Crome,
he imitated in turn. Ambitious and jealous by nature, it seems that he
could not bear to feel that another could render any beauty of nature
better than himself. Each one he tackled on his own ground till he had
mastered him. Disguise after disguise he assumed and discarded before
the real Turner at length appeared.
That he ultimately succeeded in preserving it in larger pictures painted in the studio was probably due to the example of Rubens's great landscape, "The Chateau de Steen", now in the National Gallery, but then in the possession of Constable's friend Sir George Beaumont, the connoisseur and amateur painter. From the foreground, which is painted in conventional browns, he had nothing to learn, but the distance and sky must have been a revelation to him of how the sense of light, air, and movement could be recorded on a large scale. For his later pictures he made a full-sized sketch in oils, and then laid in the main masses of the finished picture in transparent monochrome in the Flemish manner, thus establishing the general effect of his picture before destroying the fresh surface of his canvas with solid paint. On this preparation he could work with something of the freedom of his first sketch from nature, and add to the general effect of light and shade the glancing flicker and gleam of light on grass, leaf, and stream which gave his pictures their astonishing freshness. He had a method, known in his own day as 'Constable's snow', of putting on solid touches of pure white, which caught and broke up the light which fell on the pictures. These touches were then glazed with transparent greens and other colours, and a brilliance of broken colour was produced which would have been impossible in opaque paint. The effect when freshly painted must have been startling, but something of its original freshness has now gone. The oils with which his glazes were diluted have yellowed with time, and consequently these touches, having lost their sparkle, tend to give rather a fussy appearance to many of his finished pictures. His sketches from nature and the large preliminary studies for his finished pictures (a magnificent specimen of which is "The Leaping Horse" in the Victoria and Albert Museum) have stood the test of time better, and it is in these that his genius can be best appreciated.
Nearly all later nineteenth-century landscape-painting
derives something from Constable's example, but his outlook and methods
have been more intensely studied and developed in France than in England.
In 1824, his "Hay Wain" (National Gallery) was exhibited at
the Paris Salon, where it created an immediate sensation and was awarded
a gold medal. The ultimate extent of his influence on French painting
is difficult to estimate, but it was certainly great, as has been generously
acknowledged by French artists, especially Delacroix, who spoke of him
as 'le pere de notre ecole de paysage'. His work was the direct precursor
of the Barbizon
school of landscape, and it paved the way for Impressionism
by the luminosity of its colour and loose broken touch. (See also: Impressionist
William Turner (1775-1851)
The immediate result of Turner's influence was not great, and his few imitators are of small account. Indirectly his influence has been far-reaching. The general raising of the pitch of colour in modern painting owes perhaps even more to him than to Constable. The affinities between his work and that of the French impressionists are obvious, and their debt to his work has been acknowledged, but that the brilliance of colour in the English Pre-Raphaelites also derived to some extent from him is seldom realized, but is almost certainly a fact. Through these two movements, so unlike one another in many ways, his influence has become part of the general heritage of modern painting, and artists to whom the name of Turner is anathema only paint as they do because he painted as he did.
The historical importance of his work is likely to become increasingly recognized with the passage of time. Even now his work is comparatively little known on the Continent, though many of his finest works have found their way to America. His work is scarcely represented in the great European galleries, and to many the name of Turner stands only for rather gaudily coloured sunsets. But when the full range of his stupendous genius becomes generally known his position among the great masters will be assured.
Other 19th Century
The subjects of his landscapes are mostly
French coast and river scenes, but in 1822 he visited Italy and painted
a group of pictures in Venice. The characteristics of his landscapes are
bright tone and colour, great clarity of atmosphere, and a most refined
and delicate handling of paint.
John Crome (1768-1821)
- The Norwich School of Landscape
He was in no way a revolutionary, but without extending the technical limitations of his predecessors he evolved an unmistakable style of his own as the result of his sincere study of nature. Wilson, Gainsborough, and Hobbema were his inspiration. For the art of Hobbema in particular he had a profound admiration, but it was really always nature that he loved, and the beauties which he found in Hobbema were largely of his own making. The quality of his art is difficult to put into words. It was poetical but quite unliterary. No other painter, unless it be Jean-Francois Millet, has conveyed so well the friendly strength of the earth and the things that grow from it. Compared to Crome most other painters seem flimsy and unreal, but the reality of his pictures does not depend on an accurate description of externals and an exact rendering of visual truth. Rather his pictures are records of mental reaction. From the ephemeral vision of the world he extracts the permanent essentials, and seems to paint things in themselves rather than effects on things. His art is filled with as deep a love of nature as Constable's, but it is of a different order. It may be put in this way: that while Constable loved the beauty of nature Crome loved nature itself. The subject-matter of his pictures often has little sensuous charm, but from it he distils an austere spiritual beauty which enshrines the quiet forces of nature and leaves us with a sense of the divinity in common things. In the oaks which he loved it is not their fresh greenness but their strength which he gives us, as in "The Poringland Oak" (National Gallery). In the "Mousehold Heath" (National Gallery), and in the "Slate Quarries" (Tate Gallery), he gives us the very substance and being of the earth. In his night-piece, "Moonlight on the Marshes of the Yare" (National Gallery), he renders a spare and naked truth beyond anything which Van der Neer achieved. But Crome does not always rise to these heights, and occasionally his love of Hobbema led him into a pettiness in the treatment of foliage, which was copied by his followers who could not enter into the real spirit of his genius.
The only other member of the Norwich school who can in any way rank with Crome is John Sell Cotman. The son of a linen-draper, he was at first put into his father's business, but soon showed so marked a talent for painting that his father consented to his going to London to study, about the year 1800. In 1807, he returned to Norwich and was elected a member of the Norwich Society of Artists. Later he moved to Yarmouth, where he became associated with Dawson Turner, whose archeological publications he illustrated with etchings, and in 1834 he returned to London and was appointed teacher of drawing in King's College School.
Much of Cotman's life was spent in the
teaching of drawing and painting, and the paintings which he has left
us were produced in the intervals of this wearying work, but they show
little of the tiredness which might be expected. Drawing and water-colour
painting were fashionable accomplishments, and much though one may regret
that the time of artists like Crome and Cotman should have been wasted
in this way, it is yet a fact that this demand for drawing-masters provided
a livelihood for artists which they could not otherwise have found, and
that in consequence the richness of the English school of landscape-painters
owes much to these amateurs. It was an age of great drawing-masters, and
the very fact that their living depended on their teaching rather than
their painting may have given them independence of outlook.
WJ Muller (1812-45)
De Wint, though his reputation to-day rests mainly on his water-colours, which will be considered later, was a fine painter in oils. His work in this medium is too often overlooked, but though inclined to be a little sombre and heavy in tone it has a fine and masculine sincerity, and if he had not painted in water-colours at all his oil-paintings would be enough to ensure him a position among the leading painters of his time. This side of his art is well represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Other early 19th
Century Landscape Artists
John Martin (1789-1854) has a place of his own. Starting life as an heraldic-painter, he later devoted himself to imaginative landscapes of which "The Plains of Heaven" is a typical example. His work has some likeness to the more fantastic and melodramatic side of Turner's art, but though he had high aims they often led him into exaggeration and absurdity, and he cannot be regarded as much more than an interesting oddity. John Linnell (1792-1882) sometimes painted subjects of the same kind, as in "The Eve of the Deluge" and "The Disobedient Prophet", but his subjects were usually rural, and painted in brilliant if sometimes rather hot and unpleasant colours. Whatever his faults he had a distinct personality, and with Samuel Palmer, the water-colour painter, carried on the peculiar feeling of early nineteenth-century romanticism almost to the end of the century.
English School of Landscape Watercolourists
For details of European collections containing works by painters of the English Landscape school, see: Art Museums in Europe.
For more about the evolution of scenic painting, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART HISTORY