Landscape art, even when it aims to be figurative, implicitly or explicitly reflects our visions for how the natural and human-made world should be and our place in it.
Landscape is essentially about exploring the relationships between the maker, their subjects and where they are, both geographically and spiritually or psychologically. .. Whether celebrated for its beauty and the bounties it provides or respected for its power and the challenges it presents, the different ways we’ve presented the landscape – and continue to present it – tell us above all, about the depth, range and contrasting values we place upon it. … This reflects an urge – perhaps even an instinct – to tame the land, and in an abstract sense to take ownership of it. (Jesse Alexander 2013 p.14)
Dutch landscape : drama, comfort and beauty in bleakness
My approach in Project 1.1 Natural Landscape draws on the traditions of Dutch landscape inspired by the similar flat landscapes of the River Cam that I chose as my subject.
Dutch Golden Age painting of the 17th century saw the dramatic growth of landscape painting. The popularity of landscapes in the Netherlands was in part a reflection of the virtual disappearance of religious painting in a Calvinist society. Until the seventeenth century landscape was confined to the background of portraits or paintings dealing principally with religious, mythological or historical subjects. In the 16th Century Pieter Brueghel the Elder perfected the “world landscape” style of panoramic landscape with small figures and using a high aerial viewpoint. But these were still generally idealised images, not of any particular place. Certain popular styles became formulas that were copied again and again.
The first major shift towards depiction of identifiable country estates and villages populated with figures engaged in daily activities was in 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. Artists developed extremely subtle realistic techniques for depicting dramatic light and weather on simple, flat and otherwise quite bleak landscapes. They made some significant innovations in technique, including variation in horizon lines, aerial perspective and rendering of clouds to make them seem overhead and lead the eye into the painting.
Because of this similarity between the flat Dutch landscape and those of East Anglia where I live, much of my own landscape art has been strongly influenced by Netherlands art, particularly since visiting Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam permanent collection of Dutch landscape. See also Logan, A.-M., (1988) and Stechow, W., (1966). Some of the oil and watercolour paintings that were most influential in my development of Project 1.1 were:
- Jan Josefsz van Goyen:View over a Flat Landscape (oil on panel 1642) a moody painting of a completely flat landscape with cows, where the top two thirds of the frame is occupied by the grey clouds, but with subtle sunlight breaking through on the horizon line in the far distance.
- Jan Josefsz van Goyen: Landscape with a River Bank : (oil on panel 1635-1640) a very muted colour painting of the far back of the river with a church – very much like the view over the Cam to Fen Ditton
- Philips Koninck: Flat Landscape with a Broad River: (oil on canvas c 1648) again very muted colours, dominated by the sky. The sky is now looming overhead with nearer clouds larger and again subtle lighting on the horizon and the river.
- Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël: Polder Landscape: (watercolour 1828-1903) simple monochrome image of two barges. Here the focus is on the water and some birds in the foreground. The horizon to a featureless sky is in the middle of the frame.
- Adriaen van Ostade: Landscape: (oil on panel 1639) a summer image with a very dramatic stormy sky with bright patches of light on the ground from breaks in the cloud. The horizon line is again low just above the bottom third of the frame.
- Charles Donker: Snowy Landscape with fences in the foreground: etching 1988 a misty simple monochrome print with large featureless sky, a row of skeletal trees of different types silhouetted against it and fences lines through the snow.
- Landscape etchings and drypoints of Rembrandt (See post and Bikker at.al 2014)
- Later pencil, ink and lithography crayon drawings of Van Gogh that have a more dynamic and twisted style (see Heugten, 2005 and Google images for Van Gogh landscape drawings)
Although the approaches here are largely figurative, many of these images chronicle the harshness of poverty in the Northern climate. The attention to detail and appreciation of the beauty of these human ‘natural’ landscapes under the powerful skies convey a sense of peoples’ place in the world – sometimes lonely and sometimes comforting.
Key Considerations in Landscape Art
Some key considerations in my work are:
- what is the picture trying to communicate? what is the ‘mood‘ of the picture. Awestruck/Sublime, calm/serene, Turner’s turbulence. David’s mystique. Whistler’s mistiness. Colour and dramatic distortions in Hockney. Joy or sorrow in Hambling’s watercolour sunrises and sunsets?
- what shape is the picture? 19th century conventions were usually landscape format with broad vistas. But some late 19th century landscapes and also earlier drawings were much more focused on particular elements in portrait format e.g. trees. Japanese and Chinese landscapes were also often vertical. There can also be very long thin panoramas, or tall thin verticals, square formats also.
- what sort of terrain is depicted? 19th century conventions and also Chinese and Japanese landscapes were concerned with mountains, trees, flat fields, sky, water, river. Sometimes cottages, houses, castles.
- what/who is in it? Are there people? 19th century conventions and before generally used landscape as a backdrop to religious or historical paintings. ‘Landscape paintings’ in both Western and Asian traditions generally had one or two people or a small group of people dwarfed by the natural elements. Sometimes people are excluded altogether e.g Monet’s waterlillies and abstract landscapes like Richter.
- how are the subjects arranged? According to rule of thirds composition to focus or lead the eye to certain features or meaning? Pleasing/picturesque? Are there high, low or central horizons, and diagonals and triangular relationships or swirling circles (See post Landscape Composition).
See further discussion, links and references from:
traditions of etching and lithography of Rembrandt and Sydney Lee
influenced by Maggi Hambling’s abstract watercolours, Degas monoprints and impressionist paintings of Monet and Cezanne
is based on Japanese landscape of Hiroshige and Hokusai and considers further design principles of balance and composition in Japanese art. See Japanese Woodblock Prints
drawing on work of Abstract Expressionists are often evocative of landscapes
Alexander, J., (2013) Landscape: Photography 2, Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Barringer, T., Devaney, E., Drabble, M., Gayford, M., Livingstone, M. & Salomon, X. F., (2013) David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, London: Royal Academy of Arts.
Bikker, J., Webber, G. J. M., Wiesman, M. W. & Hinterding, E., (2014) Rembrandt: the late works, London: National Gallery.
Hambling, M., (2006) Maggi Hambling the Works and Conversations with Andrew Lambirth, London: Unicorn Press Ltd.
Hambling, M., (2015) War, Requiem and Aftermath, London: Unicorn Press Ltd.
Hauptman, J., (2016) Degas: A Strange New Beauty, New York: MoMA.
Heugten, S. V., (2005) Van Gogh draughtsman: the masterpieces, Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum.
Hockney, D., (2004) Hockney’s Pictures, London: Thames & Hudson.
Hoerschelmann, A., (2016) Anselm Kiefer: The Woodcuts, Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag.
Kossoff, L., (2014) London Landscapes, London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles: Annely Juda Fine Art, Galerie Lelong, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, L.a.Louvre.
Langmuir, E., (2018) A Closer Look at Landscape, London: National Gallery.
Leopold, R., (2004) Egon Schiele Landscapes, Munich, Berlin, London, New York: Prestel.
Logan, A.-M., (1988) Dutch and Flemish Drawings and Watercolours, New York: Hudson Hills Press.
Meyrick, R., (2013) Sydney Lee Prints: A Catalogue Raisonnee, London: Royal Academy of the Arts.
Porzio, D. (ed.) (1982) Lithography: 200 years of art, history & technique, London: Bracken Books.
Stechow, W., (1966) Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century, New York: Phaidon Publishers.
Stevens, C. & Wilson, A. (eds.) (2017) David Hockney, London: Tate Publishing.
Wildenstein, D., (2017) Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism, Koln: Taschen.
Galleries and Exhibitions
Alde Valley Spring Festival
I, Claudius Spring Exhibition (April 21 to May 20 2018)
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (25 May – 13 August 2017)
Places of the mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850–1950 (23 February – 28 August 2017)
Maggi Hambling – Touch: works on paper (8 September 2016 –29 January 2017)
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Maggi Hambling: The Wave (27 April – 8 August 2010) monoprints and ethcings
The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Monet & Architecture (9 April 2018 to 29 July 2018)