Monday, October 03, 2005

19th Century Landscape - Introduction

It is helpful to look at a single landscape from many points of view. In order to appreciate alternative art historical viewpoints you need to examine individual works in detail and to compare pairs of work. Particularly fruitful works to examine are Turner's Ploughing up Turnips, Near Slough, Constable's Hay Wain and Ploughing Scene and Brown's Carrying Corn. As an example of alternative viewpoints we could look at the Turner formally (i.e. based on its appearance, composition, colour and so on), is it a Claudian landscape for example, or picturesque, or agricultural, or we could look at the subject matter, is it supporting the established land owning view, is it patriotic, or is it a radical work?

Compare and Contrast Constable and Whistler

Whitehall Stairs, June 18th, 1817 (The Opening of Waterloo Bridge). 1832. Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London, UK.

(also see The Opening of Waterloo Bridge 1829, Oil on canvas, 24 3/8 x 39 in (62 x 99 cm), Yale Center for British Art, New Haven)

Constable first started to plan a large canvas about the opening of Waterloo Bridge around 1819, but over the years his ideas about how to treat it changed. Originally he intended to focus on the royal embarkation at the foot of Whitehall Stairs. However, in the finished picture, shown here, this recedes into the middle distance, and the sky and river both assume greater importance.

This was the largest of Constable’s exhibition canvases. It owes a debt to the Thames subjects of Canaletto and the great ‘historical’ landscapes painted by the seventeenth-century French artist Claude Lorraine.

Married Mary Bicknell in 1816 and moved to Keppel Street, Bloomsbury (between Gower Street and Malet Street). Constable was made an ARA in 1819 and an RA in 1829.

When John Constable was exhibiting his "Opening of Waterloo Bridge", Turner stood behind Constable watching him put colour on the flags, next day Turner brings his palette and paint a red buoy on the sea then just left...."He has been here' said Constable, 'and fired a gun'.

Did Constable work on it for 15 years on and off?

James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Nocturne in Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge. 1872-75. Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London, UK

“It is a perfect example of Whistler's translations from the Japanese. Its point of origin was probably a woodblock print by Hiroshige, which features a large curving bridge with fireworks behind it, on a river at night. Whistler's version brings the big T of the pier and roadway of the bridge so high that it no longer resembles Hiroshige's, or bears the least physical resemblance to any structure over the Thames, let alone Battersea Bridge. The dim figure in the foreground, balanced on the stern of a barge, could equally well be a Japanese boatman. But the essence of the painting is its haunting, intense, twilight blue - a blue so ethereal and pervasive that it appears to supersede nature in artifice, while the falling rocket fire spangles it like the gold flakes embedded in Japanese maki-e enamel.”

Text from "American Visions", by Robert Hughes, see

Constable Whistler
Classical landscape type Linking painting and music
Snow effect Harmonious and abstract like music
Light everywhere, no cast shadows Faithful representation of background?
Trying to get in RA? Difficult to decipher
Nationalistic Fireworks
Pageantry Embankment built at this time
Impasto Depicting pollution
Too far away to see bridge clearly Too near to see bridge clearly
An actual historical event Did Whistler use photographs?
Impressions, feelings

The issue of the use of photographs needs to be explored. Sickert, Degas used them but others were coy.

The both have a sense of nostalgia. The Constable has pageantry, is up-beat, busy, with action, and no shadows cast. Whistler has a sense of loss.

Do these paintings challenge our sense of modernity?

Memory played a very important role in the the 19thC. The famous row between Gauguin and van Gogh was about memory, Gauguin thought painting from memory was the only way.

The Constable shows a contemporary event. It was the time of the juste milieu in France, Corot, pre-Barbizon. Constable’s Haywain received a Gold Prix in Paris in 1824.

On this course we will cross the boundaries between styles and try to forget the stereotypes of Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post Impressionism and Aestheticism.

Historical Background

There was little landscape in the ancient world as pictures centered on human activities and the relationship between man and the world.

One of a few Greek wall paintings that survived, is the Tomb of the Diver, c. 475 BC in Paestum Italy, from a necropolis (city of the dead) of Poseidonia (The older Greek name of Paestum). Scenes of a Symposium, males in love and Kottabos players and a diver. A normal tomb was a rectangular hole cut in the rocky ground sometimes lined internally with stuccoed travertine slabs. Some sources consider this an Etruscan tomb but even then there due to the close relations with the Greeks in Italy it a piece with Greek influence.

Egyptian – Field of Reeds

Odyssey landscape: attack of the Laestrygonians

The story starts with literature, Theocrotus, and the idea of the rural life, withdrawal into a rural bliss and simplicity. This idea was picked up by Virgil in his Eucologues and Georgics.

The sacral-idyllic landscape – see Pompeii 70AD – the sacral idyllic landscape. Little temples, altars and statues of the gods. Pastoral scenes of shepherds and agricultural work. Based on lost Greek descriptions.

Villa of P. Fannius Synostor at Boscoreale. Creating trompe l’oeuil views of architecture and landscape recreated at the Met in New York.

Garden of Livia, Prima Porta, an illusionistic landscape. So in Roman times we see the distinction between the real and the ideal sacral-idyllic landscape.


  • Diminishing forms
  • Individual perspective for each object but no overall perspective based on parallel lines meeting at a vanishing point on the horizon. This was invented by Brunelleschi in 1413.
  • Aerial perspective - things further away are bluer, paler and fainter. Stronger and darker colours are used for near objects.
  • Strong detail in the foreground and the use of small objects such as weeds and pebbles.
  • Shadow to create pockets of three-dimensionality.
  • The background is often raised by the use of mountains or hills in the distance. In reality we rarely see hills rising in the background but in painting this technique is often used.

The ideal landscape of Claude, 'Landscape with Hagar and the Angel', 1646. London, The National Gallery, was seen by Turner and Constable.

Poussin and the heroic landscape (see

Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake, 1648, Oil on canvas, 119,4 x 198,8 cm, National Gallery, London

Topographical landscape: Ruisdael

Full title: 'A Landscape with a Ruined Building at the Foot of a Hill by a River', about 1655, Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628/9? – 1682. The attribution has been questioned. There are two other versions.

'A Dutch Ship and other Small Vessels in a Strong Breeze', 1658, Willem van de Velde, 1633 - 1707

We have the Italianate landscape versus the Dutch landscape.

Realism and naturalism are a minefield. A realistic painting includes components we accept as real as opposed to say romantic comedy.

Issues we will be dealing with are Englishness (is landscape an English style). Cliffs and rolling hills.

Function and display. Eidometropolis.

The Blind Girl (1856). John Everett Millais (June 8, 1829–August 13, 1896) was a British painter and illustrator who was one of founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Robert Andrews and His Wife Frances. Detail. About 1748-49. Oil on canvas. National Gallery

Samuel Scott 1702-1772, Part of Old Westminster Bridge, Tate.

Patrick Heron, Cobalt and Indigo in Ultramarine, 1970.

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, The Soul of the Soulless City (`New York - an Abstraction'), 1920. © Tate 2003

Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed The Great Western Railway.

Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844. Oil on canvas, 91 x 122 cm. Turner Bequest.

The scene is fairly certainly identifiable as Maidenhead railway bridge, which spans the Thames between Taplow and Maidenhead. The bridge, designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and completed in 1839, has two main arches of brick, very wide and flat. The view is to the east, towards London.

On the left people are boating on the river, while to the right a ploughman works on a field. The tranquility of these traditional activities contrasts with the steam train rushing towards the viewer, the stark outline of its black funnel clearly visible. In front of the train a hare, one of the speediest of animals, dashes for cover.

Turner's picture can be associated with the 'railway mania' which swept across England in the 1840s. It is also an outstanding example of his late style of painting. Sky and river landscape are dissolved in a haze of freely applied oil paint, to give a striking impression of the contrasting movement of driving rain and speeding train.

John William Inchbold A Study in March, 1830-1888

Recollection. Barden Fells 1866

John Brett 1831-1902

Britannia's Realm 1880, Oil on canvas, support: 1054 x 2121 mm

John Brett was unusual among marine artists in that in his early career he was known as the Pre-Raphaelite painter of 'The Stonebreaker' (1858) and of mountain landscapes. These pictures were remarkable for their fine detail. He believed that paintings of the sea should also show detail clearly, and that artists should not make things easier to paint by blurring objects at a distance. Many of his seascapes like this one were designed in a double square format. This view is near Tenby, in Pembrokeshire. It is an exceptionally broad panorama, and Brett here broke his habit of giving his paintings the straightforward titles of their location.

Tony Cragg born 1949

Britain Seen from the North 1981

Richard Billingham (born 1970), Ethiopian Landscape IV, 2001, photograph.

Richard Long, Brownstone Circle New York, 2000

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