Using internet search engines and any other resources, find at least 12 examples of eighteenth and nineteenth century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities you can find across your examples. Consider the same sorts of things as you did for the sketching exercise at the start if Part One. Where possible try to find out why the examples you found were painted. (e.g public or private commission) Your research should provide you with some examples of the visual language and conventions that were known to the early photographers.
Now try to find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions.
Collate your research and note down your reflections in your learning log.
This was quite a bit easier than the critical essay by Krauss. I really enjoyed searching for the landscape paintings, in fact I spent an evening researching the Oxbow lake by Thomas Cole which I will add in a separate post after this.
I googled 18th and 19th Century Paintings and found the following also searching art websites.
1. Oxbow Lake – painted by Thomas Cole in 1836. See my full review here
Cole was commissioned by his Patron, Luman Reed to create a series entitled the ‘Course of Empire’ It was to be a ‘series of no less than five paintings.’ Whilst excited at first Cole began to sink into depression as the work was intensely slow. Reed recommended Cole created something for the opening of the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition. Cole suggested using one of the images from the series he was working on but Reed turned the idea down, feeling it would spoil the unveiling of the series. His next suggestion was to change American landscape painting for ever, Cole was instructed to create a painting much like one from the series he was creating. When Reed had seen it he said ‘no man ever produced a more pleasing landscape in a more pleasing season’ Cole responded in a letter,
I have already commenced a view from Mt. Holyoke—it is about the finest scene I have in my sketchbook & is well known—it will be novel and I think effective
The result was ‘The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm’
2. A Storm in the rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie. Painted by Albert Beirstadt
Taking a year to paint, Beirstadt created a sketch on location then completed it in his studio in New York. The painting captures a feeling of awe as features of the Rocky Mountains have been greatly exaggerated to generate a feeling of ‘awesomeness’ Whilst a colloquial term and perhaps not suitable for a degree I just feel this word sums up the painting. He wanted the image to inspire and for viewers to be enthralled. Again there is a feeling of this being from a fantastical land and again features an oncoming storm. Whilst not searching for images with storms there do seem to be quite a few of storms and American vistas.
3. Hawe Water by George Alexander 1859
Whilst not known as a landscape artist Henry George Alexander creating this beautiful scenic watercolour of Hawes Water in the Lake District. With a style reflecting the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood art movement who believed in ‘truth to nature’
This is more calmer and with a feeling of solitude then the storm wracked images above. It has a photorealism to it.
4. Caspar David Friedrich – The Monk by the Sea
A dark romantic landscape artist, Friedrich style differs greatly from the above, focusing greatly on layers, texture and form as opposed to the great detail of those above. As much acclaimed as it was criticised comments were made how the painting lacked the framing device known as repoussoir, an element placed on the left or right foreground designed to draw the eye further into the image. This image inspired many other artists to create something similar despite the criticism.
5. Carl Hallström – Dusk/Twilight
A beautiful and evocative painting of the 19th Century artist Carl Hallstrom. I can’t find the reason for which the painting was created.
6. Chasm of the Colorado – Thomas Moran 1873
Yet another American scene, this one is so striking and on first sight I knew I had to include it. Featuring characterful ragged rocks, a dramatic sky and such a perspective it feels like you can reach into the distance. Hundreds of sketches built up into this epic vista of Arizona.
7. Hardekoolbome – Bosveld by Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957)
I love the contrast of this painting to all the others, a 19th Century South African painting, the colours are so fresh and vibrant, whilst the corner is dark the image shimmers with light and once again we see the dramatic clouds rolling in. It’s immediately obvious that this image is different to the ones above, I would say it had the most similarity with John Alexander Hawes Water. You look at it and know it’s from a different continent than America or UK or the Swedish artist. And I love that, it’s uniqueness brings something fresh and new to the list I’m compromising here.
‘Pierneef realised that he was setting the trend for a unique South African style’ – wikipedia
8. Jules Dupré –
I have chosen a famous French landscape painting here by the acclaimed Jules Dupré. According to Wikipedia, he learned how to express movement in nature. And this can be seen here, the brush strokes imitate the plaufyllness of the wind in the trees and the ever changing weather. I like how the cloud brushstrokes are reflected in the pool of water. Again though I searched I struggled to find why this was painted, but I do know that he loved showing the majesty of nature which he believed was spiritual, and appealingly that trees were elements linking heaven and earth together.
9.Unknown by Shemyon Shchedrin in 1796.
Though featuring a Russian scene, this image is more of an echo of Western works at the time, the landscape “Not only are the gardens landscaped to imitate Western taste, but the landscape itself is more evocative of Western Europe than the Baltic seaboard.”
10. Yosemite Valley by Thomas Hill 1867
Thomas Hill was an America artist who created beautiful paintings of many areas included Yosemite. He accompanied the photographer Benjamin West Kilburn who was famous for creating stereographs. These stereographs were probably Hill’s reference when he created his paintings in his studio.
11. by Lazlo Neogrady
Lazlo Neogrady, a Hungarian artists speciality was painting natural landscapes (which usually featured forests under a thick snow) and using the art technique impasto, where paint is laid so thickly on the canvas or paper that it can be scraped off giving it an almost three dimension appearance. This is probably why his paintings feel like you could step into them.
12. Man Strolling in Wooded Landscape by A.A. Mills
The final image I chose is yet again American, however this painting resonated with me, the feeling of peacefulness, of solitude.
Thought – One thing I noticed when searching for landscape paintings of that era in google images, is that the large majority of them seemed to from American artists of American vistas. To mix up the selection I added British art and searched for some other countries. I’d be interested to undertake some research as to where landscape painting originated.
Whilst reading about American landscape painting, I came across the Powell Survey. Initiated in 1873, it was a brain child of John Wesley Powell (a Civil war veteran who had become a geologist) and the English painter, Thomas Moran (who painted the image above, Chasm of the Colorado) initiated the Powell Survey, a cartographical and scientific exploration to create a representation of the Colorado and the Green river and unexplored parts of the canyon. Part of the exploration was also to create narrative records and visual creations. A decade long exploration there was great hard ship and near drownings all to create an ‘accurate image of the native cultures and natural landscapes of the American West’ Cartographers, photographers, artists were among those hired.
‘Painters of the late 19th century were intimately familiar with geology, cartography and exploration. Landscape topics were ripe metaphors for expansionism and exceptionalism, and popular with merchants and industrialists who were major patrons of the arts.’
It was fascinating and very enjoyable seeking out these landscape artists, some of them were easier to track down than others, it’s sad to see the paintings that have no names and very little information about them. Perhaps this was meant to a quick exercise and spending time over two days is a little excessive but I feel that my own art is benefiting from noticing the techniques employed in these paintings, I love hearing what inspired the artist. My favourite two images are Ox-bow and Chasm of Colorado. Both are intensely dramatic, powerful and have a beautiful mastery of light.
Similar Compositional Devices
I noted the following of the twelve paintings
- The majority focused on nature, the wilderness of landscape and humans occupancy upon it. However the human aspect was not a main feature at all, in fact a time traveller or someone who had no experience of the landscape then may have thought that people had not settled as very few settlements are shown.
- People are included but not greatly and usually serve to provoke emotion, relation or interest. This is a great dispute of modern photography, should people be included. In response to this my tutor said, ‘the landscape doesn’t exist without people. It exists in people’s heads.
- The majority followed the compositional tool placing the horizon in either the lower third of the image or the upper third. Only two ran the horizon directly through the centre of the image.
- Whilst they all are absorbing and beautifully executed paintings only a few of them featured a very clear focal point. And in most of those cases it was of a person. Perhaps that is more to our viewing as we instinctively are drawn to another person in the landscape, even if that figure is so tiny in a a panoramic vista.
- Weather features greatly. Of the twelve images, eight paintings all featured a turbulent sky, whether a fearsome storm as in the Ox-bow or a swirling creation in Jacobus Pierneef.
- Several of the images followed the rule of thirds. Placing the main focus on one of the invisible compositional lines. The ones where they used a bulls eye composition were very striking especially as in ‘Man Strolling in Wooded landscape’
- Only, Monk by the Sea and Shemyon Shchedrin’s featured any empty space. It works especially well with the ‘Monk by the Sea’ as the desolation of the landscape is echoed in the empty sky.
- Lead in lines feature greatly. I feel this is especially powerful in ‘Chasm of the Colorado’ as I mentioned above, for a moment I forget I was looking at a painting.
- The colours used are of nature, green’s and blues excluding the sunrise/set of Twilight.
- Depending on the brush stroke all capture a feeling of texture increasing the illusion of three dimensionality.
- Trees and mountains serve as natural framing to add interest and serve in leading the eye where the artist so wanted.
- All feature great vistas, a splendour of nature.
- They are all painted in a landscape composition as opposed to portrait.
- Whilst this perhaps reflects on my own interests in art I have tried to select a variety of art work. The overall feel of them however would have to be dramatic, thunderous sky, bright contrast, dark moody atmosphere, however there are the optimistic and bright paintings like the Russian painting and the one of the Lake District. And of course the South African artist which has a very positive air about it, bright colours, bright light, beautiful.
Now try to find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions.
My first thought was Ansel Adams, he captured the drama and power of whatever he shot which I felt was also a feature of Thomas Hill’s Ox-bow. You can see the two bear similarities (though Adam’s photo is of the Snake River. Both are dark on the left hand side and feature a sweeping sky. The river begins from the right hand corner. One difference is the compositional placement of the horizon. The painting features it straight across the middle whereas Adam’s is in the upper top half. There is deep contrast and a sharpness. It’s quite poignant the relation they both have. Both masters of their craft.
Below are some others that I feel conform to the above similarities.