There are so many landscape artists that this research point became almost overwhelming. I therefore decided to provide a brief overview in this post on the named artists in the course manual plus other artists whose work I have recently seen in exhibitions. I will then pick a couple of artists whose work I find interesting to research further in later posts.
Durer’s (1471-1528) landscapes are the earliest surviving examples in Western art of pure landscape studies. During a journey through the Alps in 1494-5 he recorded a series of topographical watercolours; these studies were then often used in this later etchings and woodcuts, for which he is probably better known.
Whilst Claude Lorraine (c 1600-82) lived prior to the Romantic period his landscapes to me have that idealised, romantic, pastoral feel. Figures are often present in his landscapes and the peasants have that clean, happy, contented feel which is probably far removed from the actual reality of often living in poverty with poor working conditions. Whilst I can admired the technical ability in his landscapes the works themselves do not really engaged me as the viewer; perhaps they are just too far removed from my own interests.
As landscape as a genre in itself becomes established, there is a proliferation of artists working in this field. JMW Turner (1775-1851), John Constable (1776-1837), Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) to name just a few.
Perhaps one of my favourites painters of this period is Samuel Palmer (1805-1881). It is the fairytale, mystical quality which his drawings and paintings process that I find intriguing; I can look at some of his images for a long time and keep finding new things. Also his range of mark making and the stylised quality of this forms draws me into the images. This stylised form recurs in later landscapes I have seen by artists such as Paul Nash (e.g. The Falling Stars, 1912 and Landscape of the Vernal Equinox (III), 1944) and even Grant Wood (e.g. Young Corn, 1931).
I recently visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and his landscapes moved away from depicting the ideal to depicting reality as he saw it. I particularly admire the mark-making in his drawings and his ability to show the ordinary as a subject worthy of drawing or painting.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is probably best known for her close-ups of flowers, however, it is her landscape which I enjoy. Her ability to take a panoramic view and just put the essence of the shapes and colours into the image without it being distracted by detail is something I would like to achieve in my drawings; the shapes in many of her landscape take on animal or human form.
L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) is a painter whose paintings I know well but actually know very little about the artist. I grew up seeing Lowry’s pictures on television and knew the associated phrase (wrong in my view) ‘matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs’, later made into a pop song. Lowry painted the industrial north and the associated houses and landscapes. I have never been that struck by his paintings as I found them a bit of a ‘variation on the theme of’. However, on looking closer at his paintings one of the things I gain from the images is the depth of field he creates in some of the images by having a strong fore, middle and background, whilst using aerial perspective to fade away the background.
I went to the recent Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate (see post here) and have always been drawn to his early images of trees (e.g. The Three in the Night, 1913 and Tree Group 1913) and also his depictions of the battle fields of World War 1 (e.g. We Are Making a New World, 1918). At the exhibition I found the landscapes whilst he lived at Dymchurch fascinating. Perhaps it is because this is very familiar territory to me that I was drawn to these images but what I particularly liked was the strong graphic nature of the paintings with very little detail, highlighting for me the isolation of the individual in a vast expanse of the landscape and man’s need to control nature.
Grant Wood (1891-1942) is probably best known for his painting American Gothic which I recently saw at the Royal Academy exhibition, America after the Fall. However, he also painting landscapes using stylised forms (as indicated previously) and it is these which I found interesting. In many ways they do not show the poverty and problems of the depression of the time but rather a sanitized version of reality.
John Piper (1903-92) is another artist I have always felt drawn towards for his often dark depictions of buildings, such as The Gatehouse, Knole, 1942. What I was less aware of were his depictions of the wider landscape, such as Tryan Mountain, 1950 and his move towards abstraction, such as House at Niton.
I came across Barbara Rae (b 1943) a few years ago and what struck me in her paintings was her ability to take a landscape (sometimes focusing in on one small part) and convey the mood she feels when painting the image. She creates the drama she sees in the landscape with vivid colours and abstract strokes; getting away from representation is something I struggle with, so I admire artists who can do achieve this style.
George Shaw (b 1966) is not an artist I was aware of before undertaking this research. His early paintings of the estate where he grew up remind me of my own upbringing on a council estate. He paints the ordinary houses, garages and other buildings which were as familiar to him as the London churches and squares where familiar to JMW Turner. I really like the absence of people and for me the way his images, rather than conveying a harshness and brutality, convey a warmth, understanding and sympathy with the surroundings.
Sarah Woodfine (b 1968) creates drawings mixing the real and the imaginary. She uses optical illusions and puts the drawings into a three-dimensional space to create a fantasy environment; this seems to come from her training as a sculptor. I have never thought about cutting up drawings and creating in effect mini-theatrical scenes. Something I might try in the future.