Landscape a discussion…part one.
Landscape painting is probably the most ubiquitous form of art in today’s contemporary art world. It is certainly the most popular as it shows in the release of ‘Annual Art Bought Data’ report. And it has been for year after year the only genre that outsold every other genré. Most contemporary painters have turned their hand to painting landscape (as some point in time). And for very good reasons other than ‘selling’, it is accessible and open to a Kaleidoscope of interpretation by painters. Historically landscape painting enjoys a rich inheritance. The most renown landscape painter in today’s society is probably Monet. He is the first artists name that would sit easy on the lips of the public when talking about painting. But, this popularity wasn’t always the case.
Landscape as a autonomous work of Art, was once was frowned upon and not taken seriously by those who controlled the output of Artists work. Landscape painting was viewed as a ‘non-educated’ (sic: non-intellectual) form of art. During the fifteenth century and some to extent the sixteenth century. The ‘mode’ of painting that was to be given a high status especially by the powerful art Academics, were the historical referenced painting. i.e. ancient Greek myths, biblical stories or Viking legends etc. It was these subjects were seen as the only serious form of art, one that an artist should select as subject matter. Landscapes were only necessary to create the ‘stage’ or as ‘support’ for the human figures within them, classical historical figures that acted out their part to help illustrate the story of the chosen subject matter. These background landscapes were painted in a specific way or with predetermined exacting tonal values that laid themselves back on the painting, always subservient to the human figure.
The reasoning behind this ‘rule’ was deliberate and ensured that only the ‘highly educated’ could pick out the subtle placement of symbolic object references, or have an in-depth knowledge of the story told within the work. Subtle references that could be discussed at length by a higher social class of citizen to demonstrate their own intellectual prowess and greater learning. Thus meaning the artists who created these works needed a high level of educated instruction themselves. This ensured (usually) that artists came from mostly affluent families, or those artists who were seen as gifted and then were educated by the establishment, perhaps from an early age. In the UK this was often the case, however with the rare exception of Joseph Mallard William Turner. A natural artist who’s gift was so immense, he could not be ignored by the then ‘all-mighty’ Royal Academy in London.
How did landscape, rise above this myopic system of Art?
In Europe by the seventeenth century the Dutch and Flemish school broke the mould somewhat with the work of Aelbert Cuyp, Jacop Van Rusisdael and, even more influential (for the change in attitude towards landscape painting), were the artists Vermeer and Peter Paul Rubens. Although Rubens was largely regarded as a baroque artist of classical subjects, with the painting “Landscape with Philemon and Baucis” c.1620/1625, for example, the artist ensured that ‘landscape’ played far more than simply a supporting role, but was in fact the main focus of the painting itself. The obvious differences was in the scale of the human figures in the work, which is totally the opposite of say, Da Vinci, who, despite meticulous attention to his landscape backgrounds, concentrated on the human figure as the dominant subject. Leonardo, like Michelangelo, could never have been regarded as landscape painters, not that either of them even wished to be seen as such, or indeed that that description (as artists) had ever crossed their minds.
Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain were two other influential artists to win-over the art establishments re-evaluation of landscape painting, that it should be taken seriously, and it was a worthy subject unto itself. Perhaps this was because the social and political climate across Europe was changing. Aristocratic patrons of the arts reflected the change in environmental concerns. Landscape gardening, for example, became the ‘must-have’ finishing detail for a new stately mansions estate. That was if the owner was to be taken seriously by the elite governing the country (Royalty). This expensive exercise gave the country’s main power base the feeling of being in ‘harmony’ with nature and the outward appearance of a confident stature and that they had a firm belief in the longevity of their own prosperity and that of the ‘family-name’. The ‘Landed Gentry’ is a title that describes them very well.
In this epoch landscape painting was still not yet a universally popular Art form for everyone to enjoy, but served not to glorify or celebrate nature, but ennoble the rich, the privileged or the powerful….
…Part Two to be published end of August 2020