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Landscape painting


Landscape Painting depicts the scenery of the natural world with the views that impact the artists eye. In an effort to represent the beauty that meets the eye, the artist tries to capture that fleeting moment in time and space, for all time, thus becoming a co-creator with the original Creator.

In these visions may be, any element that may be natural or man-made. Flora and fauna, the weather, light and darkness all can play a part. There may or may not be, form and color, for even the lack of it shows the painter's perception in the quest for artistry.

From the point of view of the public there is the subtle difference of the merely pictorial and the melding of the artist's own sensibilities and creativity. In other words, one contains the spark of the Divine and is art while the other, merely representation.

Deep Valley, by Guo Xi, (fl. 1020-1090) a representative painter of landscape painting in the Northern Song dynasty, well known for depicting mountains, rivers and forests in winter. By using light ink and magnificent composition to express his open and high artistic conception this piece shows a scene of deep and serene mountain valley covered with snow and several old trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs.

Notes on Landscape Painting

"Landscape is a state of mind." Swiss essayist, Henri Frederic Amiel, nineteenth century.

Landscape painters are also painters of light. It is said that, the overall flood of constant heat and light in the Orient created the monochromatic styles there and the use of pure line as a graphic description. In the West, the ever shifting seasons and subtleties of changing, suffused light, created a very different style of painting, championed by artists such as the Dutch Masters, the Romantics and the sublime, W.J.M. Turner, the Impressionists and Luminists in the United States of America.

Indian Summer, Vermont, by Willard Leroy Metcalf.Study of Gneiss Rock, Glenfinlas, Pen and ink and wash with Chinese ink on paper, by John Ruskin, 1853

In Western art, Landscape painting before the sixteenth century, with few exceptions, such as wall pictures in the Hellenistic period, have been mostly a decorative backdrop until the seventeenth century when serious artists of 'pure' landscape were active. Even then, they were thought of as very low on the scale of subject matter, second only to the flowers and fruit varieties.

Traditionally, landscape art depicts the surface of the Earth, but there are other sorts of landscapes, such as moonscapes and starscapes for example.

The word landscape is from the Dutch, landschap meaning a sheaf, a patch of cultivated ground. The word entered the English vocabulary of the connoisseur in the late seventeenth century.

In Europe, as John Ruskin realized,1 and Sir Kenneth Clark brought to view, in a series of lectures to the Slade School of Art, London, that Landscape Painting was the "chief artistic creation of the nineteenth century," with the result that in the following period people were "apt to assume that the appreciation of natural beauty and the painting of landscape is a normal and enduring part of our spiritual activity"2 In Clark's analysis, underlying European ways to convert the complexity of landscape to an idea were four fundamental approaches:

  • By the acceptance of descriptive symbols,
  • By curiosity about the facts of nature,
  • By the creation of fantasy to allay deep-rooted fears of nature,
  • By the belief in a Golden Age of harmony and order, which might be retrieved.

He said that, "we are surrounded by things which we have not made and which have a life and a structure different from our own and for centuries have inspired us with curiosity and awe." He continued to say that, "Landscape Painting marks the stages in our conception of nature. Its rise and development since the Middle Ages is part of a cycle in which the human spirit attempted once more to create a harmony with its environment." Sir Kenneth Clark also wrote that, "landscape painting was an act of faith and in the early nineteenth century as values declined, faith in nature became a form of religion." and "Almost every Englishman when asked what he thought was meant by the word 'beauty' would begin to describe a landscape."

Sir Kenneth Clark also wrote that Henri Rousseau's ideal of total immersion, could be seen in the paintings of both J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet.

In a book on the phenomena of Krakatoa, (The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester) the volcanic eruption that could be heard clear across the world, the writer states that "Art was born out of the after-effects of this volcano." After millions of tons of dust were hurled into the air in the East Indies, it disseminated around the world for many years and extraordinary sunsets were seen in unusual colors and hues exciting many landscape painters. One of those artists was, Frederic Edwin Church, a member of the Hudson River School, an American nineteenth-century painting group. Sunset Over the Ice on Chaumont Bay, Lake Ontario, a watercolor painting, is said to be the only major painting made after the immediate aftermath of the explosion and stands as vivid testimony to the great eruption. His oil, Twilight in the Wilderness, also has unusual richness of color. J.M.W. Turner the great English master-painter, was also thought to have been influenced by these unusual effects and is famous for painting evening skies colored in the aftermath of the 1815 eruption of Tambora, an earlier but not as lethal, eruption.

A lesser artist, William Ashcroft, who lived on the Thames River in Chelsea, London, painted some five hundred, plus, watercolors and made notes of the unique tints in the sunsets, for several months. These were shown in exhibition but then locked away in the Natural History Museum, in London, almost forgotten.

Landscape painting (European tradition)

The oldest recorded views in the West were cut into rock at Valcamonica, near Lake Guarda, Italy, some 2000 years B.C.E. However, these are geometric and not regarded strictly, as art. The pre-classical civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Agean had landscape motifs that are considered art. The Hellenistic period, shows us the first known paintings of a more naturalistic nature.

In the first century C.E., Roman frescoes of landscapes, decorated rooms that have been preserved at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the first of 'pure' landscapes.

The Renaissance

In Italy, Giovanni Bellini was perhaps the first to mold all the varying styles of precision and mastery of light into one harmonious whole with man, nature and his environment seen on equal terms. The Renaissance produced both Christian and Pagan symbols along with Classical mythology, to praise man rather than any one system. A shift from divine to earthly love is shown in portrayals by both Sandro Botticelli and Titian. Artists began to look at the landscape in a much more studied and scientific way, tired of the old symbolic representations of nature. Leonardo da Vinci studied closely and drew, rocks and the way water and clouds move and botanicals among other subjects, in his Notebooks.

Christ on the Sea of Galilee, by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1560Flight into Egypt, by Jacob Patinir, 1524Proverbs, by Jan Breughel the Elder, copied from a painting by his father Pieter Breughel the Elder.

Spiritual reaction

Mannerism was a reaction to the Renaissance, a way to depict Spirituality over Humanism. A form of Expressionism, it had a love of visual excitement akin to the Gothic tradition, everything was for effect. Tintoretto, Saint Mary of Egypt in Meditation, 1585 (oil on canvas) and El Greco, the Greek, 1541-1614, View of Toledo (oil on canvas) were great examples. Peter Paul Rubens', 1577-1640, landscapes were full of both naturalism and romantic escapism. The Hurricane, 1624 (oil on wood) is typical and his rainbows anticipated W.J.M. Turner.

The Northern naturalism

Sixteenth century Flemish landscape began with Joachim Patinir and lasts over a hundred years and ends with the refined Jan Breughel the Elder, or Velvet or Flower Breughel, with sublime religious subjects, as in, Sodom and Gomorrah, (oil on copper). His father, Pieter Breughel the Elder, or Peasant Breughel (for his portrayals of that life) was considered the greatest of Flemish painters of the period with his combination of Italian maniera or style and Netherlands realism. Hunters in the Snow, 1565 (Oil on wood) is believed to be, December or January, from a series of the Months.

Dutch painters soon moved towards a new naturalism unhampered by literary or classical allusions. This commitment to landscape for its own sake was novel in it's time. Light, became the dominant theme and realism needed by a newly rich class. These were the honest tributes to this northern landscape of flat fields and low skies. The new Dutch syle began with Hercules Seghjers of Haarlem, 1590-1638, with a kind of imaginative realism as in Rocky Landscape (oil on canvas) and a golden light that Rembrandt admired, owning several of his work.

The new French and English Schools

In France during the reign of Louis XIV, the argument as to which was more important, color or drawing came to a head. The partisans of drawing favored Nicolas Poussin, whilst those of color, Peter Paul Rubens. This battle was won when, a product of the Rococo period, Antoine Watteau was accepted into the French Academy in 1717, with his Embarkation for Cythera. This painting has wistful lovers in a theatrical tableau and it began the career of the most famous French colorist and painter of lovers and musicians of the eighteenth century. This later led to the idylls of Jean-Honore Fragonard, 1732-1806, the last great painter of the eighteenth century, who along with Watteau, seemed to consider nature as well-tended parks and gardens and the latter contemplated the world with more than delight and painted it with freshness and freedom. The Shady Avenue, 1736-1776, (oil on wood) a fine example.

Thomas Gainsborough, a portraitist, in England, belonged to a period in which his fellow countrymen tried to make actual 'places' into living versions of classical paintings. When these formal gardens were then used as starting points of landscape paintings, history had gone full circle, as in Landscape with a Bridge, after 1774, Oil on canvas. In the nineteenth century, Romanticism, the opposite of classicism or neo-classicism began to take on a variety of meanings and introduced the idea of the sublime. This, was to bring forth the ideal of feeling, as to opposed to cold reason. This resulted in very dramatic works, later echoed in some of the Hudson Valley painters in America.

The Romantic North

In northern countries the Romantic view of nature varied enormously. Painters either were sternly realistic or tried to show off the characteristic beauties of their country. German artist,Caspar David Friedrich 1774-1840, was the exception and the greatest exponent of the Romantic landscape in northern Europe. Mountain Landscape with Rainbow, 1809 (oil on canvas) conveys a sense of mystery of the bewilderment of man confronted with the huge Creation. His conveyance of the romantic and the sublime also had great influence later in American painting as with the English painters, John Martin and J.M.W. Turner.

The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists

The Banks of the Marne, Paul Cezanne, 1888

From a small exhibition given by a few close friends working in the same way together, came the name for their genre. The freshness and immediacy of execution, shocked the public and the neglect of proper 'subjects' by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Paul Cezanne. Monet's Impression: Sunrise gave rise to the sarcastic comment, "an exhibition of impressionists."

When the Impressionists were at their best, they wove a pattern of light and shade over their canvases, eliminating hard outlines and graded shading. Their sheer use of pure color would have amazed their predecessors. Black and brown were removed for color absorbed them. Claude Monet 1840-1926, profited from working with Pierre-Auguste Renoir, (1841-1919), who'd been a painter of china. As plein air artists they'd finish canvases in their studios, with Monet's on a house boat at one point.


Over the centuries Russian culture has been formed both in opposition to social and material reality and its artists transformed the tragedy of existence into metaphysical beauty. For many the artistic image represented life itself. The messianic attitude towards creativity has always existed in Russia and especially during the early twentieth century when the artists of the Russian avant-garde like Marc Chagall and Vasily Kandinsky changed the very concept of the relationship between the visible and invisible worlds. The artist is always a missionary who must look beyond the objective world into the mysteries of existence.

Examples are;

  • Isak Leitan, Above Eternal Rest, 1894 (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Silvester Schedrin, Russian Romantic, A Small Harbour in Sorrento near Naples (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
  • Alexander Ivanov, between Classicism and Romanticism, Via Appia, 1845 (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Fedor Alexev, View of the Palace Embankment from the Peter and Paul Fortress (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Alexei Venetsianov On the Harvest: Summer (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Nikifor Krylov, Winter Landscape, 1827 (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
  • Grigorii Soroka, Fishermen We, 1840s (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
  • Fedor Vasiliev, Wet Meadow, 1872 (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Ivan Shishkin, Rye, 1878 (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Arkship Kuindzhi, At Night, 1905-1908 (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
  • Isaak Levitan Spring, High Water (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Victor Borisov-Musatov, Gobelin, 1901, Oil on canvas, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Pavel Kuznetsov, Shearing Sheep, ca. 1912 (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
  • Aristarkh Lentulov, Cubist, Moscow, 1913 (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Wasily Kandinsky, Sketch For Composition, 1909-1910 (oil on canvas) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,
  • Kasmir Malevich, Red Cavalry, 1928-1932 (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg.
  • Alexander Labas, The Train is Going, 1929 (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
  • Alexander Deineka, Collective Farmworker on a Bicycle, 1935 (oil on canvas) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg,
  • Arkady Plastov, Reaping, 1945 (oil on canvas) The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow,
  • Eric Bulatov, Krasikov Street, 1977 (oil on canvas) Jane Vorhees Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, the Norton and Nancy Dodge collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.

Gallery Russian landscape art

  • Kuskovo Palace and Estate of the Counts Sheremetev in Moscow, Watercolor, 1839

  • Ostankino palace and manor in Moscow, Watercolor by Vasily E. Raev, 1858

  • Sukharev Tower, by Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, 1872

  • Moscow I, by Wassily Kandinsky, 1916

  • Clouds and Golden Domes at the Simonov Monastery, Apollinary Vasnetsov, 1927

  • Krishna, from the "Kulu" series by Nicholas Roerich, 1929

  • St. Panteleimon the Healer, by Nicholas Roerich, 1931

  • The First Tractor, by Vladimir Krikhatsky

Freedom in the twentieth century

Freed from many old constraints, artists began to experiment more and more, with happy results; Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, a brilliant colorist with The Blue Room, The Bluff 1907 (oil on canvas) and a leading spirit of the the Fauves or "wild beasts," with vivid and highly decorative motifs. Raoul Dufy a designer, painted with sketchy frivolity and decorative color, Maurice Utrillo his beloved Paris-scapes, and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) painted by laying on thick layers of oil with a knife and other flat instruments. Wasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944, a Russian painter, printmaker and art theorist, is credited with making the the first abstract paintings in the West.

  • Luxury, Calm, and Pleasure, by Henri Matisse, 1904

  • Open Window, Collioure, by Henri Matisse, 1905

  • The River Seine at Chatou, Maurice de Vlaminck, 1906

  • The Circus, by Maurice de Vlaminck, 1910

Landscape painting (American tradition)

In The Beginning, All the World was America - John Locke

In the woods, is perpetual Youth. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. - Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature

Young America

Florimells Flucht, by Washington Allston, 1819View in the White Mountains, by Thomas Cole, 1827Tower Creek, by Thomas Moran, 1871

In America the young nation began with its influences chiefly from England and the European tradition. gradually, over time as if molded by the landscape itself, uniquely American genres and styles were born with more than an occasional nod back over the ocean.

The thoroughly American branch of painting, based upon the facts and tastes of the country and people is… landscape James Jackson Jarves in his book The Art-idea, 1864.

The Hudson River School painters

Many of the landscapes produced in the eighteenth century were strictly topographical; views of towns or beauty spots and were often made by military men. In the early decades of the nineteenth, landscape began to be created as pure and ideal. Thomas Doughty, 1793-1852, from Philadelphia began with picturesque composition, while History painter Washington Allston, Diana On a Chase 1805, trained in London, with his allegorical scenes rooted in the Italian tradition and naturalized by the English, gave stimuli to Thomas Cole's ambitious program to create a uniquely American landscape art.

Coming of Age

Frederic Edwin Church painted prolifically in the Hudson River valley and also traveled and painted in South America. His landscape painting were rivaled was Albert Bierstadt, with his sensational paintings of the American West. Born In Germany in 1830 and with his family, moved to America at age two and later returned to Dusseldorf to study painting. On return in 1859, he went on an expedition the explore the Rocky Mountains. The great picture that he made on his return was The Rocky Mountain, Lander's Peak, 1863 (oil on linen). His style was cool, objective and very detailed and had already been proved by a Swiss painting of Lake Lucerne. His technique was to make pencil sketches and small oil studies. His brothers ran a photographic studio and he also used a camera. His work was known as new Ideal landscape as in Among the Sierra Mountains, California shown in London in 1868, 'not fiction but portraiture', was the reaction. Sunset in the Yosemite Valley, 1868 (oil on canvas) was described by the artist as the Garden Eden, 'the most magnificent place I was in,' recalling Cole's Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1827-1828 (oil on canvas). As a result of paintings from this area, in 1864, during the American Civil War, landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (creator of Central Park, in New York City drafted a bill for the preservation of Yosemite Valley, for the nation, which President Abraham Lincoln signed into law.

A new century, new ideas

Winslow Homer another great painter began as an illustrator in Boston and served as an artist during the Civil War, he was famous for wood engravings and soon his oils and watercolors became as popular. He travelled extensively and saw Japanese prints in France and took the best ideas of the west and the east and made them his own. He described the physical phenomena of the sea with spontaneity in both watercolor and oil. His West Point, Prout's Neck, 1900 (oil on canvas) combined these elements of style, a new vision for a new century.

Marsden Hartley was one of the first great modern painters, although an itinerant, constantly struggling with his personal life and finances and unable to settle, he alternated between Nova Scotia, Maine, New England and New York. His paintings of The Last Stone Walls, Dogtown (Gloucester, Mass.) 1936-1937 (oil on canvas) reminiscent of Pynkham Ryder, point the way to future modernism.

Regionalism, the Mid-West and South-West

Grant Wood's Fall Plowing 1931 (oil on canvas) at a time of great financial depression shows an ideal mid-western agrarianism. Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry are considered the trinity of Regionalism, an anti-dote to Modern Art. Wood had studied Flemish art and was highly stylized but Alexandre Hogue made stronger comments on the abuse and exploitation of the land with his The Crucified Land 1939 (oil on canvas) and paintings of the Dust Bowl. Georgia O'Keefe, who had made her mark in New York City with her city-scapes and close-up flower paintings moved to New Mexico permanently after her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz's death in 1946. Moving between abstraction and realism she portrayed the Southwest and the desert with sensuality and ambiguity as in Black Place 11 (oil on canvas).

Towards realism and a new realism

Andrew Wyeth for all the argument about his work is indeed a painter of significance and realism. At first his work was thought of as photographic but with the advent of Photo Realism (in the 1970s) it was realized just how interpretive he was. Ring Road 1985 (tempera) shows an almost oriental feeling and abstraction. In the mid-1950s and 1960s came a shift from abstract to figurative painting on both the East and West coasts. In California, the influences included Henri Matisse; Richard Diebenkorn, View From a Porch (oil on canvas) 1959, Wayne Thiebaud, Coloma Ridge, 1967-1968 (acrylic and pastel on canvas) David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Landscape Afternoon 1959 (oil on canvas) Paul Wonner, James Weeks and Theophilus Brown. In the East, the Abstract Expressionists had held sway but that began to change, too.

The inner landscape

Other artists who work with an abstract or surrealistic style to explore the inner landscapes of ourselves and our imagination, include; Jan Parker in Hawaii and Benny Andersson in New Jersey.

Benny Andersson paints "visual prayers, intended to promote deep reflection and healing within the viewer and to have a spiritual and uplifting effect on the soul, to keep dreams alive." He likens artists as "messengers of truth and beauty." His landscapes, full of unique imagery, cosmic and earthly visions, recall Hieronymus Bosch and are endowed with transparent colors as clear as glass. Unlike Bosch, Andersson shows the viewer worlds free from danger, impurity and abuse and allows nature to be seen as through the eyes of the newborn child.

  • Tree, by Benny Andersson

  • Sea, by Benny Andersson

  • Crossing, by Benny Andersson

Canada landscape painting

As explorers, naturalists, mariners, merchants and settlers arrived on the shores of Atlantic Canada in the early centuries of its exploration, they were confronted by what they saw as a hostile and dangerous environment and an unforgiving sea. These Europeans tried to cope with the daunting new land by mapping, recording and claiming it as their own. Their understanding of the specific nature of this land and its inhabitants varied greatly, with observations ranging from highly accurate and scientific to outlandish or fantastic. These observations are documented in the landscape works they produced. In more recent times some of the best examples of Canadian landscape art can be found in the works of the Group of Seven.3and the British Columbia forest-scapes of Emily Carr. The indigenous peoples of Canada, the Inuit and First Nations' peoples, created their art work as part of their daily lives and did not have languages for art. In examples of hunting and fishing, the waters and other natural elements are a backdrop to the action.

"Artistic expression is a spirit, not a method, a pursuit, not a settled goal, an instinct, not a body of rules." - Foreword, Group of 7 Exhibition of Paintings, exhibition catalog, Art Gallery of Toronto, 1922.

Among the thousands of artists that have worked in these extensive and vast lands, here are a few, some who have been influenced by European and American traditions and a few who have created their own. George Back, 1796-1878, Broaching to, - Canoe crossing the Melville Sound, 1821 (watercolor) from sketchbook. Made during a heroic voyage on an overland Arctic expedition to the Coppermine River.

James Pattison Cockburn, 1779-1847, General Hospital, Quebec, 1830 (watercolor and gum arabic over graphite on woven paper). A Major General and Commander of the Royal Artillery in British North America, he was able to use his sketchbooks on his tours of Upper and Lower Canada. At his home garrison at Quebec City, he was to paint many points of view.

William Brymner, 1855-1925, A Wreath of Flowers, 1884 (oil on canvas). An influential teacher at the Art Institute of Montreal, this was painted in England with some knowlege of Impressionism.

Franklin Carmichael, 1890-1945, Bay of Islands 1930 (watercolor on paper). The youngest member of the Group of Seven artists, giving a panoramic view north of Lake Superior.

Emily Carr, 1871-1945, Red Cedar, 1931-1933 (oil on canvas) and Sky, 1935 (oil on wove paper). Speaking of her love for the beauty of Canadas' woods, she asked, "Am I one-idea'd, small, narrow? God is in them all." Her depictions of a cloud-filled heaven radiates with life and energy which she noted reflected her spiritual beliefs. She is also remembered for her depictions of First Nations' villages.

Jack Chambers, 1931-1978, Towards London No. 1 1968-1969 (Oil on mahogany). Working from a photograph, he states that he wants to capture "this eternal present." The year that he finished this painting he published an essay, "Perceptual Realism."

Alfred Joseph Casson, 1898-1992, Hillside Village. 1927 (Watercolor on paper). As a member of the Group of Seven he painted the Ontario hillside town to be different from the others and because he loved these old but disappearing places. He helped form the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Color.

Gallery Canadian landscape art

  • Mount St. Helens Erupting at Night, by Paul Kane, 1847

  • Fort Edmundton, by Paul Kane, 1856

  • The Toll Gate, by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1859

  • Midsummer, by Helen McNicoll, 1909

  • The Ice Harvest, by Maurice Cullen, 1913

  • Sunrise, Lac Tremblant, by Maurice Cullen, 1922

Australia landscape painting

Back to Australian Tales is from the collection of Warrnambool Art Gallery, Hamilton Art Gallery, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Geelong Gallery, Benalla Art Gallery, Lismore Regional Art Gallery, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Queensland University of Technology Art Museum, Devonport Gallery and Arts Centre, Logan Art Gallery and University of South Australia Art Museum.

This small selection of Australian landscape painting, beginning with the period of European settlement, highlights different ways of depicting land and organizing pictorial space. Of course for a long time before the arrival of Europeans, Aboriginal people were interpreting aspects of their land through song, art, dance and ceremony.

It is interesting to note changes in regard to creating the illusion of depth in landscape painting. In the past a horizon line was used to create a sense of vast space. The resulting effect was that it positioned the viewer at a distance from the landscape. Later, as indigenous and contemporary art influenced artists and as we have come to know the landscape better, t