English Landscape Painting- Richard Wilson

Pure landscape painting was not considered „real“art and was used mainly as a background for a figur painting. But in Northern Europe, especially Flanders, landscape had grown to be a genre in it’s own right. This interest in the „background“ was awakened with the rise of protestantism. In Protestant Holland artists turned to new themes to replace the religious one and artists like Meindert Hobbema, Salomon van Ruysdael (1603-1670) and Jakob van Ruisdael (1628-1682) had a great influence on the english taste  in the following century. „Good taste“ ruled out the horrors of nature and a refined, tamed nature was deemed preferable. This also had an influence on english garden architecture.

Richard Wilson (1714-1782) is considered the „Father of English Landscape Painting“. While he was working in Italy as a portraitist, Zuccarelli advised him to take to landscape painting. He was influenced by Claude Lorraine depicting romantic but less idealised vistas. Before Wilson, artists sketched from nature and returned to their Studios to produce idealised paintings, but Wilson painted plein air and what he saw. On his return to Wales he concentrated on his surroundings, drawing attention to the Welsh landscape. He painted plein-air – depicting what he saw and what was in front of him. Upto then artists had sketched plein air, but returned to their studios to paint. He inspired John Constable and Turner to literally follow his footsteps and to paint from exactly the same spots as he had done.  He also made a change to the custom of depicting the country houses, which were, upto then, the main point of interest in the painting. Wilson placed them on a side, like Lorraine did with his edifices, something that Constable also followed. But all in all, in spite of his great influence, he died as a pauper.

Richard Wilson 1760
Richard Wilson,Narni, 1760. Image courtesy of http://www.artexpertswebsite.com

I like the fact that he painted plein air and that he later concentrated his attention to the landscape  of his home area. This is something I do too although in a much more painterly manner leaving out most details.


Looking at Meindert Hobbema

Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) was a dutch „GoldenAge“ landscape painter. According to documents he was taught by Ruisdael, but his master’s influence is not apparent until after 1660. His earlier works were influenced by Ruisdael’s uncle, Salomon van Ruisdael.

His favourite themes were the woodlands of the eastern Netherlands, the unpaved roads, watermills, ruins and water. The famous work, „The Avenue at Middleharnis which he painted in 1689 hangs in the National Gallery, London.


The Avenue at Middleharnis

Although he painted less after he married, he is considered  one of the most characteristic and valued Dutch landscape painters of the 17th century. He was influenced by Ruisdael’s composition, but developed his own lighter hand. He gave up art to work as a wine-gauger, but nevertheless his most famous painting, „The Avenue“ was painted 20 years after he started work . He died as a pauper.

I looked at some of his paintings: The Avenue was my favourite as it had a lighter touch, more sky with a lower horizon and was not so dark and foreboding. I also liked the depth which the receding trees gave this image. The trees look light and modern and not so overly worked as Ruisdael’s

Looking at some Landscape artists

 Claude Lorrain (1600-1682): an influential landscape Artist of the Baroque, who influenced not only English landscape art, but also garden design and even literature. The romantic artists, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable and Samuel Palmer were influenced by him. I like the fact that he made myriads of drawings and sketches plein air before he decided on his final composition. This is something I like doing, but in my case the final paintings are invariably robbed of some of the directness and urgency of the rough sketches. My sketches can be lively and authentic, but often the finished painting can be quite stiff and dead.

NG 2240 001
Claude Lorrain Apollo and the Muses, 1652.

Image:Kind courtesy of http://www.arthistorynewsreport.blogspot.com accessed 28.08.2015

Jacob van Ruisdael:(1628-1682) was a Master landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age. His early works were of the Flemish landscape with low horizons and dramatic skies. In 1650 after his move to Bentheim with it’s hilly landscape, he introduced ruins, craggy mountains, waterfalls, stormy skies, decaying trees as symbols of the transciency of life and human situations and to give a deeper sense of perspective. He intended to create paintings of mood by using his imagination. It was not a specific landscape or place that he wanted to depict, but a „sense of escapism“. These were moody, brooding dark images. After spending some time looking at his works I can perhaps admire his technical skill, but at the moment I cannot identify with those overly worked trees and boughs. I know that he is considered as „one of the greatest Old Masters of the 17th century, but I feel uneasy with so much precision as an all over effect, even more so as I learned that most of the objects which he introduced onto his landscapes were either appropriated or done according to a pattern or scheme. What I could emulate is the fact that he introduced new methods like impasto to create a certain 3-D effect.

jacob_van_ruisdael_haarlem ruisdael pool surrounded by trees national gallery.org.uk

1)View of the Plain of Haarlem with Bleaching Ground, early 1660s,.  Image kind courtesy of  http://www.pubhist.com accessed 28.08.2015

2)Pool surrounded by Trees, about 1665. Image Kind courtesy of http://www.nationalgallery.org/uk/artists/jacob-van-ruisdael Accessed 28.08.2015

J.M.William Turner(1775-1851): „The Painter of Light“ who raised landscape art to importance. I always have admired his beautiful skies and his treatment of light.

turner rain_steam_and_speed_the_great_western_railway_300pxRain, Steam and Speed by J.W.Turner, 1844

Image Kind courtesy of http://www.nationalgallery.org/uk/artists/joseph-mallord-william-turner Accessed 28.08.2015

John Constable (1776-1837): I like the fact that he concentrated on his immediate surroundings, his „Constable Country“, and that he loved painting his own places, which is also something I like to do, as I can return to these spots at different times of day, or year and sketch them in different light and seasons. I also like the fact that he painted scenes of ordinary life. Something very Morandi-like and humble about that. He said that imagination alone is insufficient and that reality is also vital. He too made many full scale sketches to check the composition before starting off on the final. That’s something I could adopt. He recorded weather conditions and wrote pertaining  notes on the back of his studies – all inputs which I could introduce into my own practice.

constable the_hay_wain The Haywain, finished in 1821 Image Kind courtesy of http://www.nationalgallery.org/uk/artists/John-constable  Accessed 28.08.2015

Ivon Hitchens(1893-1979) – panoramic landscapes with blocks of colour. I love these fields of colour with little or no detail.

lakemorninglight Ivon HitchensLake Morning Light, Ivon Hitchens,ca 1970, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of http://www.alanwheatleyart.com  Accessed 28.08.2015


Peter Lanyon(1918-1964) A cornish landscapist – Abstract, vigorous brushstrokes and lots of my favourite blue. I find his an interesting body of work and must look at is work closely later.

lanyon2 lanyon4The Conflict of Man with Tides and Sands,Sketch for Liverpool University Mural, 1960, Gouache on paper. Image Kind courtesy of  http://www.abstractcritical.com accessed 28.08.2015

Richard Diebenkorn(1922-1993) – I love his interesting abstract landscapes, especially his inspiring ocean paintings.

diebenkornCityscape#1, 1963 Illustration The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation accessed on 28.08.2015 on http://www.thegaurdian.com

Research Point:

I  looked at the work of Richard Long (1945-) a Land-art Artist who walks and measures using found objects to create his artworks.He never makes alterations to the landscape, but marks his chosen places with stones. He also paints with mud  using his hands – like the women who paint their mudhuts with earthbased pigments using their hands. For him walking as art was his way of exploring time, distance, terrain somewhat like the aborogines during their walkabouts. I find his approach to use the pigments of the area to create very site-specific artworks interesting. I’d like to try this painting with mud approach when doing some artwalks along our local river. The mud would contain not only all the sludge, toxins and the negative imprint of man on nature, but also contain the DNA of the river – from source to point of extraction. I found this quite an interesting Approach and collected some mud from our river Isar to try out some experiments.

circleinantarcticaa.richard long

Another very interesting Land-art Artist I discovered was Andy Goldsworthy(1956-). He sets out with no idea what he wants to create and lets the materials he finds show him the way. He uses photography to record how his work grows and decays. He uses flower petals, icicles, leaves,mud, pinescones, snow, stone, twigs and even thorns to create. I like this idea of setting off with no preconceptions and using what one discovers to be inspired to create. These land artists are reverting to nature as a source of materials – like children who roam through their terrain letting their creativity run riot.

andy goldsworthy  gold_treesoul1) Andy Goldsworthy, Iris Leaves with Rowan Berries. 2) Ice Spiral – Treesoul both Images Kind courtesy of http://www.morning-earth.org accessed 28.08.2015

To round off this extensive list I would like to mention James Turrel(1943-) a US Land-Artist who works with space and light. His studio is the sky. (He happens to be a pilot too). He says: „We are living in a reality of our own creation“. and want to create „an experience of wordless thought“. He creates other-worldly light spaces – „landscapes without horizons“. I rather like this idea of moving into this realm of landscapes without horizons and of reducing art down to light. This gets me inspired to get back to my vast canvasses of blue.

jamesturrellBreathing-Light-2013-Florian-LACMA-James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013 Image Kind courtesy of http://www.jamesturrell.com  Accessed 28.08.2015

How could the artists I have researched influence my own work?

I like the recording Constable did on light, weather etc and that he did many preliminary sketches. I could adopt this discipline perhaps so that I could finish off  work in  my studio. I tend to do rather vague sketches. I actually prefer working plein air.

I love those blocks of colour on Ivon Hitchen’s work and feel encouraged to leave out detail and to carry on with my habit of using very broad brushes and enjoying my brushstrokes. But then I wont be learning anything new as this is something I like doing already.

Peter Lanyon’s work inspired me to carry on with my love of blues. Here again his vigorous brushstrokes also inspires me to unearth my broad brushes.

James Turrel’s saying: „a landscape without a horizon“ and his light-bathed spaces inspire me to create hugh canvasses of monocolour – with thirty or forty glazes to create a feeling of great depth. I cannot work with real light, but with pigments and glazes this astronauty feeling of weightlessness might be achieved. I remember some large canvasses which I had done some time ago using pure pigment and self ground Lapislazuli, turquoise and other waste semi-precious blue stones to create an expanse of weightless colour. It did have an unearthly effect on one. I didn’t think of them as landscapes before, but now I feel I must appropriate his expression and call them a landscape without a horizon.

I also like the idea of using found natural objects to create transient statements in nature. You make these objects out of what you find there, photograph it and then leave it there for nature to take it over again. Very ecological – no toxic paints, no plastics, no unnecessary waste.

Jacob van Ruisdael and his imagined landscapes

The ancient Greeks and Romans depicted landscapes and images of gardens as murals, but this fell out of fashion after the fall of the Roman Empire. After a long period during which landscapes were merely a backdrop for religious scenes or portraits, it was the rising Dutch middleclass who rediscovered this genre in ist own right.

Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682) was considered the dutch Golden Age Landscape Artist of all time. His early works were typical flat dutch landscapes, with low horizons.

jacob_van_ruisdael_haarlem Haarlem 1

But from 1665 onwards he introduced imagined or appropriated images into his landscapes, giving them a deeper sense of perspective. I looked at his A Pool surrounded by Trees at the National Gallery on http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/jacob-van-ruisdael.

ruisdael pool surrounded by trees national gallery.org.ukPool surrounded by trees.

Quite unlike his earlier work of flat low horizons and dramatic skies, this is a dark and moody landscape with overly minutely worked trees. Apparently he had moved to Bentheim in North Germany in 1650 and this hilly region influenced his style and he introduced ruins, craggy hills, trees, waterfalls and  cottages into his paintings.

bentheim_castle_300px  Bentheim Castle

the_jewish_cemetery_300pxJewish Cemetary

He created paintings of mood by using his imagination, not painting a specific landscape, but creating an imagined romantic one. He was technically a good craftsman and used new methods like impasto to create a certain three dimensional effect. His works were dark and brooding but later, after he returned to dutch terrain in 1656 he returned to his flat landscapes and after the 1650s he used a brighter palette and even introduced more blues in his skies.

Ruisdael view of amsterdam 1680  View of Amsterdam, 1680

He was a successful artist and his second career as a surgeon gauranteed a prosperous life. He influenced Meindert Hobbema and later John Constable, who also used the weather to create a certain mood. Thomas Gainsborough was an ardent follower who used Ruisdael inspired landscapes as backgrounds. Ruisdael is a predecessor of the Romantic Style of the late 18th century and was admired for his accuracy. His ability to combine nature and the sublime earned him the title of  „one of the greatest Old Masters of the 17th century“.

Source: http://www.artable.com/artists/jacob_van_ruisdael accessed on 01.09.2015

I also looked at his two Versions of The Jewish Cemetary at Ouderkerk at the Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Here he refers to the transience of life showing decay, renewal, birth, growth – fresh green against decaying trees, gravestones against rainbows. His aim was not to reproduce a certain view, but he introduced imagined images of ruins, trees etc to add variety and underline the play of light and darks. He later appropriated images of rivers and waterfalls from other masters instead of painting plein air. I find his trees very similar – perhaps he worked according to certain schemes. There are no straight lines in his paintings.

I find it very difficult to respond to his later paintings before he returned to the Netherlands. They are certainly well executed but somewhat overly perfect and overworked for my liking.

Should I see landscape art as a construction, a figment of my Imagination? I see, interpret, edit what I will include or disregard. I project my imagination, my history, my reflections in my choices – my experiences form my landscape.