Landscape art is often a genre that artists choose to explore when first becoming interested in engaging with their artistic side. From Turner’s ethereal works to Monet’s Water Lily Pond, these paintings have become so associated with the very fabric of our culture that even those without an artistic bone in their body would recognise many of them.
It hasn’t always been the case, however- certainly not in Western Europe. Landscapes may have had a large role to play in ancient Roman and Chinese art, but it wasn’t until approaching the 16th century that it had become regarded as a valid art form by Europeans. This was in part due to the upper classes immersed interest in landscape art, as well as more advanced painting techniques. The most vital of these techniques was the World Landscape Style, which was developed by Dutch artist Joachim Patinir. It showed off scenic views from a higher point of view, enabling artists to create more idealistic and deeper vistas.
Even with that being the case, however, landscape painting ranks only fourth in the Hierarchy of Genres, falling below history painting, portraiture, and genre painting. The system of classification, which was created by the superb European Academies in the 17th century, and developed from classic art ideas borne out of the Italian Renaissance, suggests that as there is barely any human life in the genre, it contains insignificant moral influence, and is therefore branded a lesser form of art.
Both literature and exotic destinations were popular sources of inspiration for pre-modernist landscapes. This was likely the case due to the travelling upper classes commissioning the works. Due to its associations with the classical era, Italy became the most often-depicted location in the work during this era.
Landscape painting began to improve its fashionable status in Europe from the 17th century as a result of the Dutch Golden Age of painting. At this time, the Dutch Republic was the continent’s leading nation when it came to not only art but also trade and science. This resulted in a greater number of sub-genres like coastal, woodland, and forest scenes, as well as an increased emphasis on realism, which contrasted well with the earlier Baroque period. Artists like Rembrandt were lauded for their landscape paintings as much as they were for their portrait and biblical paintings.
The popularity of landscape art made its way to Britain by the early part of the 19th century. The genre made great leaps during the Golden Age of English landscape painting. As it was also being the Romantic period, there was a heavy focus on stormy skies, isolated landscapes, and the strength of nature. Such artists as John Constable and J.M. Turner also rediscovered watercolour in this period when they used it to create atmospheric and fleeting visual effects. It was Turner who thought up new ways of making clouds and skies appear expressive and incandescent, earning him the nickname “the painter of light”. In turn, his success and innovative outlook served as inspiration to the future generations.