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Title

: The Landscape in Western Painting

Author

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Date

1944

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In anticipation of spring, when the outdoors will come triumphantly into its own again, the Institute has arranged an exhibition of forty-three paintings from the permanent collection showing how artists have treated landscape from the time of Giotto to the present day. It is generally agreed that as a people westerners have never recognized in nature the overwhelming force and magic that orientals, and especially the Chinese, have seen in it. From earliest times westerners have given their greatest admiration to man and his achievements; to his struggle with evil, his feats in war and science, and his ability to harness the powers of nature to his will. That nature can shake this harness in an awesome manner at any moment is a fact that is usually brushed aside because man is confident of his power to reconstruct and never quite admits that nature will always have the last word. Nevertheless, western man is not unconscious of the delights to be found in nature, and the evolution of landscape painting shows that as centuries have rolled by he has come closer and closer to an intimate appreciation of its beauties.In the group of paintings assembled in the East galleries, landscape makes its first timid appearance in a small panel of Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata by a follower of Giotto. The landscape elements, strange barren rocks with bushy trees growing from them, were not introduced because the artist felt any interest in nature but because his subject demanded them. Giotto was one of the first to use these elements, and other artists followed his lead.During the fifteenth century, landscape painting progressed a little further. From this period the Institute has included in its survey Perugino's Nativity, and a Descent from the Cross by the Flemish master of the Saint Lucy Legend. The former illustrates a personal feeling for nature that is new in this field of painting. It shows, moreover, a feeling for perspective and space, and convinces the observer that it was included not because the composition required it, but because the artist wanted it. For the same reason the delightfully detailed view of Bruges was incorporated into the background of the Flemish Descent from the Cross. It betrays the artist's pride in his city, and his desire to record it in his picture. The incongruity of the appearance of Bruges in this particular composition was a matter of utmost indifference to him. To us, on the other hand, it is proof that landscape was beginning to impress itself on the artist's mind and eye.That it should have impressed itself more vividly in northern Europe than in the south is perhaps not to be wondered at. Clement weather was rarer and more precious to the Flemings than to the people of sunny Italy, and it was natural that they should have wanted to hoard it beyond its season. One of the earliest practitioners of the panoramic landscape was Patinir, who painted the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. It is a vast and smiling scene in which the figures are all but lost; an early instance of the artistic frankly giving up most of his space to nature.Patinir bridges the gap between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and presages the genuine interest in nature later to be expressed by Giorgione and Titian. No example of either is included in this group, but a hint of Giorgione's opulent treatment of nature is given in Palma Vecchio's Madonna and Saints with its depth of sky and brief glimpse of richly wooded slopes. One of the most important notes of the sixteenth century was sounded by Paul Bril, a Fleming who came to Rome and painted nature in a subjective mood. He is represented here by a Landscape with Golfers which reveals, in its treatment of light, its kinship with Patinir.With the seventeenth century the schools of landscape painting that were to put France and Holland in the front rank in this field were being heralded by Poussin and Van Goyen. Claude, considered by man to be the father of modern landscape painting had, like Poussin, a liking for the antique. This quality is so insistent that even his treatment of suffused light and his feeling for great distanced does not erase it. His landscapes are glowing and magnificent, but they are not often inviting in the sense that those of Hobbema and Jacob Ruisdael are inviting. Both of these Dutchmen reveal a profound understanding and love of nature for itself. Hobbema especially loved his land and all the day-to-day aspects of it. His Landscape with Watermill is a characteristic example of his affection for simple scenes and the felicity with which he painted them. Ruisdael, on the other hand, preferred the more exciting and romantic side of nature and painted it in a dramatic fashion.The naturalness of the seventeenth-century Dutch gave way in the eighteenth century to artificiality. Of the men represented in this group only the Englishman Richard Wilson gives evidence of wanting to paint nature in a lyrical vein. But he had difficulty in escaping from the classical formula imposed by the French, and his Picturesque Landscape is a curious blend of classicism and naturalism. It is in the misty reaches of the river to the right of the picture that Wilson anticipates the school of native landscaping painting that was to arise in England. In tone it matches the lyric quality of Wordsworth. The taste of the English at this time is better represented by Canaletto's View of Old Somerset House and Hannan's views of Wycombe Park and Mansions. They are formal and charming and correct, but there is no great feeling for nature in them. At that time it was considered bourgeois to be interested in pure nature, and anything but the classical, the cartographic, or the romantic approach was frowned upon. The Romantic Landscape of Hubert Robert represents the light-hearted, superficial interest in nature in eighteenth-century France. It is to nature what Marie Antoinette was to a shepherdess. The violently romantic treatment of nature reached its height only in the work of Delacroix.The nineteenth century saw the landscape of absorbing interest to painters everywhere. In America the Hudson River school flourished, producing simple, spacious, naïve paintings filled with reverence for nature. The works of Cole, Cropsey, and Durand have a special appeal for us because they represent the first attempt to paint our native landscape. In France, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the Barbizon School was freeing painters from the superficially romantic and classical traditions. It is represented here by Corot, Daubigny, and Dupré, who brought tenderness and poetry into landscape painting. Between the Barbizon School and Impressionism came Jongkind and Boudin, painters of moonlight and the sea and moist, sweet air.With this group, which should include Turner and Constable, pure landscape was established in the art of painting. There remained, in its development, only different methods. First of these was Impressionism, illustrated by Monet's Morning on the Seine, Renoir's Mont St. Victoire lent by Miss Katherine Ordway, Pissaro's Place du Théâtre Français, and Sisley's Quai à Sable, Sarthe. The Impressionists were preoccupied with light, and in their treatment of it gave their canvases a quivering life and beauty entirely new in the development of landscape painting. In this country Impressionism influenced Twachtman, Prendergast, and Lawson among many others.After Impressionism came post-Impressionism, here illustrated by Gauguin whose splendid patterns and arbitrary colors have not so much to do with nature as with decoration. The post-impressionists, Cézanne, and the Cubists have all had their influence on the twentieth-century Americans, but there is evolving nevertheless a native style of landscape painting in which nature has become a paramount interest. In this group it is best exemplified by Laufman and Schnakenberg who have, in their different ways, the gift of making nature live on canvas. When one can feel the sun and smell the dust and hear the rustling leaves of a painted landscape, then landscape painting has reached the end of the road that began, however unintentionally, with Giotto's absurd and touching rocks.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Romantic Landscape with Bridge, Chateau de Mereville. By Hubert Robert, French, XVIII century.
  2. Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Joachim Patinir, a pioneer in landscape painting. Flemish, 1475-1524.
  3. Landscape with Golfers. Painted in 1624 by the Flemish artist Paul Bril who anticipated Claude's monumental landscapes.
  4. Landscape with Watermill by Meindert Hobbema. Dutch, 1638-1709. Dunwoody Fund.
  5. Cote Barbaresque by Eugene Delacroix, French romantic painter of the XIX century.
  6. Place Du Theatre Francais in the Rain. By Camille Pissaro of the XIX -century French Impressionist School.
  7. Crossroads Near Beaufort, South Carolina. By the contemporary American artist Sidney Laufman. Julia B. Bigelow Fund.
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Source: "The Landscape in Western Painting," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 33, no. 14 (April, 1944): 46-51.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009