In my observations, the prevalence of trees in 18th and 19th century landscape paintings were very powerful. Also the prevalence of small figures were surprising to me, although they tended to be placed in all manner of the frames. Of course these subjects would have been common in rural settings but it was how they were used that intrigued me. It was almost like there was a relationship between the people and the trees. Despite the prevalence of trees, there always seemed to be a man-made object within each landscape painting.
The overriding impression I got from these paintings was that the trees acted as a frame for the subject of the painting. Even if the trees were only on one side of the painting or the main subject wasn’t central, there still seemed to be a framing relationship between the trees and the rest of the image. If trees frame landscapes in natural settings, then what could frame an urban setting? I.e. how does this relate back to my studies and ideas for an urban setting? The Thames foreshore? And what connotations might there be?
My favourites of the 18th and 19th century paintings were when the trees framed the painting on both sides because it concentrated the viewer’s eye in on the painting.
For me it turned the painting from an image into a ‘view’.
Going back to the Krauss essay, I gathered: a ‘view’ can potentially make up part of an atlas – ‘one moment in a complex representation of the world’, particularly when associated with other ‘views’ but also it can function by itself as a world of its own. In stereographs for example people could be lost in these ‘views’ for hours – because of the ‘“inexhaustible” wealth of detail provided by the image’ – Krauss (1982). While typical photographs might not have such a profound effect as stereographs, the illusion of ‘looking in’ on a world could still be possible and powerful from framing the shot with framing objects and including quite a central and obvious main focal point.
In actual fact Krauss pointed out: the more ‘modernist’ paintings became, the less they ‘require [and certainly do not support] this temporal dilation of attention’ – Krauss (1982). While I agree this may have been the case with ‘modernist’ paintings, the framing of 18th and 19th century paintings did not follow this trait.
This was demonstrated for me by the 18th and 19th century landscape painting style that seemed prevalent, with the aforementioned trees taking up a subordinate role in framing the main subject(s) of groups of small figures and man-made structures, with the expansive skies providing the backdrop. In my opinion these tendencies within 18th and 19th century landscape paintings encouraged the viewer to look closer at the detail present; especially at the centre of the frame.
An example of trees framing the main subject, including an expansive sky and the typical small figures, was found at: http://www.priory-fine-art.co.uk/Featured-Art/An-Expansive-Rural-Landscape-with-Castle-Beyond.aspx (accessed 17th November 2014). I couldn’t find the artist or the reason behind the painting but it was a Dutch artist who painted it and it typified for me the style of painting at that time (18th century). A painting following similar conventions but this time with an accredited artist behind it and an explanation of why it was painted was by Lorrain, Claude and found at: https://www.joslyn.org/collections-and-exhibitions/permanent-collections/european/claude-lorrain-rest-on-the-flight-into-egypt/ (accessed 17th November 2014). However, this was painted in the 17th century but shared many of the aesthetic values I had already observed. Notably, in the information about the painting beneath it, there was shown that paintings of that era ‘follow a conventional composition scheme that uses elements such as trees, boulders, and roads to frame a distant vista and direct the eye to the horizon’ – Joslyn Art Museum. Although I found it true that the elements framing the painting led the eye to the horizon, I felt the framing elements equally led the eye to the ‘Small, almost incidental figures’ in the foreground, and therefore not only serving the purpose to ‘contribute to the harmony of Claude’s landscapes.’ – Joslyn Art Museum – but also to act as focal points of the painting. The style of painting was neo-classical. Also mentioned in this synopsis of that painting by Joslyn Art Museum was the work of late 18th century and early 19th century landscape painter Jean-Victor Bertin. Again, when I looked at a painting by Jean-Victor Bertin found at: https://www.joslyn.org/collections-and-exhibitions/permanent-collections/european/jean-victor-bertin-landscape/ (accessed 25 November 2014), I found the trait of trees framing the shot that incidentally included small figures and an expansive sky.
This was true, I found, of many 18th and 19th century paintings. To illustrate this, some more examples of 18th and 19th century landscape paintings are: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lambert-landscape-n01658 (accessed 27th November 2014) by Lambert, James. Here, the small figures happened to be animals rather than humans but the framing of trees remained true. A painting which for me best showed the trait of small figures taking precedence in a scene was: ‘Landscape with Two Elders’ by George Barret – found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/landscape-with-two-figures-19567 (accessed 27th November 2014). Unfortunately, I could not find details about the paintings in order to accredit any information about each painting other than the artists’ names.
One more 18th century landscape painter I discovered was Jacob Philipp Hackert. While his work was famous at that time (and still is), I found it hard to get any substantial information about why he painted in a style that typified what I was finding with 18th century landscape paintings. However, from a couple of sources, namely: http://www.liechtensteincollections.at/en/pages/artbase_main.asp?module=browse&action=m_work&lang=en&sid=87294&oid=W-962008225015937 and http://www.wga.hu/bio_m/h/hackert/philipp/biograph.html (accessed 27th November 2014), I learnt that his paintings were idyllic in nature and influenced interestingly by an artist already mentioned: a certain Claude Lorrain. This asserted my notion that the neo-classical genre influenced at least some 18th century landscape painters (including Jean-Victor Bertin and Jacob Philipp Hackert); with imaginary landscapes being concocted based on ‘an ideal vision of nature’; incorporating realistic elements like ‘trees, architectural ruins, rocks, etc’ – https://www.joslyn.org/collections-and-exhibitions/permanent-collections/european/jean-victor-bertin-landscape/ (accessed 27th November 2014). However, although they incorporated these realistic elements, because the compositions were largely imaginary, the eventual settings were designed to ‘render a spiritual and aesthetic ideal’ – http://www.liechtensteincollections.at/en/pages/artbase_main.asp?module=browse&action=m_work&lang=en&sid=87294&oid=W-962008225015937.
This could be compared to the transformations Capability Brown made to gardens in the English landscape in the 18th century. Here, reality was transformed by Capability Brown into an idyllic form. With neo-classical 18th century landscape paintings, reality was imitated but simultaneously transformed into something idyllic, through imagination. Paradoxically, these 17th/18th century neo-classical paintings ‘the latter [reality] understood merely as providing the inspiration for the former [the idyllic scene represented]’, where ‘design and styling of the English natural countryside to suit these new ideals’ (accessed 27th November 2014), had been the inspiration for Capability Brown’s work in the first place. However, the paintings could theoretically include whatever the whim of the artists desired but it was interesting to observe that real objects were used (but placed imaginatively) – (McDowall, 2014) – http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/claude-lorrain-at-the-beginning-of-a-modern-romantic-idyll. It made me contemplate that life could be seen as aspiring to be as idyllic as art (Brown) and art that was inspired by life (18th century neo-classical landscape paintings), aspired to be idyllic too. Therefore, ironically life and art both drew upon each other for the mutual result (the idyllic). It countered ‘the usual assumption that pictures are a secondary representation of a pre-existing world.’ – Bate (2009). This was true because landscape gardeners like Capability Brown were influenced by paintings like those by Claude Lorrain in the 17th Century.
As mentioned, the paintings could have (more easily) used unrealistic elements as components of the paintings but chose not to. Conversely, the gardens designed by Capability Brown had aesthetics similar to typical 18th century landscape paintings, when they too could have (less easily) been anything. The reason for both was the idyllic, which showed people, at least at that time, by looking at the gardens or paintings, were enamoured by the ideal or beautiful, because it provoked certain emotions: joy or happiness. This, I attributed to ‘the landscape picture, the ‘poetic garden’ was a pictorial spectacle designed to arouse the spectator’s emotional and intellectual senses.’ – Bate (2009). However, it seemed to me that in order for the gardens/paintings to be ‘idyllic’, there had to be an element of reality.
This interplay between reality and art was initially confusing to me but after thinking about it for a while I worked out that maybe there was the opportunity for photography to take a different role than a variation of reality or paintings. This simply consisted of attempting to make the photograph as neutral and objective as possible and allowing the viewer to make up their own mind and emotion through looking at the details present within the scenes recorded. I imagined there would still be interest present within my interpretation of this because I recognised the mysterious apparent ‘need’ of humans to desire elements of reality to be present and play upon this. By recording subject matter that was both realistic and haunting, the lie of photography would be exaggerated further as the prospective viewers would have to question what they were seeing was real, even though there were realistic components within each photograph.
What I had in mind was taking a well-known setting or landmark and introducing much less well-known components into the photograph. Specifically, London landmarks and juxtaposing them with the Thames’ foreshore.
Of course, it would be quite hard to go through 18th/19th century paintings without looking at the work of Constable and Turner. I decided to start with Constable, since most of the paintings I had been finding out about were pretty picturesque, which was a quality of Constable’s paintings, for which was most famous for. Also, he drew solely upon reality as he saw the scene, which was similar to what I would be trying to do here but with photography. The difference would be that reality was taking form as a given in my eventual photographs, whereas Constable strived to make a picturesque scene as life-like as possible: ‘his [Constable’s] method was one of minute observation’- (Prodger, 2012) – http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/23/constable-turner-gainsborough-making-landscape (accessed on 2/12/2014).
A Constable painting that typified what I was seeing from his work for me, was: ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Ground’, painted in 1823. I found the photograph at: http://www.artble.com/artists/john_constable/paintings/salisbury_cathedral_from_the_bishop’s_ground (accessed on 2/12/2014). The painting was commissioned privately by John Fisher in 1820. I thought it bared many similarities to the paintings I had researched so far, in that the figures in the foreground served to lead the eye to the main subject: in this case Salisbury Cathedral and the expansive sky. Trees were also present in the foreground to help frame the painting too. Therefore I was not too surprised to find that he was influenced in part by Claude Lorrain: ‘Men such as Claude Lorrain and Thomas Gainsborough were key in the development of Constable’s art’ – http://www.artble.com/artists/john_constable/paintings/salisbury_cathedral_from_the_bishop’s_ground (accessed on 2/12/2014).
In contrast, Turner built upon (sometimes minimal) real settings and added historically-based stories – surreally integrated. One of his most famous examples of this was: ‘Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth) – exhibited 1842. I found the painting at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-snow-storm-steam-boat-off-a-harbours-mouth-n00530 (accessed on 2/12/2014). Here he claims to have been tied to a ship’s mast for 4 hours during a storm. While this story might not have been true, it certainly added a lot of intrigue, which coincidentally was what I found fascinating about the painting. There was not much material detail present but it was still easily discernible as a boat; however it was what was happening around this main subject (circular motion), which attracted the eye.
Artble. (2014). Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Ground. [online] Available at: http://www.artble.com/artists/john_constable/paintings/salisbury_cathedral_from_the_bishop’s_ground [Accessed 2 Dec. 2014].
Barret, G. (n.d.). Landscape with Two Figures [Oil on Canvas] In. artuk.org (2014). Landscape with Two Figures | Art UK Art UK | Discover Artworks Landscape with Two Figures. [online] Available at: http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/landscape-with-two-figures-19567 [Accessed 27 Nov. 2014].
Bate, D. (2009). Photography: The Key Concepts, Bloomsbury Academic, 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP UK, Page 91.
Bertin, J. (ca. 1802). Landscape [Oil on Canvas] In. Joslyn.org. (2014). Joslyn Art Museum Omaha Nebraska | Art Museum, Art Classes Omaha Nebraska | Entertainment Omaha. [online] Available at: https://www.joslyn.org/collections-and-exhibitions/permanent-collections/european/jean-victor-bertin-landscape/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2014].
Constable, J. (1823). Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Ground. [Oil on Canvas] London: Victoria and Albert Museum.
Hackert, J. (1795). In the Roveto Valley [Oil on Canvas] In. Liechtensteincollections.at. (2014). LIECHTENSTEIN. THE PRINCELY COLLECTIONS. [online] Available at: http://www.liechtensteincollections.at/en/pages/artbase_main.asp?module=browse&action=m_work&lang=en&sid=87294&oid=W-962008225015937 [Accessed 27 Nov. 2014].
Krauss, R. (1982). Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View. [online] Available at: http://dm.postmediumcritique.org/Krauss_PhotographysDiscursiveSpaces.pdf [Accessed 21 Nov. 2014].
Lambert, J. (1769). Landscape [Oil on Canvas] In. Tate. (2014). Landscape, James Lambert 1769 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lambert-landscape-n01658 [Accessed 27 Nov. 2014].
Lorrain, C. (ca. 1640). Rest on the Flight into Egypt [Oil on Canvas] In. Joslyn.org. (2014). Joslyn Art Museum Omaha Nebraska | Art Museum, Art Classes Omaha Nebraska | Entertainment Omaha. [online] Available at: https://www.joslyn.org/collections-and-exhibitions/permanent-collections/european/claude-lorrain-rest-on-the-flight-into-egypt/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2014].
McDowall, C. (2014). Claude Lorrain – At the Beginning of a Modern Romantic Idyll. [online] The Culture Concept Circle. Available at: http://www.thecultureconcept.com/claude-lorrain-at-the-beginning-of-a-modern-romantic-idyll [Accessed 27 Nov. 2014].
No Artist (n.d.) An Expansive Rural Landscape [Oil on Canvas] In. Priory-fine-art.co.uk (2014). Priory Fine Art – An Expansive Rural Landscape – Sold. [online] Available at: http://www.priory-fine-art.co.uk/Featured-Art/An-Expansive-Rural-Landscape-with-Castle-Beyond.aspx (Accessed 17th Nov. 2014).
Prodger, M. (2012). Constable, Turner, Gainsborough and the Making of Landscape. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/23/constable-turner-gainsborough-making-landscape [Accessed 2 Dec. 2014].
Turner, J. (1842). Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth. [Oil on Canvas] London: Tate.
Wga.hu. (2014). Biography of HACKERT, Jacob Philipp in the Web Gallery of Art. [online] Available at: http://www.wga.hu/bio_m/h/hackert/philipp/biograph.html [Accessed 27 Nov. 2014].