The beauty of the heavens and the splendor of Mother Nature have found expression in art from time immemorial. The function of art has always been devoted to expressing beauty in all its diversity. No wonder, Aristotle described art as an imitation of life. Human beings take delight in the works of imitation (representation). This explains why man has always tried to represent whatever he sees around. The consequence of this human desire was the inception of landscape paintings- a genre as old as the first century A.D.
Landscape art refers to the portrayal of scenic beauty of nature, with the sky and weather conditions taking a considerable area of the canvas. The word ‘landscape’ is of Dutch origin (‘landschap’ meaning a sheaf or patch of cultivated ground). The word was finally included in the English vocabulary in the 17th century. The 15th century witnessed landscape painting gaining recognition as a major artistic genre in Europe. The themes used in these paintings chiefly drew from religious subjects, as can be found in Rest on the Flight into Egypt, the Journey of the Magi, or Saint Jerome in the Desert.
Historians often trace the origin of landscape painting to China. However, it was not before the Middle Ages that this genre earned recognition. The Italian painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti is credited with making the first painting devoted to landscape in around 1335. The development of this painting gradually initiated with travelers exploring their surroundings. In Rome, the ‘classical landscape’ flourished through the contribution of Paul Bril and Adam Elsheimer and the Italian painters, Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. The French artist, Claude Lorrain, reproduced some of the best instances of ‘classical landscape’. Set amidst classical subjects, his paintings gave over to vast landscapes with areas of light and space.
The 17th century saw landscape paintings embracing domestic and familiar settings especially in the works of the Dutch School- Van Goyen, Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Hobbema, Koninck, Cuyp, and others.The 19th century witnessed English painters taking cue from the Dutch and reproducing exuberant paintings in oil and watercolors. Wilson, Crone, Constable, Turner, Cotman, and Bonington are some of the notable names of the time.
Post Constable and Turner, the development of landscape painting occurred in France. The Impressionistic Movement cast a profound influence on this genre of art. The invention of oil paint in a tube changed the style of art. Since then, artists could go out and paint directly from the landscape. Vincent van Gogh carried this tradition forward, where he depicted personal emotions through his paintings. The blend of Romanticism and new Surrealism can be found in the early twentieth century, especially in the painted landscapes of Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland.
With the dawn of the modernism, landscape painting found itself projecting some gritty realism, paralleling the work of the ‘kitchen sink’ school in literature. However, landscape paintings are now showcasing a poetic approach as well; the works of Roger de Gray are an instance.
Thomas Cole took the landscape painting in the US to new heights with the foundation of the Hudson River School. As times keep on changing, the trends observed in every genre of art keep changing as well. New explorations, new movements, new innovations have always taken art to new heights, and so has landscape painting been influenced by these trends. Original paintings by the renowned landscape artists are treasured and will be treasured by the generations to come.