Exercise 1.3

Establishing Conventions

Find some examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities you can find across your examples. Where possible, try to find out why the examples you found were painted (e.g. public or private commission). Your research should provide you with some examples of the visual language and conventions that were known to the early photographers. Annotate your examples and post them to your learning log. Now find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that:
A. conform to these conventions,
B. break these conventions.
Annotate these examples with your notes/observations and post them to your learning log.

LP&E, p.34


[30Oct21] The National Gallery of Art has a section on British landscape painting of the period. It states,

The late 18th century saw a growing interest in landscape painting. Some artists, such as Richard Wilson, painted idealized scenes imbued with the spirit of the classical past, while others, such as Joseph Wright of Derby, pursued more individual and personal visions of the natural world. Thomas Gainsborough, although best known for his fashionable portraits, painted highly imaginative landscapes and seascapes that transcend specific time and place.
The great flowering of English landscape paintings came during the first half of the 19th century, primarily in the work of two masters, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Constable’s true-to-life views of the verdant English countryside emphasized the essential harmony and purity of nature. Turner, on the other hand, was a romantic who expressively dissolved forms in terms of light and atmosphere. With their fresh vision and powerfully original styles, Constable and Turner profoundly influenced the work not only of many subsequent British painters but of countless other American and European artists as well.

The National Gallery of Art

The paintings are all in landscape format (wider than they are high);
all but the Turner is determinedly rural (the Turner is not urban but it subject is man-made structures and equipment;
All are straightforwardly representational except for the later Constable and the Turner which are increasingly stylistic and impressionistic
All include bodies of water except Constable’s Stonehenge.
All but the Turner show people and/or animals.

Richard Wilson (1713/4 — 1782) is described in his Tate biography as, “a pioneer in British art of landscape for its own sake” and “one of the founder-members of the Royal Academy”. His online Britannica entry states, “[his later]landscapes …exerted considerable influence on J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and John Crome” and suggests that he worked both on commissions and independently.

Joseph Wright (1734 — 1797) pioneered the painting of industrial scenes (Britannica), though he clearly painted rural landscapes too. Several of his patrons were industrialists (National Gallery).

Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) (as with Wilson and Wright) first trained achieved success as a portrait painter before turning to his preferred landscapes. Demand continued for his portrait services throughout his life, including from George III and his family (National Gallery).
As luck would have it BBC Radios 4 and 4Extra have been serialising James Hamilton’s biography of Gainsborough this week and in the early hours of this morning I heard from my pillow speaker, “I’m sick of portraits and wish very much to take my viola da gamba and walk off to some sweet village where I can paint landscapes and enjoy the fag end of life in quietness and ease.” (letter to William Jackson).

John Constable (1776 – 1837) Constable’s work transformed the genre of landscape painting and shaped the enduring popular image of the English countryside (V&A). Constable moved with his family to London so that he could deal directly with his clients, though he continued to paint his native Suffolk.

J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) Turner’s work “is known for its luminous, almost abstract quality” … “regarded as a predecessor to Impressionism” (biography.com). Turner’s commercial approach was very entrepreneurial, dealing directly with his clients and travelling widely to sell paintings and gain commissions.

In Exc. 1.2, I quote Peter Galassi from Before Photography (1981, p.288), where he states that the development of exaggerated perspective representation in painting from the Renaissance through to the eighteenth century gave way in the nineteenth to “a flattened and compressed perspective”. All the examples above and especially the late Constable and the Turner bear witness to that.

… Now find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that:
A. conform to these conventions,
B. break these conventions.
Annotate these examples with your notes/observations and post them to your learning log.

LP&E, p.34

In choosing the photographs to feature, my intention is to use images only from the latest magazine of the RPS Landscape Group, Summer 2021 (Brittle, ed.).

Some subjects are similar, notably Haack, fig. C2.
The formats tend to landscape or square (the front cover, Viswanathan, fig. C1 is discounted as this might have been cropped to suit that purpose).
Some elements may be out of focus through choice of aperture, long exposure or intentional camera movement (Stokes, fig. C6).
Many landscape photographers try to exclude people, although livestock tends to be less of a concern.
New viewpoints are available through tall buildings, drones or manned aircraft (Hodges, fig. C3).
There is more of a tendency to feature foreground subjects (Miskelly, figs. C4 and C5)…
or even close detail (Viswanathan, fig. C9).

LPE Exc 1.3 References

Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Brittle, R. (ed.) (2021) Landscape. The magazine of the Royal Photographic Society landscape group. Summer, 2021.

Galassi, P. (1981) Before Photography. NY: MoMA.

Hamilton, J. (2017) Gainsborough: A Portrait, serialisation, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt [radio], BBC radio 4 Extra, 31 October 2021, 06:00 (excerpt 06:53).

National Gallery of Art (n.d.) British Paintings [online]. nga.gov. Available from https://www.nga.gov/collection/paintings/british.html [Accessed 30 October 2021].