Look at and research different artists’ depictions of landscapes. For example look at Dürer‘s landscapes which are some of the earliest recordings of the northern Renaissance world, Claude Lorrain’s designed landscapes using classical proportions, the British artist Lowry’s images of industrial life.
I knew of the woodcuts, such as The Rhinoceros, and the oil paintings, such as his Self-Portrait At 28, but was not aware of Albrecht Dürer‘s watercolour landscapes and that he is regarded as one of the first European landscape artists.
This watercolour, called Landscape with Woodland Pool (1496), is described by the British Museum as “one of the most sensitive of Dürer’s portrayals of nature.” I am sorry, but I can not see this sensitivity. The broken pines, the dark pool and the clouds give a menacing appearance to a jumble, jigsaw landscape. It reminds me of something out of Tolkien.
Fortunately, the next landscape I found was Wire-Drawing Mill (c. 1489) which shows large and small mills on the banks of the River Pegnitz near Nuremberg. The Web Gallery of Art says that Dürer’s “colouring is reminiscent of Netherlandish landscapes, with brown tones in the foreground, greens in the middle ground and bluish mountains in the distance” and that it represents “a milestone in Dürer’s development of the technique of watercolour painting.”
While it is not a landscape, I include this gouache and watercolour of Courtyard of the Former Castle in Innsbruck without Clouds due to the townscape studies in this module.
The linear perspective, fine detail (very difficult in watercolour) and general composition give a very pleasing work. Of the three works, this is the one that definitely passes my ‘Would you hang it on your wall?’ test.
Claude Lorrain, usually known simply as Claude, painted very idealised classical landscapes. John Constable described Claude as “the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw”, and declared that in Claude’s landscape “all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart”. However I have heard it said that when others went to Italy looking for these landscapes they were disappointed with the reality.
Aeneas’s Farewell to Dido in Carthage, 1676
I find Claude’s paintings very formulaic. In each of them there is a frame created by buildings with columns or trees, the horizon is about 2/3 of the way down the picture, probably close to the golden ratio, the sky always fades from an intense blue at the top to a paler blue on the horizon. There are a few clouds but never a threat of rain and the light almost always appears to be sunrise or sunset so there are dramatic shadows.
I was unwillingly dragged by the Management to the Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain last year. I am a proud Northerner and grew up in a post-war industrial city – Sheffield. This does not mean I have to like Lowry. At the Tate, I particularly disliked his use of a ruler when drawing pencil sketches of buildings.
After the Wedding, 1939
This industrial landscape has foreground, middle ground and background. There is some linear perspective with the left hand building, but the top of the street front wall of the ochre building is horizontal. Does that mean this is at our eye level? There is a sort of aerial perspective with the bluer distant chimneys and steeple. And as for the figures? Well, let’s say I’ll be surprised if there is any research about them in the module on figure drawing!
Level Crossing, 1961
This work, at least, has linear perspective, though little aerial perspective.
In the opinion of the BBC’s Your Paintings website, Lowry’s “stylised pictures of coalmines, factories and terraced houses were mostly painted around Pendlebury and Salford, near Manchester. He had a recognisable style of crowds of simple dark figures surrounded by slabs of grey buildings and industrial fog.” In my opinion, they are as contrived and ‘idealised’ (in an ‘it’s grim up t’North’ sort of way) as Claude’s Arcadian classical landscapes. Early works by Lowry, which I can see easily down the road in Salford, show, like many other artists ‘before they find their style’. that he could actually paint.