Landscape painting is a highly popular genre in Western art, with a long and established tradition. Landscapes typically portray a variety of natural scenes, including mountains, rivers, valleys, forests, fields, and coasts. This definition was expanded in the 20th century to include urban and industrial landscapes. Landscape painters are inspired by the world around them, and while landscape paintings are principally figurative, they have become increasingly abstracted with the rise of abstraction. Contemporary artists paint a landscape because they are moved by its beauty, or to make a comment on the relationship between man and the environment.
While some believe that Da Vinci created the first landscape painting in the 15th century, this is a common misconception; the landscape tradition can actually be traced back to China in the 4the century, where Chinese painters sought to capture their impression of the landscape. It grew so popular that the beginning of the 9th century is referred to as the dawn of the Great Age of Chinese Landscape.
In the Western tradition, appreciation of nature for its own sake was not always popular, and in fact landscapes were principally used as the background for historic paintings or portraits, only truly emerging as a popular form in the 17th century. There is some evidence of a landscape tradition in Ancient Greece and Rome, but these paintings often featured other elements. Albrecht Altdorfer’s Landscape with Footbridge, which dates from the early 16th century, is considered the first true landscape in Western art history, and other individuals of the German Danube school began to develop the form alongside him.
During the Renaissance, landscape began to be considered more seriously, and in the paintings of French artists Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, the landscape element began to dominate, instead of the supposed historical subject. They painted highly stylised works that imitated the landscapes of ancient Greece and Rome; they were idealised pastoral scenes that came to be known as classical landscape. Meanwhile, noteworthy Dutch painters in the 17th century began to develop a more realistic, naturalistic style, such as the in landscapes of Aert van der Neer.
In the seventeenth century, the French academy classified the genres of art, and placed landscape as fourth of fifth in order of importance, demonstrating the relatively low regard society had for landscape. However, in the eighteenth century it continued to grow and by the 19th century there was a veritable boom in the popularity of landscape painting. This is a result of two factors: one being that in philosophy, there was the idea that nature is a direct manifestation of God. Industrialisation and urbanisation also distanced the population from nature, bringing back a desire to celebrate nature in all its glory. Landscape painting was described by John Ruskin as ‘the chief artistic creation of the nineteenth century’, and it is true that in Britain, landscape painting was popularised by two masters of the genre: John Constable and J. M. W. Turner.
The Impressionist painters in France continued this trend and truly revolutionised Western painting. Artists such as Manet, Monet and Renoir took a deliberately informal approach, blurring the lines between sketches and finished pieces. They sketched the scene directly – en plein air – and abandoned traditional techniques like chiaroscuro and perspective to directly record their own experiences. The traditional hierarchy of genres collapsed and landscape became one of the most popular forms of painting.
In the early 20th century, the Hudson River School continued the landscape tradition in the USA and are likely the best-known US development of landscape art. Landscape was increasingly challenged over the 20th century with the rise of abstraction, and its very definition was questioned. Its definition was expanded to include industrial and urban landscapes, and the traditional idea of landscape became less common with an increase in semi-abstract landscapes. Non-traditional media became increasingly popular, with artists experimenting with new media. In the 1960s, land artists such as Richard Long changed the relationship between landscape and art by creating art within the landscape itself. They would literally sculpt the land itself or create new structures using natural materials, innovating and changing the representation of landscape in modern art.
Singulart’s contemporary artists continue to develop the landscape tradition, with some favouring a more traditional approach and others painting more abstracted scenes. Artists such as Camilla Dowse, Kirstin Mccoy and Franz Baumgartner favour a more figurative approach, while Olivier Messas, Dagmar Vogt and Skadi Engeln feature areas that seem to verge on abstraction. Our selection of landscape paintings allows you to discover the best of contemporary landscape by our roster of emerging and established artists.