Research point: Evolution of landscape painting

Updated on 12 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

27 September 2016. How weird, starting Part 4 of Painting 1 makes me look back on the past eight months and I realise that I have lost my feeling for time. It feels as if I had just started this course and I have not yet made a working connection. No wonder, this recent past belongs to the most demanding periods of time I have ever experienced in my life and what we do is to try and survive from one day to the next. Part 4 probably comes at an awkward time, when I should be looking out from the inside, while I am mostly inside (mentally and physically). Also, autumn is coming and I hope to be able to complete my plein air paintings before the weather turns cold and wet.

9 October 2016. A bit more settled now into the new daily routine I feel fit to start Part 4 with researching the evolution of landscape painting, which, rather surprisingly at first, took as long as the 18th century to develop as a separate genre. On the other hand, the painting of landscapes with no other intention or purpose, religious or mundane, might be seen as a somewhat luxurious side-effect of increasing overall wealth. Landscapes as we are free to see them now used to be mainly dangerous grounds, on which the survival of the local population depended. Their delicate agricultural properties together with the effects of weather and climate, all of which make spectacular and dramatic elements of landscape painting, were then, understandably, rarely valued for their aesthetic qualities. Even I remember from my own 1960s’ childhood in Austria that the farmers we knew were extremely keen to set right, with admirable brutality, the romanticist view my artist parents held about a rural life in beautiful landscapes.

Landscape painting evolved nevertheless and since its beginnings has come up with a great wealth of the most wonderful and intriguing works of art. As with other new genres it was first developed by Dutch painters and as with the painting of interiors it was the rise of the merchant middle classes and their demand for affordable good quality paintings for their own homes, which sped its evolution. Pioneering landscape artist Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665, France) (Fig. 2) shifted his interest from historic to landscape painting, because he believed that it was possible to express emotion with similar effect via the properties of a landscape and prepared the grounds for an only slowly rising acceptance of this genre by the leading teaching institutions in the 18th century. His landscapes, as far as I could find out, were still always populated, following the long tradition of historical painting, but it can be felt that the landscape did no longer serve as a backdrop to some historical event. Roles appear reversed – people move in and use a landscape in a more or less natural way, but are not necessarily the main subject (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.):

Figure 1. Nicholas Poussin: “Landscape with a Calm”, 1650, oil on canvas. Source: Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Still, it was only when the term “historic landscape” was promoted by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819, France), serving as a safety mark for official recognition of quality in the transition from historic to landscape painting, that academe came to change its hitherto rigid stance (The National Gallery, n.d.; The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.). De Valenciennes was among the first to ask students to sketch and paint outside as an essential element of their training (Oakley, 2015;  The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.). Plein air oil painting requires thorough preparation, though, and a fast, bold stroke in order to capture a mood or atmosphere before it changes. This is visible in an oil sketch by de Valenciennes (Fig. 2), which to me feels very modern and indeed his plein air paintings proved groundbreaking on the way to Impressionism (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.):

Figure 2. Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes: “Rome: Houses and a Domed Church”, ca. 1783, oil on cardboard. Source: Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
This development occurred at a time, when on the one hand the whole hitherto agriculturally dominated social landscape was being reformed by the full-blown Industrial Revolution, and on the other, photography began to exert a strong influence on landscape painting. It is not surprising then that the young genre changed and diversified rapidly. Idealized rural landscapes were gradually, but not completely, replaced by increasingly innovative and critical compositions and choices of subject. Groundbreaking among these was French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), eagerly studied at a later point by the Impressionist painters, especially Cézanne and Van Gogh, but also artists far into the 20th century (Galitz, 2009), see e.g. “The Stone Breakers” in Fig. 3 below in comparison with Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906, France) “The House with the Cracked Walls” (Fig. 4):

Figure 3. Gustave Courbet: “The Stone Breakers”, 1849, oil on canvas. Source: Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Figure 4. Paul Cézanne: “The House with the Cracked Walls”, 1892-1894, oil on canvas. Source: Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
With the rise of photography landscape painters learned to adopt previously unthought-of viewpoints, e.g. by cropping the landscape, providing unusual viewing angles or introducing novel types of brushmark, such as in the wonderfully fresh paintings of Canadian Tom Thomson (1877-1917, who died prematurely by drowning in one of the lakes he used to paint, University of Victoria, n.d.) (Fig. 5):

Figure 5. Tom Thomson: Study for “Northern River”, gouache, brush and ink over graphite on illustration board, 1914-15. Source: Tom Thomson (1877-1917) [Public domain] via Art Canada Institute
Throughout the 20th century and up to now this process of diversification has been continuing, giving rise to a number of specialized categories such as “urban”, “cultural” and “industrial landscape” as well as landscape architecture (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.), and with the advent of new media with an increasing cross-over of subject and technical approaches.
Below, for example, Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous blue rider (Fig. 6), allegedly eponymous for the rebellious “Blauer Reiter” expressionist movement, which was in existence for only three years from 1911 to 1914 but of huge influence (The Art Story, n.d.). For Kandinsky the colour blue was the colour of spirituality (The Art Story, n.d.), and the appearance of blue in both the rider and the landscape appears to me as a sign that Kandinsky may not have made a difference between the spirituality of man and that of nature, but that both are one, and that he may not have made a distinction at all between the rider and the landscape he moves in:

Figure 6. Wassily Kandinsky: “The Blue Rider”, 1903, oil on canvas. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Edward Hopper (1882-1967), an American realist painter, on the other hand, explained that his main interest in choosing the subject below was no more than the wonderful distribution of light in the spectacular rocky landscape and that he paid no separate attention to the intrusion of man into and exertion of possible negative influences on that valley (14), as e.g. in “Road in Maine” painted in 1914 (Fig. 7):

Figure 7. Edward Hopper: “Road in Maine”, 1914, oil on canvas. Source: Edward Hopper (1882-1967) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
One of the most accomplished 21th century Austrian watercolour landscape and cityscape painters is Bernhard Vogel (*1961). For a comprehensive overview over his work see his website (Vogel, 2017). From personal encounters (participating in one of his watercolour courses many years ago) I know that his incentive for choosing a subject is a pure aesthetic pleasure in what he sees. When surfing the web, I gained the impression that he appears to share his approach with the overwhelming majority of landscape painters working today (enter “urban landscape painting” in your browser and see for yourself). It was thus difficult to find a mainstream of artistic voices uttering a mild concern about, say, climate change, social decline in our megacities or the destruction of our rainforests. If they want to share their opinion, they do it with all their might and, of course, with the advent of powerful graphics engines the critical voices among the contemporary painters received an impressive tool to utter their concerns. The power of modern computers has been allowing the creation of hyperrealistic, overwhelming apocalyptic worlds (Qu, 2013) for some time, whose impact is probably hard to top by mainstream painting. To me, interestingly, the composition of these worlds appears to tie in with the origins of landscape painting. People surviving the desaster, i.e. after having been kicked out of Paradise, appear to operate before a backdrop of destroyed landscape.

Of course in our century anything has become possible, including the landscape itself serving as canvas for the relatively new phenomenon of “land art”, where artists express themselves in exchange with an existing landscape, from the very simple to highly elaborate pieces, as in Fig. 8 and Fig. 9 below:

Figure 8. Zeevveez: “Spiral With Anemon”. Source: Zeeveez (n.d.) [Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic] via Wikimedia Commons
Figure 9. Patche99z: “Land art in one of the show gardens, Chelsea Flower Show 2006”. Source: Patche99z (2006) [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported] via Wikimedia Commons

For a visual overview over the development of landscape painting also see a slideshow provided by the Tate gallery (Tate, n.d.).


Cézanne, P. (1892-94) The House with the Cracked Walls [oil on canvas] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Courbet, G. (1849) The Stone Breakers [oil on canvas] [online]. New Masters Gallery, Dresden. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

de Valenciennes, P.-H. (c.1783) Rome: Houses and a Domed Church [oil on cardboard] [online]. Louvre, Paris. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Galitz, K. C. (2009) Gustave Courbet [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2017]

Hopper, E. (1914) Road in Maine [oil on canvas] [online]. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Kandinsky, W. (1903) Der Blaue Reiter [oil on canvas] [online]. Stiftung Sammlung E.G. Bührle, Zurich. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2017]

Oakley, H. (2015) Favourite Paintings 5: Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Thomas Jones, Plein Air, c 1782 [blog] [online]. The Eclectic Light Company, n.k., 18 February 2015. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Patche99z (2006) Land art in one of the show gardens, Chelsea Flower Show 2006 [photograph][online]. Patche99z, n.k.. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Poussin, N. (1650) Landscape With a Calm [oil on canvas] [online].Getty Centre, Los Angeles. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Qu, James (2013) “Oblivion” – 20 Epic Examples of City Destruction Matt Paintings
[image gallery] [online]. James Qu, n.k., 29 July 2013. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Tate (n.d.) Landscape [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.) Der Blaue Reiter [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 12 March 2017]

The J. Paul Getty Museum (n.d.) Brief History of the Landscape Genre [online]. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

The National Gallery (n.d.) Pierre Henri de Valenciennes [online]. The National Gallery, London. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Thomson, T. (1914-15) Study for “Northern River” [gouache, brush and ink over graphite on illustration board] [online]. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

University of Victoria (n.d.) Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History. Death on a Painted Lake. The Tom Thomson Tragedy [online]. University of Victoria. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Vogel Bernhard (2017) Works [image gallery] [online]. Bernhard Vogel, Salzburg. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]

Zeevveez (2013) Spiral With Anemone [landart] [online]. Zeevveez, n.k.. Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2016]


Research point: Genre painting

Updated on 2 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

5 June 2016. Feeling that I rather want to paint my own interior I embarked on some research regarding the painting of (external) rooms through the times, staring with the Dutch realist genre painters. In order to connect with my own mood I chose examples, where I believe I could read a connection between outer and inner spaces from a painting.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, genre painting deals with the realistic analysis of everyday life and is devoid of imagination, idealisation or a narrative . The period lasted from roughly 1500 until 1960. Its beginnings coincided with the Reformation, the decline of the importance of religious art and concomitant rise of private art lovers and customers (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010; Collins, n.d.(a)).
A famous early genre painter was the Flemish artist Quentin Matsys (1466-1530, Belgium), with his intriguing work “The Money Lender and His Wife” (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Quentin Matsys: “The Money Lender and His Wife”, 1514, oil on panel. Source: Quentin Matsys (1466-1530) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Matsys was well known for his exuberant realism in his depiction of the physical appearance and mental state of the people he portrayed in their surroundings, which made him one of the early caricaturists and thus of great interest to me. The above painting is full of religious and moral symbolism (Bloom, 2007). For the purpose of this exercise, however, we are supposed not to analyse the ideas behind a painting, but the technical aspects employed to let the viewer connect with the experience made by the portrayed persons. Most obvious in this task is the enormous detail in all parts of the painting, making the viewer a keen observer by sitting at the table with the couple. At the same time, the painter includes every possible support to the viewer as to the possible meaning of the painting. It is obvious that the couple are in a way concerned with the buying or selling of valuable items, since the man on the left appears to not only to guess at the value of the item he is holding in his left hand, but at the same time to practically “feel” the balancing vlaue of the coin in his right hand. It is very likely that a contemporary viewer will have felt more at home with the furnishings of the time, in particular they would have been able to read from it much more of the social status of the depicted couple. From my own perspective, if I did not know the title of the painting, I might be tempted to suspect, from the quietly worried look on the lady’s face, that financial problems are forcing a wealthy couple to sell some of their belongings.

Particularly appealing to me from a technical aspect is also the work of Baroque painter Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten (1627-1678, Netherlands) (Fig. 2). Linear perspective is masterly applied by him, so that the viewer feels an impulse to enter the spaces prepared for him. In the painting below, the artist includes many items on the way, some of which only partly visible, which make it easy and interesting to follow the sequence of rooms through the various doorways. Although clearly a genre painting, there is still a narrative. A cage is hanging from the archway, from which a parrot is about to leave (pointing towards a wealthy household, since the owning of exotic animals would not have been a regular sight at the time). The dog seems to be unsure whether he should be welcoming the visitor (the viewer?), more so than the cat with its arched back and the people sitting in the next room, who do not seem to pay any attention whatsoever to the newcomer. It also seems obvious that the people are not expecting visitors, since a dust mop has not been cleared away and something or other has not been picked up from the stairs. Shadows, running into the scenery in the first room, block the visitor’s step in the next room, and thus force the eye to follow a designed path. The room right at the back seems somewhat unconnected, also by design. In my impression it appears to suggest, even with the door open and warm, welcoming colours employed, that it is out of bounds for the visitor.

Figure 2. Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten: “View of a Corridor”, 1662, oil on canvas. Source: Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten (1627-1678) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675, Netherlands), on the other hand, draws the viewer into the painting below, “Officer and Laughing Girl” (Fig. 3), among other techniques, by his masterly transportation of a feeling of intimacy (Liedke, 2003; Collins, n.d.(b)). To me, the position of the soldier in the shade and his body posture suggest that he would not appreciate additional people at the table (technically, the placing of an object in the left or right foreground to create depth is known as “repoussoir” (Sloofman (2009)). The girl, on the other hand, appears to connect with the soldier only at a first glance. When examining her face more closely, her eyes look past the soldier and her smile does not appear totally honest. In my opinion, she feels uncomfortable in the soldier’s presence, which makes her hold onto the glass in her hand, and the (negative) space left between the two makes a viewer like me want to step into the encounter to save the girl some embarassment. I may be totally wrong, however.

Figure 3. Johannes Vermeer: “Officer and Laughing Girl”, 1657-58, oil painting. Source: Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

18th century Rococo painter Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779, France) followed the tradition, but chose mundane, seemingly simple subjects. In the painting below (Fig. 4), the scenery seems a bit depressing. It appears that the lady’s everyday occupation includes an exhausting amount of peeling turnips. The viewer is drawn into the scene not least by a feeling of sympathy for the lady’s fate. Since she is very obviously not concentrating on her work, the artist provides the viewer with an opportunity to speculate about the reason. The meat cleaver on the chopping block (very cleverly highlighted by a tiny sport of white) is a very rough object to inlcude in a domestic scene. I suspect that it may be an allusion to war and thus it may not be difficult to guess at the thoughts of the woman. Technically, the painter made it very easy for the viewer to enter the scene via an open stretch of floor without real or symbolic obstructions.

Figure 4. Jean Siméon Chardin: “Woman Peeling Turnips”, c.1738, oil on canvas. Source: Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
For reasons of personal interest in caricature, I again include William Hogarth (1667-1764, England) (8), who became famous for his satirical view on the world (Benenson, 2010). Below a detail from his painting “The Gate of Calais” (Fig. 5). While part of a much larger scene, this detail carries all attributes of a genre painting. To me there appear to be several routes into this part of the painting, the strongest probably the giant lump of meat next to the horrible friar’s face, together with his greedy hands – the shape of which is probably replicated in the pointed ends of the portcullis, though which the head of a procession is visible.

Figure 5. William Hogarth: “O, The Roast Beef of Old England”, 1748, oil on canvas (detail). Source: William Hogarth (1667-1764) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Moving into the 19th century, I became aware of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) (Galitz, 2009), the leading realist painter in France at that time, and his painting “The Grain Sifters” (1854, Fig. 5). To me, the scene appears to be overly dramatic for the subject, while providing no way into the space for the viewer. To me, the girl in the red dress seems to carry a message on her back, reading: “We are not interested, leave us alone. We hate the work we do and we do not want you to see us doing it.” Which may be in line with Courbet’s interest in the working conditions of the poor.

Figure 5. Gustave Courbet: “The Grain Sifters”, 1854, oil on canvas. Source: Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Funnily enough, the style and subjects of genre painters seemed to be relatively resistant to major change and radical influence far into the 20th century. Max Liebermann (1847-1935) (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011), for example, had no different view on domestic scenes than his colleagues in past centuries. August Macke (1887-1914) (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005), during his incredibly short career to be ended by war, adapted his style somewhat to a mix of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, but in my opinion a funny out-of-place feeling of the subject remains (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. August Macke: “Two Girls”, 1913, oil on canvas. Source: August Macke (1887-1914) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Maybe the defined limitedness of the subject does not allow a step to be made away from the traditional. Today, interestingly, any realistic portrayal of domestic life appears somewhat heroic, see e.g. the work of US artist Norman Rockwell (1894-1978, USA) (Collins, n.d.(c)), one of the last representatives of genre painting, known as social realism (The Art Story, n.d.) during the early 20th century, before it finally died away.


Benenson, S. E. (2010) William Hogarth [online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Bloom, J. An Inventory of Polarities: Quentin Metsys’s The Money Lender and His Wife [blog] [online]. John Bloom, San Francisco. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Chardin, J. B. (1738) Woman Peeling Turnips [oil on canvas] [online]. Alte Pinakothek, Munich. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Courbet, C. (1855) The Grain Sifters [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Collins, N. (n.d.(a)) Genre Painting [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Collins, N. (n.d.(b)) Soldier and a Laughing Girl [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Collins, N. (n.d.(c)) Norman Rockwell [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Galitz, K. C. (2009) Gustave Courbet [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Hogarth, W. (1748) O, the Roast Beef of Old England (‘The Gate of Calais’) [oil on canvas] [online]. Tate Britain. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Macke, A. (1913) Two Girls [oil on canvas] [online]. Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Matsys, Q. (1514) The Money Lender and His Wife [oil on panel] [online]. Louvre, Paris. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

Sloofman, H. (2009) Art Technique of the Week [blog] [online]. The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.) Social Realism [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2005) August Macke [online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2010) Genre Painting [online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2011) Max Liebermann [online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

van Hoogstraten, S.D. (1662) View of a Corridor [oil on canvas] [online]. National Trust, Dyrham Park. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]Vermeer, J. (c. 1657) Officer and Laughing Girl [oil on canvas] [online]. The Frick Collection, New York. Available at: [Accessed 5 June 2016]