23 Landscapes and the Natural World

Ella Sexton

In our class discussion on landscapes and the natural world in 19th century visual culture, we looked at stunning and expressive landscape scenes by JMW Turner and how he challenged this traditional genre through his work. Turner created captivating landscapes that incorporated the more prestigious form of history painting into them, creating a new way of valuing landscapes. He does this by embedding a depiction of historical and biblical events into the scenes, such as The Slave Ship in 1840, narrating the intentional drowning of slaves on a trade crossing so that water was conserved, and insurance money could be claimed from the dead. This was a purposeful move to transcend the barriers that the Royal Academy put in place, restricting types of work that were publicly showcased and considered ‘art’, resisting control of visual culture. Claude Lorrain, a famous French painter of the picturesque, inspired Turner with his serene Italian landscapes, which also had a history painting element to them, such as the biblical piece Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba.

A similar defiance was followed by the French Impressionist movement of art. We looked at how this form of art was disregarded by the Royal Academy’s standards and how this sparked the independence of art dealers and alternatives to institutionalized art communities. Public displays of this type of art grew more popular, with the quick brushstrokes and diversity of colours being non-conforming to perceived definitions of ‘fine art’ in the 19th century.

Erin Hanson is a contemporary artist, working in the last decade with her style described in the interview with Dan Scott (2021) as “open-impressionism”. This style is very similar to the famous impressionism movement, with strongly pigmented marks, untamed with a vibrant energy to them, bringing an interesting abstract element to the landscape. A picturesque quality is created here through the consistent positive mood in her pieces, and her inspiration from the places she has been serves to reflect the impressionist goal of capturing a unique moment in an image with it also relating to the artist personally. Although the French Impressionist movement was a part of 19th century art, it still has a huge contemporary impact globally, reaching to influence artists like Hanson who resides in California. The ability of this style to be manipulated within different spaces and places goes to show how artists reflect upon previous innovations to explore new areas of research in a contemporary context.

Hanson mentions ‘The Group of Seven’ as a source of her inspiration for painting. This was a group of Canadian artists active between 1920 and 1933 whose landscapes collectively depicted dynamic and romanticised landscapes, with simplistic yet effective colour harmonies that relate to Hansen’s work. Hansen, being influenced by not only the French art development but also a Canadian offshoot of the same style, goes to show the collective worldwide conversation that can be had through art movements. The Group of Seven sought to produce art that was independent to the Eurocentric institutions that regulated artwork of the time by painting spaces that reflected Canadian community and Indigenous lands. Their goal to depict nationalistic pride for landscapes was met with negativity from the leading Royal Canadian Academy, as their stance was of defiance to the normative art production at the time. This retaliation to hegemonic art production is seen through Turner’s British paintings, the French Impressionist’s deviance, and wherever there are sites of control over art, suggesting the necessity for new art to be subversive to the expected norm.


References

Kelly Richman-Abdou, ‘Art History: The Evolution of Landscape Painting and How Contemporary Artists Keep It Alive’, My Modern Met, 2017. Landscape Artists Who Inspire Contemporary Landscape Painting (mymodernmet.com)
Dan Scott, ‘Interview With “Open Impressionism” Artist Erin Hanson’, Draw Paint Academy, 2021. Interview With “Open Impressionism” Artist Erin Hanson (drawpaintacademy.com)
Christopher Varley and Russell Bingham, ‘Group of Seven’, The Canadian Encyclopaedia, 2013. Group of Seven | The Canadian Encyclopedia

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