Famous Landscape Artists
Glorious images of natural scenery remained a popular subject in late 19th and early 20th-century art. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with the modern city, many artists sought out places resembling earthly paradises where they could focus on their work and feel nature firsthand. Contemporary landscape artists continue to be inspired by the majesty and mystery of nature, but the very notion of a landscape evolved greatly and broke all boundaries, becoming a subject for experimentation both in the figurative and abstract art. Exploring the psychological and spiritual places in landscapes, famous landscape artists continue to push the limits of the genre.
Famous Landscape Artists
This is a topic that I have been obsessed with for a little more than a decade, which is approximately the length of time that I have been painting the landscape myself. Who are the great landscape painters of the American West working today? And what can I learn from them? I have studied the work of many great landscape painters; the French Impressionists, the Hudson River School painters, the California impressionists, the Russian landscape painters, the little-known landscape watercolors of John Singer Sargent, the landscapes of painters of the Southwest such as Carl Oscar Borg, Maynard Dixon, etc. But the majority of my time has been spent with the works of today’s living western landscape painters. A word on style: my style preference is a point somewhere between realism and abstraction. Tightly painted works or works that are photo realistic may be technically superb but leave me unsatisfied artistically. Works that lean too far towards the abstract may be emotionally intense but often are lacking in competent drafting, values, colors, etc. I believe the balance to be somewhere in between tightly realistic and wildly abstract. All this being said, it is my opinion (which may or may not be worth much) that the greatest living Western landscape painters of today are Clyde Aspevig (Montana), Ray Roberts (California), and Lem Chmiel (Colorado). Let’s look at works by Clyde Aspevig first. No one does the landscape better than he does. He is a master at balancing detail with innuendo, putting in enough detail to transport you to what feels like a specific time and place, and yet leaving enough out to draw you into visual collaboration with him. I heard him lecture at the Scottsdale Artist’s School when I was just starting out as a painter. One of the reasons that his body of work is so excellent is that he has the discipline to turn finished paintings against the wall for 6 months and then look at them with fresh eyes before letting them out of his studio. I once drove from my home in Arizona to Santa Barbara to see an exhibit of his work at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Of the 29 paintings hanging in the exhibit, not one was bad. They were all either good or great. My husband and son (who went to the exhibit with me) had different favorite paintings than I did, but we all agreed that every painting was worthy of the wall space. I can’t say that about very many shows.
Famous Landscape Artists
Dutch art saw landscapes as the medium that expressed pride in their country in the 17th century. Peter Paul Rubens, the most eminent representative of Flemish art, among a vast number of artists excelled in landscape as well as in portraiture, religious, mythological and allegorical subjects. Gillis van Coninxloo worked in a Mannerist style. Pieter van Laar developed his own style of landscape. Esaias van de Velde, Hercules Seghers, Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael also were among the pioneers. Aelbert Cuyp was one of the most famous Dutch landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Jacob van Ruisdael (or Ruysdael) was the greatest of all Dutch Golden Age landscape painters; Van Ruisdael excelled in the painting of cloudscapes.
Famous Landscape Artists
Many more pure landscape subjects survive from the 15th century onwards; several key artists are Zen Buddhist clergy, and worked in a monochrome style with greater emphasis on brush strokes in the Chinese manner. Some schools adopted a less refined style, with smaller views giving greater emphasis to the foreground. A type of image that had an enduring appeal for Japanese artists, and came to be called the “Japanese style”, is in fact first found in China. This combines one or more large birds, animals or trees in the foreground, typically to one side in a horizontal composition, with a wider landscape beyond, often only covering portions of the background. Later versions of this style often dispensed with a landscape background altogether.
Famous Landscape Artists
Landscapes were idealized, mostly reflecting a pastoral ideal drawn from classical poetry which was first fully expressed by Giorgione and the young Titian, and remained associated above all with hilly wooded Italian landscape, which was depicted by artists from Northern Europe who had never visited Italy, just as plain-dwelling literati in China and Japan painted vertiginous mountains. Though often young artists were encouraged to visit Italy to experience Italian light, many Northern European artists could make their living selling Italianate landscapes without ever bothering to make the trip. Indeed, certain styles were so popular that they became formulas that could be copied again and again.
A curtain of mountains at the back of the landscape is standard in wide Roman views and even more so in Chinese landscapes. Relatively little space is given to the sky in early works in either tradition; the Chinese often used mist or clouds between mountains, and also sometimes show clouds in the sky far earlier than Western artists, who initially mainly use clouds as supports or covers for divine figures or heaven. Both panel paintings and miniatures in manuscripts usually had a patterned or gold “sky” or background above the horizon until about 1400, but frescos by Giotto and other Italian artists had long shown plain blue skies. The single surviving altarpiece from Melchior Broederlam, completed for Champmol in 1399, has a gold sky populated not only by God and angels, but also a flying bird. A coastal scene in the Turin-Milan Hours has a sky overcast with carefully observed clouds. In woodcuts a large blank space can cause the paper to sag during printing, so Dürer and other artists often include clouds or squiggles representing birds to avoid this.
One of the greatest romantic style landscape painters, Jean-Baptiste Corot is renowned for his unaffected picturesque depiction of nature. His particularly sensitive treatment of distance, light and form was dependent on tonal values rather than on drawing and colour, lending the finished composition an air of timeless romance. Less encumbered by painterly theory, Corot’s works are nevertheless among the world’s most popular landscape pictures. A regular exhibitor at the Parisian Salon from 1827, and a member of the Barbizon School led by Theodore Rousseau (1812-67), he was immensely influential on other outdoor artists like Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). He was also an extraordinarily generous man who spent much of his money on needy artists.
After the World War II, new movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Pop-Art, New Realism, Minimalism, Op Art sprang up to reflect changing values and creative priorities. Yet, many creatives continued to draw from nature, yet informed by innovations brought by these modernist movements. While Richard Diebenkorn became famous for his innovative semi-abstract coastlines, Pop artists resorted to formulae and signs associated with landscape and the open road. While David Hockney presented Californian landscapes synthesized from scenes viewed successively from his car, Alex Katz presented brightly colored paintings of Maine. Still a relevant genre in the 21 century, landscape painting is taking new and unexpected turns ranging from figuration to abstraction.
The greatest modern landscape painter and a giant of French painting, he was the leading figure of the hugely influential Impressionism movement, to whose tenets of spontaneous plein-air painting he remained faithful for the rest of his life. A close friend of Impressionist painters Renoir and Pissarro, his quest for optical truth – above all in the depiction of light – is exemplified by his series of canvases portraying the same object in varying light conditions, and at different times of the day, like his Haystacks (1888 onwards), Poplars (1891 on), Rouen Cathedral (1892 on), and the river Thames (1899 on). This method culminated in his famous series of Water-lilies (among the most famous landscape paintings ever) created from 1883 in his garden at Giverny. His last set of monumental water-lily pictures with their shimmering colours have been interpreted by several art critics and painters as being an important precursor to abstract art, and by others as the supreme exemplar of Monet’s search for spontaneous naturalism. For more about Monet’s handling of light and colour, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.
Landscape backgrounds for various types of painting became increasingly prominent and skilful during the 15th century. The period around the end of the 15th century saw pure landscape drawings and watercolours from Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Fra Bartolomeo and others, but pure landscape subjects in painting and printmaking, still small, were first produced by Albrecht Altdorfer and others of the German Danube School in the early 16th century. At the same time Joachim Patinir in the Netherlands developed the “world landscape” a style of panoramic landscape with small figures and using a high aerial viewpoint, that remained influential for a century, being used and perfected by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The Italian development of a thorough system of graphical perspective was now known all over Europe, which allowed large and complex views to be painted very effectively.