The Top 10 Best Landscape Painters
Introduction to Landscape
Landscape art (from the Dutch word 'landschap', a patch of cultivated ground) refers to portrayals of outdoor scenery such as meadows, fields, trees, rivers, mountains, lakes, valleys, coastlines, beaches, estuaries and so on. Sky and weather conditions may also appear prominently in a landscape composition. Human figures however are traditionally included only as staffage or as a minor element. When people become an important feature, the picture is usually defined as an outdoor genre-painting (everyday scene).
Although landscape painting was established as a genre during the 15th century, it wasn't until the 17th century that Dutch Realist artists began to take it seriously. Then in the 18th century, concurrent with the architectural townscapes of Canaletto (1697-1768) of the school of Venetian painting, came the cultivation of country estates - especially in Britain - which stimulated demand for topographical pictures (like "photos") from proud landowners. The early years of the 19th century witnessed the Golden Age of English landscape painting, led by Turner and Constable, and also the development of plein-air techniques by the Barbizon school, and later by Monet's style of outdoor Impressionism - methods greatly facilitated by the invention of portable collapsible tin paint tubes in 1841, by American painter John Rand. In America, the Hudson River School (c.1825-75) was the first landscape painting movement to portray the grandeur and remote beauty of the newly discovered continent. The School spawned other mini-movements like Luminism and the Rocky Mountain School.
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Position of Landscape in the Hierarchy of the Painting Genres
Landscape was ranked number 4 in the hierarchy of the genres (types of picture) by the great European academies of fine art, as announced in 1669 by Andre Felibien, Secretary to the French Academy. The other genres (in order of importance) were History painting, Portraiture, Genre-Works, and Still Life. The low ranking bestowed on landscape art stemmed from its lesser "narrative" content (that is, moral message). In an attempt to overcome this, early landscape artists tried to infuse their pictures with an uplifting message, connecting the views captured with mythological or aesthetic significance.
The Top 10 Landscape Artists
This list of famous landscape painters has been compiled by our Editor Neil Collins MA LLB. It represents his personal view of the ten best exponents of scenic art. Like any such compilation it reveals more about the personal tastes of the compiler than the landscape painters being ranked. (See also our article for students/teachers: Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art and also How to Appreciate Paintings.)
JOINT No 10.
FREDERIC EDWIN CHURCH: A pupil of Cole, Church arguably exceeded his master in his monumental romantic panoramas, each of which conveyed something of the spirituality of nature. Church painted spectacular views of natural scenery from all over the American continent from Labrador to the Andes. For more, see: Frederic Edwin Church Biography.
Famous Landscapes by Frederic Church
No 9. Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Introspective, melancholic and somewhat reclusive, Caspar David Friedrich is the greatest landscape painter of the romantic tradition. Born near the Baltic, he settled permanently in Dresden, where he focused exclusively on the spiritual connections and significance of landscape, being inspired by the haunted silence of the forest, as well as the effect of light (sunrise, dusk, moonlight) and the seasons. His genius lay in his ability to capture a hitherto undiscovered spiritual dimension in nature, which gives his landscape painting an emotional, mystical edge which has never been equalled.
Famous Works by Caspar David Friedrich
No 8. Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Often called the "forgotten Impressionist", the Anglo-French Alfred Sisley was second only to Monet in his fidelity to spontaneous plein-airism: indeed, he was the only one of the Impressionists to devote himself exclusively to landcape painting. His seriously undervalued reputation rests on his skill in capturing the unique effects of the light and seasons on a wide range of landscape, waterscape and riverscape scenery. His depiction of early light and dull afternoons is especially memorable. Not high fashion at present but still ranks as one of the greatest exponents of Impressionist landscape painting. Could well become re-evaluated since - unlike Monet - his works never suffer from a lack of form.
Famous Landscapes by Alfred Sisley
No 7. Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91)
A Dutch Realist artist, Aelbert Cuyp is one of the most renowned of all Netherlandish landscape painters. His greatest scenic views - river scenes and landscapes with placid livestock - reveal great serenity and masterful handling of glowing light (early morning, or evening sun) in an Italianate style: a sign of significant Claudean influence. This golden light often catches just the edges and rims of vegetation, clouds or animals, with highlights laid on in thick impasto paint. In this way, Cuyp turned his native Dordrecht into a dream world encapsulated in the start or end of a perfect day, with an all-pervading sense of stillness and security, and everything in harmony with Nature. Popular in Holland, he was greatly appreciated and collected in England.
Famous Landscapes by Aelbert Cuyp
No 6. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875)
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.
Famous Landscapes by Jean-Baptiste-Camille
No 5. Jacob Van Ruisdael (1628-82)
Now considered the greatest of all Dutch Realist landscape artists, the work of Jacob Van Ruisdael had a huge influence on later European landscape art, although during his lifetime he was less popular than the Italianate-style painters. His subjects included windmills, riverscapes, forests, fields, beaches and seascapes, depicted with unusual emotional feeling, using bold forms, dense colours and vigorous impastoed brushwork, instead of the usual focus on tonal values. A pupil of his uncle Salomon Van Ruisdael, Jacob in turn taught the celebrated Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), and was much admired by English masters like Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, as well as members of the Barbizon school.
Famous Landscapes by Jacob Van Ruisdal
No 4. Claude Lorraine (1600-82) (Claude Gellee)
French painter, draughtsman and etcher, active in Rome, who is regarded by many art historians as the greatest painter of idyllic landscapes in the history of art. Since pure (that is, secular and unclassical) landscape, like plain still-life or genre painting, was seen (in 17th century Rome) as lacking in moral seriousness, Claude Lorrain introduced classical elements and mythological themes into his compositions, including deities, heroes and saints. In addition, his chosen environment - the countryside around Rome - was rich in antique ruins. These classical Italianate pastoral landscapes were further infused with a poetic light, which represents his unique contribution to the art of landscape painting. Claude Lorraine was especially influential on English artists, both during his lifetime and for two centuries thereafter: John Constable described him as "the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw."
Famous Works by Claude Lorraine
No 3. John Constable (1776-1837)
Ranks alongside Turner as one of the best English landscape painters, not least for his singular ability to recreate the colours, climate and rustic scenery of the romantic English countryside, and for his pioneering role in the development of plein-airism. In contrast to Turner's distinctively interpretive style, John Constable focused on nature, painting the Suffolk and Hampstead scenery he knew so well. His spontaneous, fresh compositions were often, however, careful reconstructions that owed much to his close study of Dutch Realism as well as Claudean Italianate style works. The renowned artist Henry Fuesli once commented that the life-like naturalist renditions of Constable always made him call for his umbrella!
Famous Landscapes by John Constable
No 2. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
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.
Famous Landscapes by Claude Monet
No 1. JMW Turner (1775-1851)
In my opinion, JMW Turner is the greatest ever landscape painter: his unique style remains enduringly popular. Overshadowed initially by Thomas Girtin, Turner worked exclusively in watercolours until the age of 21, Turner's early style of oil painting was Italianate, rather than Dutch Realist, but his mature works of pale brilliance did not materialize until after his 1819 sketching tour of Italy. His unique genius was his ability to capture the differing effect of light in a revolutionary style of proto-Impressionism verging on abstract expressionism, making him one of the first genuinely "modern" artists, revered by Claude Monet as well as 20th century expressionists. The Turner style of English landscape painting remains, like the frenzied brushwork of Van Gogh, an instantly recognizable contribution to the history of art. He became a full member of the Royal Academy at 27, Professor of Linear Perspective at 32, and Deputy President in 1845. On his death, he left 300 paintings and nearly 20,000 drawings and watercolours to the National Gallery in London.
Famous Landscapes by JMW Turner