English Landscape Painting
18th/19th Century Landscapes: Thomas Girtin, Turner, John Constable, Richard Parkes Bonington.

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The Hay Wain (1821) (detail)
By John Constable. One of the most
famous landscape paintings.

For information and facts about
this painting genre, see:
Richard Wilson (1714-82)
Father of the English School
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)
Portraiture, Landscapes
John Constable (1776-1837)
Naturalist landscape painter
Thomas Girtin (1714-82)
First major watercolourist
JMW Turner (1775-1851)
Impressionistic landscape art

Works by England's best landscape
artists can be seen in museums like:
the National Gallery London.

English Landscape Painting (1700-1900)
Origins, History, Types


Origins - Dutch Influence - Development of Classical Landscape Art
Two Styles of 18th Century Landscape
Topographical Landscapes
Richard Wilson
Samuel Scott, Charles Brooking
Thomas Gainsborough
Early Watercolour Methods
The English Landscape School
JR Cozens
Thomas Girtin
19th Century English Landscape Painters
John Constable
JMW Turner
Richard Parkes Bonington
John Crome & Norwich School
John Sell Cotman
WJ Muller
Peter de Wint
Other early 19th Century Landscape Artists
19th Century Landscape Watercolourists

The Burning of the Houses of Lords
and Commons (1835) By JMW Turner.

Origins of the English School

The modern attitude to nature is so different from that of the eighteenth century that it is not easy for us to understand the prejudices against which the early English landscape-painters had to struggle. At the beginning of the century the very idea that the genre of pure landscape could be a fit subject for art was little more than a hundred years old, and the idea still lingered among persons of 'taste' that a landscape-painting must be dignified by some ostensible figure-subject.

For details of portraiture, genre
painting & subject pictures, see:
English Figurative Painting
Portrait art of 18th/19th century
William Hogarth (1697-1764)
Painter, Engraver, Satirist
Joshua Reynolds (1723-92)
Portraitist, President Royal Academy
William Blake (1757-1827)
Watercolourist, Illustrator, Engraver
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82)
Romantic leader of Pre-Raphaelites
Alfred Stevens (1817-75)
Sculptor, painter and muralist.
George Frederick Watts (1817-1904)
Portraitist and sculptor.
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
19th century school of Romanticism

For a list of the finest exponents
of plein-air painting, see:
Best Landscape Artists.

For details of art movements
see: Timeline for History of Art
and also History of Art.

Dutch Influence on English Landscape School

The feeling for landscape was strongest in the north of Europe, especially in Flanders, and before the middle of the fifteenth century Van Eyck had painted landscape backgrounds which were as true in their sense of space, lighting, and atmosphere as anything that was produced in the next three hundred years, and it was in Flanders that pictures which approached to pure landscape were first painted. With the decline of religious enthusiasm the interest in the background grew, and some painters, notably Joachim Patenier, and members of the Danube school (1490-1540) in Bavaria and Austria, as well as Pieter Brueghel the Elder, reduced the scale of their figures to insignificance in relation to their landscape backgrounds. But it was not till the seventeenth century that landscape pure and simple really came into its own. In Protestant Holland, painters, looking for new subject-matter to replace the old devotional subjects, turned their attention to landscape, and a school of artists arose numbering among them Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), Salomon van Ruysdael (1603-70), Aelbert Cuyp (1620-90), and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-82), whose work helped to form the conventional English taste in the next century.

For a list of the most important
portraitist, history painters and
landscape artists in oils and
watercolours, during the
eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, (1700-1900) see:
Best English Painters.

For biographies and works
of established European
painters, see: Old Masters.
For details of the best
modern painters, see:
Famous Painters.
For a list of the top 10
greatest painters/sculptors, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For details of colour pigments
used by 18th century English
landscape painters, see:
Eighteenth Century Colour palette.

For more about the evolution
of oils, acrylics, watercolours
and other types of paintings,
as well as famous artists, see:
Fine Art Painting.

For a guide to the best of
modern UK painters (1960-2000),
see Contemporary British Painting.

For the Top 300 oils, watercolours
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.
For the Top 100 works of sculpture
see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Development of Classical Landscape Art in Italy

Meanwhile landscape had been developing on rather different lines in Italy. Thus a tendency to idealism and breadth of vision led to the treatment of landscape, especially in the sixteenth century among the Venetians, in broad and simple masses of conventional colour and tone to harmonize with the glowing colour-schemes of their pictures. From their work and from that of the eclectic painters of Bologna developed the Roman school of classical landscape, of which Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin were the leaders in the seventeenth century. It is worth remembering that neither of these painters was of Italian birth, and that Paul and Matthys Bril, who preceded them as landscape-painters in Rome, were also northerners. It was on the work of these Roman painters that the eighteenth-century idea of 'classical landscape' was based, a conception that corresponded to the 'grand style' in figure-painting.

The Two Styles of 18th Century Landscape Art

There were, then, two main styles of landscape which had the approval of the eighteenth-century arbiter of taste, the classical and the Dutch. The works of these two schools were regarded as models, and from them were derived rules, principles, and canons of taste by which all landscape could be judged. No appeal to natural truth could weigh against an appeal to the rules of good taste, and in the age of reason raw nature untamed by the will of man found little favour with anyone. The literature of the period illustrates this point of view. Any but the tamest and most cultivated aspects of nature are described, as a rule, with unmixed horror. This was perhaps natural in an age when man was particularly conscious of his own dignity, and when the wild forces of nature still untamed constituted a threat which he could not disregard. The horrid Alps spoke of nothing but cold and hardship, but a picture of a 'gentleman's seat' or park was a heartening sight to remind him of his rich acres and his honour in the land.


Topographical Landscapes

Before Richard Wilson, there had been no English landscape-painter of much note, and accordingly there was a further prejudice in favour of the works of foreigners against which he had to fight. It was a losing battle against the forces of prejudice and good taste, and the frontal attack of Wilson and Thomas Gainsborough might well have failed if it had not been for the flanking movement of the topographical draughtsmen, whom a vogue for the publication of books of engravings of 'gentlemen's seats' brought into existence. The books were, as a rule, published by subscription, and for the payment of a few guineas a country gentleman could have an engraving of his own place included. Here was a genuine demand firmly based on the bedrock of human vanity, and it provided a livelihood for a school of water-colourists which could not otherwise have existed. Their drawings were modest in aim, and at first were intended to have no independent existence apart from the engravings done from them. Little but accuracy was asked of the artists, and consequently they were freer than the oil-painter from the conventions of 'taste', and able to learn from the direct study of nature instead of con-structing ideal landscapes according to rule. Their early work is full of the stereotyped tricks and conventions of the time, but these gradually gave way to a fresher and more natural vision as the artists learned in the school of nature.

Richard Wilson (1714-82)

Known as 'the father of English landscape', it was Wilson who - like William Hogarth in figurative art - bore the brunt of the struggle against conventional standards. For biographical details, see: Richard Wilson.

Samuel Scott, Charles Brooking

Of Wilson's contemporaries, Samuel Scott (1710-72) and Charles Brooking (1713-59) are worthy of note. In both, the influence of Dutch art is obvious. This is particularly the case with Brooking, whose pleasing but rather unexciting little sea-pieces are exactly in the vein of the Van de Veldes, who worked in England at the end of the seventeenth century. Scott, whose work consists mainly of scenes on the Thames, was a more independent painter. His pictures are straight-forward records of the thing seen without any artificial airs and graces.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88)

The only oil-painter whose talent for landscape was equal to Wilson's, was Gainsborough. For biographical details, see: Thomas Gainsborough.

Early Watercolour Methods

The method of these early water-colourists was to make a careful drawing of their subject in precise and delicate pen-line, upon which the main masses of light and shade were washed either in Indian ink or in a very limited scheme consisting of blues and greys for distance and sky, and brown and brownish yellows for the foreground. Occasionally artists used a fuller colour-scheme - Francis Towne (1740-1816) was one - but these are the exception. It must be remembered in this connection that these drawings were intended in the first instance simply as preparatory studies for the engraver to work from, and that his task would have been made much more difficult if he had had to translate the tone values of a full colour-scheme into black and white. Yet despite their modest aim, quiet colour, and timid draughtsmanship, these artists have a reticent charm which is worth looking for.

The English Landscape School

Their historical interest is great, for even more perhaps than Wilson and Gainsborough they were the founders of the English landscape school. Thomas Malton (1748-1804), Paul Sandby (1725-1809), MA Rooker (1743-1804), Edward Dayes (1763-1804), Thomas Hearne (1744-1817) are among the masters of this school whose work has a personality and refinement which repays careful study. The most important artist of all was J.R. Cozens, the son of Alexander Cozens, a water-colour painter, drawing-master, and writer on art.

JR Cozens (1752-99)

Cozens's subjects, unlike those of most of his contemporaries, are usually continental and represent scenes in France, Italy, Switzerland, Sicily, and other countries. His colour is entirely conventional, but he has a largeness and poetry of vision and a sense of the 'genius loci' which make his drawings much more than topographical records. His journeys abroad were mostly made in the company of travellers who wished to have a record made of places which impressed them, and so we may assume that his work was topographically accurate, and that his subjects were sometimes chosen for him, but these cramping limitations have left no mark on his work which is as free and unhampered as if he never worked but to please himself. No one, not even Turner, has ever given the grandeur and vastness of mountain scenery better than Cozens. No one, not even Girtin, had a larger and more simple vision or extracted more beauty from the character of his medium.

Cozens's life ended in tragedy, for in 1794 he went out of his mind. From then till his death he remained in the care of a Dr. Monro, whose name is in other ways closely bound up with the history of English watercolour painting.

At about the same date JMW Turner and Thomas Girtin were just beginning to attract attention as promising young water-colourists, and they were destined to enlarge the boundaries of water-colour far beyond anything of which Cozens had dreamed, though not to surpass him within his own limits. Of the two, Turner lived till the middle of the nineteenth century, and the epoch-making developments of his genius belong to a later date, but Girtin belongs to the early English water-colour school, which reached its culmination in his work. Except for a series of views of Paris, executed shortly before his death, Girtin's subjects are entirely English, and he began in the simple timid manner of the topographical draughtsmen. He was a pupil of Edward Dayes, and was employed by Dr. Monro along with Turner, Varley, and other promising young artists, to make copies of water-colours by Gainsborough, Cozens, and other painters. Dr. Monro gave these young artists half a crown and their supper for an evening's work, and the arrangement was a happy one for both parties. The doctor certainly got his money's worth, and the young men acquired a knowledge and experience worth far more than their pay.

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)

The genius of Thomas Girtin was, of course, inborn, but one may doubt if it could have developed as completely as it did in his short life if it had not been for these evenings spent at Dr. Monro's. The sight of Gainsborough's and Cozens's work must have been an inspiration to him, and in them we may look for the germ of his own work, but the germ only. The vigour of Gainsborough and the breadth of Cozens find echoes in his drawings, but these qualities became, as it were, naturalized in him, and it is useless to look in the work of others for qualities which were his own. To realize how original his work was, requires some imaginative effort, for we are now so accustomed to developments based in the first instance on his, that his drawings have to some extent lost their revolutionary freshness for us. 'If Tom Girtin had lived, I would have starved,' is an often quoted remark of Girtin's fellow-student Turner, but it serves to remind us that while he lived Girtin was the leader and Turner the follower. Nothing in Girtin's work foreshadows the later developments of Turner, but neither at the date of Girtin's death did anything in Turner's own.

It is not easy to put into words precisely what Girtin did in watercolour, though easy enough to see when one studies a collection of early English water-colours. It is not enough to say that he gave a new boldness and breadth to the execution, and extended the range of colour, for Gainsborough had boldness, Cozens breadth, and Francis Towne as full a range of colour. All these qualities he combined in a new and personal way, and he gave to finished watercolours a strength and substantiality which enabled them to stand direct competition with oil paintings, and that without in any way compromising the special qualities of the medium. Further, his drawings are not conceived primarily in line, to which tone and colour are added. Rather he sees in terms of large simple washes to which the detail of drawing is added, and he has, to an exceptional degree, the faculty of seeing his pictures as a single entity and not as a collection of parts. His subjects, which are frequently architectural, are more than records of buildings or places, they are the medium of a purely pictorial expression in terms of light and atmosphere which set the mood and key of the whole. He begins, too, to show a new technical inventivness in the handling of his washes, and a power to extract new qualities and beauties from the natural behaviour of watercolour on paper. While his control of his medium was probably greater that of any one who had preceeded him, he collaborates with its idiosyncrasies in a new way, and turns the accidents of a flowing wash to express account.

Some vestiges of earlier convention remain even in his latest work, and, though the range of his colour was so much amplified, he never became entirely naturalistic in this respect. With his death in 1802 the first period of English watercolour comes to an end. And in the new century painters dared to set down the raw, fresh brillance of nature's colour.


19th Century English Landscape Painters

History does not as a rule divide itself into neat lengths exactly coincident with the centuries, and in a sense the period from William Hogarth to the death of JMW Turner is a single stage of development. But this period does fall, very naturally, into two parts, which correspond roughly with the last seventy-five years of the eighteenth century and the first fifty years of the nineteenth. In the first part the figure-painters, especially the portrait-painters, are dominant, and landscape-painters are struggling for recognition; in the second, landscape comes into its own, and in figure-painting there is a general decline from the standards of Joshua Reynolds and others.

In landscape the traditions of Richard Wilson, Thomas Gainsborough, and the water-colour painters were developed in such a way as ultimately to revolutionize the painters' outlook, not in England alone but throughout Europe. The nineteenth century was essentially an age of landscape-painters, and the most important developments in figure-painting were the result of applying the landscape-painters' outlook to figure-subjects. On the purely technical side this revolution can be traced to the work of certain particular painters, but though it found its expression in new technical methods, its causes must be looked for in a very widely spread change of attitude towards nature.

The two painters who above all others gave effective expression to this changed attitude were J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable (1776-1837). Their names are likely to be for ever linked together, but they were men of utterly different type and their approach to nature was essentially dissimilar. Constable, born and bred in the country, brought to his work an intimate familiarity with the homely facts of nature entirely absent from the work of the townsman Turner, which is always filled with a sense of the strangeness and wonder of the world.

Turner's range and grasp is immense. The whole realm of nature is his province, and one feels that he is a little bewildered by its richness and variety. His knowledge of nature is encyclopedic, but he is never a simple recorder of facts. He seems rather to paint a remembered vision, coloured and distorted by his own imagination. He is a traveller whose mind is filled with a confused pageant of memories, which are yet seen with that strange distinctness which sometimes comes to mental vision just before sleep. He has a strange excitement which transforms plain facts to a wild poetry sometimes epic, sometimes lyric, but always romantic.

The range of Constable, on the other hand, is limited almost to his own countryside. He never travelled abroad and his mind was filled with the beauty of common things. He devised new means of recording them, but he remains a recorder rather than a creator. His vision is that of the ordinary man, more subtle, more refined, but not different in its essential texture. The pleasure we derive from his work is mainly the pleasure of recognition. He shows us things which we have all seen, but with an almost startling freshness, and his virtue lies in the innocence of his mind which is not dulled by familiarity. For him the familiar world is daily created anew, and the greenness of the trees, the dew on the grass, the moving pageant of the clouds and their shadows on the earth are hallowed but not dimmed by memories. Of all artists he shows least obviously the influence of others. A man so sensitive to beauty could not be indifferent to the beauty and truth in the work of others, but while he admired the work of the great landscape-painters who had preceded him he never blindly followed tradition. If he owed something to Gainsborough, Claude, Girtin, and Rubens, he never imitated them. Their work merely stimulated his own vision.

Turner, in contrast, learned from all his predecessors by frank imitation - Claude, Nicolas Poussin, Richard Wilson, Titian, Van de Velde, Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Girtin, and John Crome, he imitated in turn. Ambitious and jealous by nature, it seems that he could not bear to feel that another could render any beauty of nature better than himself. Each one he tackled on his own ground till he had mastered him. Disguise after disguise he assumed and discarded before the real Turner at length appeared.

But for all the contrast between them, Turner and Constable have this much in common. Together they stripped the scales of accumulated convention from artists' eyes and left them face to face with nature itself, and they are the founders of modern art. For another naturalist artist, please see also George Stubbs (1724-1806).

John Constable (1776-1837)

Constable, like so many other English artists, was a native of East Anglia, being born at East Bergholt in Suffolk. What formal training he had was received at the Royal Academy Schools, but in fact he was mainly self-taught. One can well believe that the training at the Academy was not of much use to him, for at a very early age he knew precisely what he wanted to paint, and no one living could teach him how to do that. But there was at least a tradition of strong vigorous handling of paint, which Reynolds had encouraged by his example. In the few portraits which he painted, Constable shows himself a follower, though not a very able one, of the Reynolds school, and it may well be that the freedom and boldness of handling, and the rich impasto of paint in his landscape do owe something to his academic training. For the rest, the earliest influences in his work were Gainsborough and the Dutch Realist landscape-painters, but these show little except in choice of subject. The water-colours of Girtin were more important in farming his style, and some of his paintings after he had become acquainted with Girtin's work, such as the "Malvern Hall" (National Gallery), show a large simplicity and breadth which was not in his earlier work. But, even setting aside the difference of medium, such a picture could not possibly be mistaken for a Girtin. The full fresh greens of the grass, the massiveness of the trees, and the general feeling of the picture are entirely Constable's own.

What Constable aimed at, above all, was to capture the freshness and sparkle of nature. Before his time no painters had dared to paint the full strength of nature's greens, and in the process of picture-making something of the life and scintillation of nature had always been lost. It was in his small sketches painted in the open air that he first achieved this dewy freshness. In them the direct vigour of his disunited touches conveyed exactly the glitter of light and tremor of atmosphere which earlier painters had missed.

That he ultimately succeeded in preserving it in larger pictures painted in the studio was probably due to the example of Rubens's great landscape, "The Chateau de Steen", now in the National Gallery, but then in the possession of Constable's friend Sir George Beaumont, the connoisseur and amateur painter. From the foreground, which is painted in conventional browns, he had nothing to learn, but the distance and sky must have been a revelation to him of how the sense of light, air, and movement could be recorded on a large scale. For his later pictures he made a full-sized sketch in oils, and then laid in the main masses of the finished picture in transparent monochrome in the Flemish manner, thus establishing the general effect of his picture before destroying the fresh surface of his canvas with solid paint. On this preparation he could work with something of the freedom of his first sketch from nature, and add to the general effect of light and shade the glancing flicker and gleam of light on grass, leaf, and stream which gave his pictures their astonishing freshness. He had a method, known in his own day as 'Constable's snow', of putting on solid touches of pure white, which caught and broke up the light which fell on the pictures. These touches were then glazed with transparent greens and other colours, and a brilliance of broken colour was produced which would have been impossible in opaque paint. The effect when freshly painted must have been startling, but something of its original freshness has now gone. The oils with which his glazes were diluted have yellowed with time, and consequently these touches, having lost their sparkle, tend to give rather a fussy appearance to many of his finished pictures. His sketches from nature and the large preliminary studies for his finished pictures (a magnificent specimen of which is "The Leaping Horse" in the Victoria and Albert Museum) have stood the test of time better, and it is in these that his genius can be best appreciated.

Nearly all later nineteenth-century landscape-painting derives something from Constable's example, but his outlook and methods have been more intensely studied and developed in France than in England. In 1824, his "Hay Wain" (National Gallery) was exhibited at the Paris Salon, where it created an immediate sensation and was awarded a gold medal. The ultimate extent of his influence on French painting is difficult to estimate, but it was certainly great, as has been generously acknowledged by French artists, especially Delacroix, who spoke of him as 'le pere de notre ecole de paysage'. His work was the direct precursor of the Barbizon school of landscape, and it paved the way for Impressionism by the luminosity of its colour and loose broken touch. (See also: Impressionist Landscape Paintings.)

In England isolated painters may be considered to be of Constable's school, but the harvest which he sowed has been mainly left to others to reap, and English painters have been no more than gleaners in the field of his genius. Yet he did more than any other to form the vision of common men, and if today his pictures seem sometimes a little tame it is because we have learned to see so much with his eyes that they are no longer a revelation to us. No one has ever captured the feeling of English weather as he did, or painted so lovingly and unforgettably the charm of the English countryside and the humble beauty of common things. For biographical details, see John Constable.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Turner, perhaps the greatest artist England has produced, has never been so much loved as Constable, the grandeur and isolation of his imagination setting him apart from mankind as much as the simplicity and humility of Constable has made him at one with it. Born in Maiden Lane, Convent Garden, Turner was the son of a barber, who took a pride in the early signs of his son's genius and encouraged him in his work. It is thought that he may have studied first under Pallice, a floral-painter, in the Soho Academy. His education was certainly varied. In 1788 he was at Coleman's School at Margate, he worked for a time with James Malton, the architectural draughtsman, and he coloured prints for John Raphael Smith, the engraver. For a while he was a student at the Royal Academy Schools, and he was one of the young painters who copied water-colours at the house of Dr. Monro. He exhibited at the Academy for the first time in 1790, and continued to do so with great regularity till 1850, the year before his death. Into this period of sixty years he crowded an almost incredible amount of work, and the development of his genius can be studied year by year and almost day by day in the huge number of pictures and sketches which he left to the nation. For an appreciation of his life and scintillating landscapes, see JMW Turner.

The immediate result of Turner's influence was not great, and his few imitators are of small account. Indirectly his influence has been far-reaching. The general raising of the pitch of colour in modern painting owes perhaps even more to him than to Constable. The affinities between his work and that of the French impressionists are obvious, and their debt to his work has been acknowledged, but that the brilliance of colour in the English Pre-Raphaelites also derived to some extent from him is seldom realized, but is almost certainly a fact. Through these two movements, so unlike one another in many ways, his influence has become part of the general heritage of modern painting, and artists to whom the name of Turner is anathema only paint as they do because he painted as he did.

The historical importance of his work is likely to become increasingly recognized with the passage of time. Even now his work is comparatively little known on the Continent, though many of his finest works have found their way to America. His work is scarcely represented in the great European galleries, and to many the name of Turner stands only for rather gaudily coloured sunsets. But when the full range of his stupendous genius becomes generally known his position among the great masters will be assured.


Other 19th Century Landscape Painters

Besides Turner and Constable, there were a number of other landscape-painters working in England during the first fifty years of the 19th century whose work, if of less importance in its bearing on the general trend of European painting, is scarcely less interesting artistically. The names of John Crome, JS Cotman, RP Bonington, David Cox, Peter de Wint, and WJ Muller would be alone enough to make this period one of exceptional interest; but in addition there were many painters both in oils and water-colours whose work has an abiding charm which ensures it a permanent, though minor, position in the history of landscape-painting.

Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28)

As a link with the main movement of the century Richard Parkes Bonington ranks next in importance to Turner and Constable. He stands rather apart from the other English painters of his day in that he was trained in France and spent a great part of his life there. Born at Arnold, near Nottingham, he went to Paris when he was about fifteen and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and in the studio of Baron Gros. While in Paris he attracted the attention of Delacroix, on whose development he had some influence. In spite of Bonington's French training it is difficult to find any signs of French inspiration in his landscape style which is quite personal and definitely English in its affinities, but he also painted small historical figure-subjects, and in these the influence of the French Romantic school is apparent.

The subjects of his landscapes are mostly French coast and river scenes, but in 1822 he visited Italy and painted a group of pictures in Venice. The characteristics of his landscapes are bright tone and colour, great clarity of atmosphere, and a most refined and delicate handling of paint.

Bonington was only twenty-six when he died. Constable died at sixty-one, Turner at seventy-six, yet in this short career he produced work which may fairly be compared with theirs. At twenty-six Turner had only just begun to find his feet as an oil-painter, Constable had scarcely passed out of the student stage. Bonington when he died was a mature painter, in the very forefront of the naturalistic movement in landscape. It is useless to speculate on what he might have done if he had lived, but he had achieved enough in his short life to place him among the leaders of the English landscape School, and his death cut short a career as full of brilliant promise as that of Girtin, who died at the same age. His work in oils and water-colours is equally distinguished, and he shares with Constable the credit of helping to launch the French naturalistic landscape movement.

John Crome (1768-1821) - The Norwich School of Landscape

John Crome, who belongs to a slightly older generation, was the founder of the Norwich school of landscape painters, the first of the English provincial schools, the sudden rise of which constitutes one of the most interesting episodes in the whole history of English painting. The eastern counties, for some reason unexplained, have always been prolific in artistic genius from the time of the East Anglian illuminators in the first half of the fourteenth century onwards. Possibly the close links between this part of England and Flanders may do something to explain this, and certainly Gainsborough, Constable, and Crome all drew inspiration from the painters of the Low Countries. 'Old Crome', as he is called to distinguish him from his son, JB Crome, was born at Norwich, the son of a weaver. In 1783, he was apprenticed to a coach and sign-painter, Francis Whisler, from whom he learned the use of palette and brushes. That was all the professional training he ever had, but he is known to have copied Dutch and Flemish paintings in local collections, as well as Gainsborough's "Cottage Door", and these were his real masters. Early in his life Crome made the acquaintance of Robert Ladbrooke (1770-1842), at that time apprenticed to a printer, with whom in 1803 he founded the Norwich Society of Artists, consisting mainly of his own pupils. In 1808, Crome became its president, and he was a regular contributor to its exhibitions till 1820, the year before his death.

Crome's subjects were drawn chiefly from his own country-side, but he visited Cumberland, the Wye Valley, Weymouth, Paris, and Belgium, and painted some pictures of these places. His art is distinguished by the large and simple dignity of its vision. His colour-schemes and subject-matter were often of the simplest, but to whatever he touched he gave a dignity and grandeur which owes nothing to the conventions of classic art.

He was in no way a revolutionary, but without extending the technical limitations of his predecessors he evolved an unmistakable style of his own as the result of his sincere study of nature. Wilson, Gainsborough, and Hobbema were his inspiration. For the art of Hobbema in particular he had a profound admiration, but it was really always nature that he loved, and the beauties which he found in Hobbema were largely of his own making. The quality of his art is difficult to put into words. It was poetical but quite unliterary. No other painter, unless it be Jean-Francois Millet, has conveyed so well the friendly strength of the earth and the things that grow from it. Compared to Crome most other painters seem flimsy and unreal, but the reality of his pictures does not depend on an accurate description of externals and an exact rendering of visual truth. Rather his pictures are records of mental reaction. From the ephemeral vision of the world he extracts the permanent essentials, and seems to paint things in themselves rather than effects on things. His art is filled with as deep a love of nature as Constable's, but it is of a different order. It may be put in this way: that while Constable loved the beauty of nature Crome loved nature itself. The subject-matter of his pictures often has little sensuous charm, but from it he distils an austere spiritual beauty which enshrines the quiet forces of nature and leaves us with a sense of the divinity in common things. In the oaks which he loved it is not their fresh greenness but their strength which he gives us, as in "The Poringland Oak" (National Gallery). In the "Mousehold Heath" (National Gallery), and in the "Slate Quarries" (Tate Gallery), he gives us the very substance and being of the earth. In his night-piece, "Moonlight on the Marshes of the Yare" (National Gallery), he renders a spare and naked truth beyond anything which Van der Neer achieved. But Crome does not always rise to these heights, and occasionally his love of Hobbema led him into a pettiness in the treatment of foliage, which was copied by his followers who could not enter into the real spirit of his genius.

John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)

The only other member of the Norwich school who can in any way rank with Crome is John Sell Cotman. The son of a linen-draper, he was at first put into his father's business, but soon showed so marked a talent for painting that his father consented to his going to London to study, about the year 1800. In 1807, he returned to Norwich and was elected a member of the Norwich Society of Artists. Later he moved to Yarmouth, where he became associated with Dawson Turner, whose archeological publications he illustrated with etchings, and in 1834 he returned to London and was appointed teacher of drawing in King's College School.

Much of Cotman's life was spent in the teaching of drawing and painting, and the paintings which he has left us were produced in the intervals of this wearying work, but they show little of the tiredness which might be expected. Drawing and water-colour painting were fashionable accomplishments, and much though one may regret that the time of artists like Crome and Cotman should have been wasted in this way, it is yet a fact that this demand for drawing-masters provided a livelihood for artists which they could not otherwise have found, and that in consequence the richness of the English school of landscape-painters owes much to these amateurs. It was an age of great drawing-masters, and the very fact that their living depended on their teaching rather than their painting may have given them independence of outlook.

Another form of pot-boiling, the illustration of books of travel and archeology, also occupied much of Cotman's time. His archeological drawings and etchings are accurate records of buildings and places, but his reputation does not rest on them. His real genius showed itself in the oil and water-colour paintings done for his own pleasure, and in these we have one of the rarest and most refined personalities in English art. The inspiration of several of his contemporaries, notably Crome, Turner, and Girtin, is to be seen in his work, but whatever he drew from others he transformed to an individual expression. In both oils and water-colours he achieved equally happy results, and his work is marked by an unusual understanding of the special qualities of the particular medium in which he happened to be working, while in water-colour he had a gift of flat colour patterning unrivalled by other English water-colourists. The "Greta Bridge" and "The Mumbles, Swansea" in the British Museum illustrate this particular quality of his design, and "The Drop Gate" (Tate Gallery) shows the quality, at once rich and refined, of his oil pigment. The "Wherries on the Yare" (National Gallery) is in his most Crome-like mode, but many of his finest paintings, such as "The Willows" and "The Waterfall", are in private collections. Compared to the massiveness of Crome, Cotman's vision is fragile, but it has a genuine poetry, and the quality of his design and pigment confers an aristocratic distinction on his work which makes it a thing apart.

The remaining painters of the Norwich school belong to an altogether lower category. Most of them have some charm and sincerity, but their work is the work of followers rather than original artists. Robert Ladbrooke, the friend and associate of 'Old Crome', was in no way his equal, nor was his son, John Bernay Crome (1794-1842), who imitated his father's style. All Ladbrooke's sons followed their father's profession, as did Miles Edmund Cotman (1811-58), who sometimes approached his father very closely. Several other members of the Cotman family were also painters, among whom JJ Cotman (d.1878) had a style of his own. The most important of the remaining members of the school were James Stark (1794-1859), George Vincent (1796-1831), Joseph Stannard (1797-1830), Alfred Stannard (1806-89), John Thirtle (1777-1839), H Ninham (1793-1874), and Thomas Lound (1802-61). All these were painters of some interest, but their reputation has been somewhat overshadowed by the two leaders of the school.

WJ Muller (1812-45)

Two other landscape-painters in oil produced work which stands out well above the general high level of the time, WJ Muller and Peter de Wint. Muller's work was very strong in handling and colour, and very varied in subject-matter. His paint occasionally suggests that he may have learned something from Constable, but his spirit is quite different. Much of his best work was executed in Greece and Egypt, and he knew how to make the most of strong Oriental colour. In these pictures he has something of the glamour of the French Orientalists, and some of them have a curiously prophetic suggestion of the early work of Frank Brangwyn. He worked with the same vigorous gusto in both the oil and water-colour mediums, and his early death at the age of thirty-three was a loss to English painting almost equal to that of Girtin and Bonington.

Peter de Wint (1784-1849)

De Wint, though his reputation to-day rests mainly on his water-colours, which will be considered later, was a fine painter in oils. His work in this medium is too often overlooked, but though inclined to be a little sombre and heavy in tone it has a fine and masculine sincerity, and if he had not painted in water-colours at all his oil-paintings would be enough to ensure him a position among the leading painters of his time. This side of his art is well represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Other early 19th Century Landscape Artists

Turner, Constable, Crome, Cotman, Muller, and De Wint, these names sum up the best of English landscape-painting in oils during the first half of the nineteenth century. Their work belongs to all time, but there were many other capable painters of landscape whose work belongs specially to their own age, and is likely ultimately to have only an historical and archeological interest. Prominent among these lesser men are Patrick Nasmyth (1786-1831), son of Alexander Nasmyth, also a landscape-painter, who painted rural scenes in fresh colour, and a rather meticulous handling based on Hobbema, and Thomas Creswick (1811-69), the painter of many simple transcripts of picturesque scenery. Sir Augustus Wall Callcott (1779-1844) painted landscapes based on classical schemes of composition which have a certain charm and atmosphere, and won him the nickname of 'the English Claude'.

Many of the painters of this time are now perhaps best remembered because the art critic John Ruskin wrote about them in the first volume of "Modern Painters". Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867) and David Roberts (1796-1864) are examples. Stanfield, having begun life as a sailor, left the sea and took to scene-painting, and both these occupations left their mark on his pictures. His knowledge of the sea and sky won Ruskin's approval, and the sincerity of his scenically conceived art is beyond question, but he had not the creative gifts to turn his great knowledge to great art. Roberts, who like Stanfield was at first a scene-painter, painted architecture with great accuracy and truth, but he lacked the imagination to make his pictures anything more than literal records. Another scene-painter who made some reputation as a landscape-painter was Joseph W. Allen (1803-52), one of the founders of the Society of British Artists, and William Shayer (1788-1879), WF Witherington (1785-1865), Alfred Vickers (1786-1868), William Collins (1788-1847), FR Lee (1799-1879), W Linton (1791-1876), G Cole (1810-83), were other painters whose work contributed to the generally high level of landscape at this time.

John Martin (1789-1854) has a place of his own. Starting life as an heraldic-painter, he later devoted himself to imaginative landscapes of which "The Plains of Heaven" is a typical example. His work has some likeness to the more fantastic and melodramatic side of Turner's art, but though he had high aims they often led him into exaggeration and absurdity, and he cannot be regarded as much more than an interesting oddity. John Linnell (1792-1882) sometimes painted subjects of the same kind, as in "The Eve of the Deluge" and "The Disobedient Prophet", but his subjects were usually rural, and painted in brilliant if sometimes rather hot and unpleasant colours. Whatever his faults he had a distinct personality, and with Samuel Palmer, the water-colour painter, carried on the peculiar feeling of early nineteenth-century romanticism almost to the end of the century.

19th Century English School of Landscape Watercolourists

Many of the foregoing artists worked in water-colour as well as oil, and Turner, Cotman, Bonington, and De Wint were all leaders of the English water-colour school, but there remains to be considered a fairly large number of painters who were water-colourists primarily, and whose work is of much more importance both aesthetically and historically than that of the minor oil-painters. Watercolour painting has been exploited more extensively and successfully in England than in any other country, and the water-colourists of the early nineteenth century constitute one of the chief glories of English art. As we have seen, this school arose in the first place from the work of the topographical draughtsmen, which the demand for engravings of 'gentlemen's seats' called into existence in the eighteenth century. So in a sense its origin was accidental, but the attention of artists having once been directed to the medium, they began to find beauties in it which were worth cultivating for their own sake, and it would seem that there is something about water-colour which makes it particularly sympathetic to the English temper. Most English artists have been instinctive rather than intellectual and the simplicity and directness of water-colour allow a greater spontaneity of expression than the slower and more elaborate methods of oil-painting. To translate the first mental conception of a picture into the terms of a complex, and comparatively intractable medium, requires a sustained intellectual effort in which the freshness of the conception is too often lost, and something much more than an instinctive reaction to beauty is needed to achieve this translation successfully. Here the lack of a sound and deeply-rooted technical tradition such as there is in France has handicapped the efforts of our oil-painters, and it is worth noting in this connection that the most spontaneous and instinctive of all English painters, Thomas Gainsborough, evolved an oil technique which differed very little from water-colour in its fluidity and directness.

The transition from the 18th to the 19th century school of water-colourists was brought about chiefly by the group of young artists who worked under the direction of Dr. Monro, especially by Girtin, whose work marks the turning-point in the school. Turner was too individual and isolated an artist for the later developments of his work to have much direct effect on others, but John Varley (1778-1842) another of these young artists, had a very far-reaching influence on the rising generation. He was a man of ingenious rather than original mind, with theories on composition and natural structure which must have made him an interesting and inspiring teacher, and he became the leading drawing-master of his time. Among his pupils were Samuel Palmer (1805-81), John Linnell (1792-1882), William Turner (1789-1862), W. H. Hunt (1790-1864), Copley Fielding (1787-1855), and David Cox (1783-1859), but besides these he had a great number of amateur pupils, and he probably did more than any one man to form the popular taste in landscape in the early eighteen-hundreds. His own work has a blend of classical and romantic feeling, and though the range of his subject-matter is extensive, his pictures are mostly variations on a conventional formula of composition, but it is impossible to deny the charm of his romantic lake and mountain scenes. W Turner of Oxford, Samuel Palmer (who also owed something to William Blake), John Linnell, and Copley Fielding were the pupils whose work derives most directly from their master, but Linnell and Copley Fielding, though remaining essentially romantic, introduced a much greater amount of naturalism into their work.

David Cox was a more independent artist. His work shows a completely different outlook from Varley's, from whom he can have learned little more than technical tips. He derived more from Girtin, whose broad washes probably found the starting-point of his personal and original handling. Cox was born at Deritend, near Birmingham, and began his career as a colour-grinder at the Birmingham Theatre, being later promoted to scene-painter. It was as a scene-painter that he first came to London in 1804, and found employment at Astley's Theatre, and it was about this time that he had some lessons from Varley. His mature work shows nothing of the scene-painter's artificiality, but it is possible that the dash and boldness of his handling owes something to this early training. His drawings are very fresh and breezy and have an energetic freedom of brushwork which was something quite new in water-colour and are the proto-type of much modern work. His colour is often blotted rather than washed on to the paper, sometimes dragged lightly over the surface and sometimes allowed to collect into pools, giving an impression of almost accidental spontaneity. Before his time water-colours had been built up of washes, but in his work the brush-stroke rather than the wash is the unit of structure. Cox is one of the greatest English water-colourists, and with him must be classed Peter de Wint, whose drawings have something of the same freedom and sense of airy spaciousness but are rather more reserved in feeling.

W. H. Hunt also developed on independent lines which do not derive much from Varley. He worked mainly in body-colour (water-colour mixed with white), and his subjects were chiefly still life of fruit and flowers as well as rustic scenes with figures. He had a fine sense of colour, and in technique was the forerunner of Birket Foster, Frederick Walker, and his school.

Samuel Prout (1783-1852) was another independent water-colourist who, like Cox, derived to some extent from Girtin, though from a very different side of his art. His subjects were architectural, and he combined pen-line and water-colour washes in his picturesque views of cathedrals, churches, and old towns. His was a modest art, but it had much charm, and Ruskin placed him in a class with Turner alone in his capacity to render the mystery and character of Gothic architecture.

The names of J. B. Pyne (1800-70), James Holland (1800-70), John Callow (1822-78), and JD Harding (1798-1863) must also be mentioned as water-colourists of distinction, and there were many others whose sincere and unassuming work adds to the interest of this very national and characteristic school of painters. Finally, mention must be made of the Newlyn School which flourished during the period 1884-1914, thanks to Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) and Frank Bramley (1857-1915), and the Barbizon-influenced group known as the Glasgow School of Painting (1880-1915), who exhibited successfully in London during the 1890s.

The influence of the English School spread as far as Australia. For more, see: Australian Colonial Painting (1780-1880).

For details of European collections containing works by painters of the English Landscape school, see: Art Museums in Europe.

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