A Brief Look at Landscapes.

My main aim with this topic is to investigate the different styles and techniques artists throughout the ages used to depict the land around them, often giving a great insight into how they felt, and how they expressed their feelings for their surroundings through their art.

I decided to look at, and compare styles between:

  • Japanese style landscapes (1400-1600’s)
  • Alexander Corzens (1717-1786)
  • J. M. W Turner (1775-1851)
  • Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986)


Japanese Landscapes.

Eastern landscape art was radically different from Western landscape, much due to wholly contrasting backgrounds in culture, religion and available resources, but also what landscape personally meant to the Japanese. The style was more concerned with the essence and emotion of the subject as opposed to the Western ideal of depicting what is real, actual and logical,

(1)”The Greek way was to reject the unknowable, to distrust what could not be identified by the brain, and (instead) to advance by intellectualization, to fix in artworks the naturally beautiful, the rational, the deduced ideal.”

The philosophy of Western art was more concentrated on the mark making of the brush relating to the practice of Calligraphy, to express the spirit and nature of the painting:

(2) ”  the brushstroke…is less a means of applying ink than a philosophical or emotional statement.”

Sesshu Toyo.

Arguably one of the most famous Japanese landscape painters, Sesshu developed and used a technique of ‘ink and wash’ or ‘broken ink’ where an often imagined, or roughly copied landscape was first applied with seemingly rough and random brushes of paint which would be the basis and inspiration for the landscape, with the details of trees and mountains emerging from the grades and tones of the ink.

(4) ‘Haboku Landscape’ Soen (5)’Landscape’ – Toyo S. 

This almost imaginary approach to painting could capture the imagination and enhance the sublime nature of the landscape.

(3) “”broken ink”, “splashed ink” or “spilled ink”, which creates works with a remarkable degree of abstraction of forms, as well as a characteristic freedom of brushwork. With his masterful use of ink,… Sesshu was able to create a genuine Japanese style of painting that was continued by many other painters during the following centuries.

This technique is skillfully shown on (4) ‘Haboku Landscape’ – Soen, and (5)’Haboku – Sansui’ – Toyo S.

Personally I enjoy this approach to drawing with regards to the imaginative element. This is something I noticed with a number of artists throughout the ages who I will touch upon later, but the idea of using the creative imagination to shape the painting as opposed to the meticulous copying of a landscape opens up the doors for the added emotion and spirit of the artist which is what eastern art concerned itself with most.

(6)’Haboku – Sansui’ Toyo S.


Alexander Corzens. (1717-1786)

(7) Quote by Cozens from his book ‘A new method of Landscape’ 1785

Cozens was a very influential landscape painter who revolutionised a way of recording the landscape. Predominantly working with watercolour in muted colours of black, white and browns he emphasised the use of tone and contrast to create mood, steering away from the complications and clutter of colour, and using shade to acquire depth and suggested movement.

(8), (9),(10),(11),(12)

However he was most notably know for his ‘blot method’, described in a writing at a visit to the Whitworth gallery in a Cozens exhibition, it describes the process as, (13) “To encourage pupils to use their imaginations more Alexander Cozens devised the ‘blot’ technique. Using ink and a camel hair brush the artist would create a variety of shapes and loose strokes on the paper. Forms were then selected to build a composition which could be traced and painted….He soon discovered that Leonardo da Vinci  had described a similar technique to ‘service in opening the mind’.”

A very similar approach to the ‘Haboku’ style of the ancient Japanese, we see here another artist pulling inspiration from the random marks of paint, and creating an inspirational, imaginative image. For this technique to be possible, the way that I understand it is that there is an underlining, fundamental pattern to the seemingly random shapes and textures created by nature.

max ernst europe-after-rain
(16)’Europe after the Rain II’ Max Ernst

Science calls them fractal patterns that can describe mountain ranges, clouds, swirls of water, air movement and galaxy formations. I think this is why our imagination can see and form complex images of these things from seemingly random blots and marks. This technique was also taken up by the surrealist painters, and most notably Max Ernst who used a similar technique to create surreal landscapes, shapes and animals, (16) ‘Europe after the Rain II’. Decilcomania was a technique developed where two sheets of paper were pressed together with diluted gouache and pressed unevenly to create random contrasting shapes and blots.

Another interesting feature of Cozens’s landscapes was his handling of texture with things such as mountains and tree foliage. After writing a book titled “The Shape Skeleton of 23 Different Species of Trees.” he extensively studied ways to render foliage,

using minute dabs and suggestions to give movement and character to the different trees he was depicting.


J.M.W Turner. (1775-1851)

Possibly one of the most famous landscape painters of all times, I wanted to single in on one trait that first came to my attention when researching the artist. The  ‘Sublime landscape’ became a buzz word in the romantic era of the 19th century, seemingly having differing definitions for different people in different fields of thinking. The word sublime could be attributed to many things like poetry, art, music, but all seemingly agreeing that it dealt with the emotional.

(23) “Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt” – Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.

That it consisted of a dramatic scene or idea with the ability to capture and heighten the viewers emotions. (24) “…of the sublime, that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling…” – Burke E. A Philosophical Enquiry.

In art often depicting  powerful images of the forces of nature, wind, water, storms, towering scales of mountains set against tiny figures, violent eruptions and similar related topics.

The passage of the st gothard
(25) The Passage of the St. Gothard. (1804)

A number of Turner’s landscapes sprang to mind to describe his grasp of the sublime, but none more than (25) ‘The Passage of the St. Gothard’. Sketched from the infamous Devils bridge in the Gothard pass Turner was well known to put himself in the thick of the scene in order to capture the emotion and feeling so he could direct it onto the paper,   (26) “…story about J.M.W Turner has him tied to the mast of a steam-ship for 4 hours during a nocturnal snow storm.” – James Hall. Whether or not it was true to this extent, the idea of ‘being’ and ‘feeling’ the emotions your trying to portray hold an important significance when capturing the sublime.

Turner’s Passage is the complete opposite of the vast expanses of dominant mountains and clouds. It is a claustrophobic gash of unforgiving, cold, solid rock, cutting directly down the canvas. The canvas is stretched vertically to emphasise the vertigo caused by the absence of both the floor and the sky, left to the imagination, and making this daunting crevasse infinity deep and tall. Only the smoke swirls up from the bottom corners merging with the floating clouds create a nauseating lack of orientation, and, after taking in all this information, the viewer notices that the only way out of this stone prison is by following the donkeys in the bottom left corner over a tiny, rickety stone bridge and around the unforgiving slopes, out of the cold black/grey depths of the bottom left corner, and drawn towards the light of the clouds positioned in the middle.

However, on closer inspection the path dips back down and out of sight on another journey into the depths of the chasm, and still a question mark as to how to get out!

This to me is following a journey through the painting, which at every point, creates the heightened feelings of suspense, fear, exhilaration, confinement and helplessness are all conveyed with the contrast of colour, from the dark bottom to the lightened top left. The shape of the canvas and the clipping of the floor and sky and the disappearing track in the distance conjure a suspense that is left to the imagination, and the solid unforgiving way Turner has painted the rock walls. Since the path has no end it must be completed by the viewer and is left to their heated emotions to finish of the story.

For me, this is the sublime. Expertly crafted to conjure up emotions that successfully place the viewer inside the painting to experience the scene the painter has created.

(27) “Terror is in all cases…the ruling principle of the sublime.” – Burke E.


Georgia O’Keefe. (1887-1986)

(28) Photo of O’Keeffe

I feel that it was the vast expanses of O’keeffe’s surroundings, the Canyon Texas, Lake George, and Ghost Ranch Hills that gave definition and direction to her bold style throughout her paintings. It seemed a constant that spurred her style to evolve as it did, and was of strong defiance and stark contrast against her classical teachings from the Art Students League New York.

Defiance, or more a yearning and belief to paint what she felt was to define her headstrong attitude, drawing her away from conventional practices, and, during the inspiration of the new, radical views of the Impressionists, beginning to paint her surroundings in vivid colours and abstract shapes to convey her feelings towards what she saw, not necessarily exactly what she saw.

I wasn’t instantly drawn to O’Keeffe’s work and chose to investigate it because it was a bit different. The audacious reduction of detail, vivid colour and line was not exactly to my taste, however the more I tried to understand the point she was making, the more respectful of her work I became.

(29) ‘Dry Waterfall’ (1943)

Detail would only clutter what she was trying to convey. Colour to O’Keeffe was the natural vehicle for her emotions which is what she was most interested in as a subject, Taking on board ideas by Authur W Dow, (30) “Inspired  by the decorative principals of Oriental Art and Art Neuveau, Dow arrived at an abstract, two dimensional style which was far removed from the pure imitation of nature…..Dow argued for the adoption of simplified, clear forms in order to bring out the essence of things”. An idea O’Keeffe would hold dear throughout her work.

(31) ‘My Front Yard, Summer’ (1941)
Her love of music was also an influence on her painting style, taught by Dow, (32) “The rhythmic, almost musical element in these drawings also recalls another of Dow’s theories, namely that music, the fine arts, architecture and poetry all share the same fundamental principal of rhythmic repetition.”


Her first attempts to convey these ideas in watercolour are apparent in (33)’Canyon with Crows’ and (34)’Red Mesa’, where we can see a complete surrender of detail, overcome with flowing vivid planes of colour and only hints at detail like birds and shrubs. The complete lack of detail allows the viewer to appreciate the mood, feeling and movement of the compositions.

In addition to this O’Keeffe’s experiments with abstract shapes started to become apparent such as in her ‘Special Number’ series where she said, (37) “I have things in my head that are not like whatever anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me”.

It is the start of a confidence that will define her style, and it is this confidence that I started to appreciate in her work, seen here in her later works, (38) ‘Lake George’, (39) ‘Photo of Ghost Ranch Hills’ , (40) ‘Chama River’, (41) ‘Black Mesa’. A tearing away from convention, and ultimately drawing what you feel, I believe is the essence of any great art, despite if I personally like it or not, to truly follow what is inside you will bring about the fertile differences in every artists view of the world and what is important to them. In this sense technical ability is put on the back foot, and genuine emotion and inspiration becomes prevalent. I particularly like (38) for it’s misty almost dream like qualities, and  (41) for its contrast of bold colours from the fiery reds of the foreground set in contrast with the blacks and blues of the background.



A – Georgia O’keeffe, edited by Tanya Barson. Tate Publishing                                                     B – O’Keeffe Britta Benke. Taschen                                                                                                     C – Japanese Art – Joan Stanley-Baker

  • (1) Quote – “The Greek way…” http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/east-asian-art/traditonal-chinese.htm.
  • (2) Quote – “The brushstroke…is less a means…” http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/painting/ink-and-wash.htm.
  • (3) Quote – “‘Broken ink,’ ‘splashed ink’…” http://www.thewolf.com/landscape/sesshu-toyo-landscape-ink-broken.htm.
  • (4) C (P133) ‘Haboku Landscape’ late 15th century/early 16th century, Soen. Ink on paper.
  • (5) C (P133) ‘Landscape’ 15th century, Toyo S. Hanging scroll, ink and light colours on paper.
  • (6) ‘Haboku-Sansui (Landscape with broken ink) Toyo S. Ink on paper, 111.5×75.8cm. Myoshim-Ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan.
  • (7) Quote – “To blot, is to make various spots…” Photographed, Whitworth Art Gallery, Cozen and Cozens exhibition. Exert from ‘A new method of Landscape’ Cozens A. 1785
  • (8) ‘Boats beside the Shore with Mountains’ Cozens A. Pencil and water colour with pen and ink on paper. Presented by Sir Michael Ernst Sadler 1921.
  • (9) ‘Landscape with Mountains and Lake’ Cozens A. Water colour with pen and ink on paper.
  • (10) ‘Mountainous Landscape with Cottage’ Cozens A. Watercolour with pen and ink on paper. Presented by A.E. Anderson 1933.
  • (11) ‘Castle by a Lake and Mountains’ Cozens A. 06/07/1755, pencil and watercolour on paper. Presented by unknown donor 1912.
  • (12) ‘A Rockey Seascape’ Cozens A. Watercolour with pen and ink on paper. Presented by Sir Michael Ernest via Art Fund 1931.
  • (13) Quote – “To encourage pupils…” Quote taken from a photograph at the Whitworth Gallery. Cozens and Cozens exhibition.
  • (14) ‘Study of a Tree (blot drawing)’ Cozens A. Watercolour on paper.
  • (15) ‘Study of a Tree (Finished Drawing)’ Cozens A. Watercolour on paper. Presented by the friends of the Whitworth 1936
  • (16) ‘Europe after the Rain II’ Ernst M. 1940-1942 Oil on canvas, 54x146cm. Wadsford Athenium, Hartford USA. http://www.maxernst.com/europe-after-rain.jsp
  • (17) ‘Rainstorm over the mountains’ Cozens A. c1760-65 Pencil and watercolour on paper.
  • (18) ‘Rainstorm over Mountains’ (Detail)
  • (19) ‘Rainstorm over Mountains’ (Detail)
  • (20) ‘Study of two trees’ Cozens A. Watercolour on paper.
  • (21) ‘Study of a tree’ Cozens A. Watercolour on paper. Presented by Sir Michael Ernest via Art Fund 1933.
  • (22) ‘Study of a tree’ (Detail)
  • (23) Quote – “Where as the beautiful is limited…” Kant I. Critique of pure reason. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/sublime.
  • (24) Quote – “…of the sublime that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling…” Burke E. A Philosophical inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1504/15043-h/15043-h.htm#Page_110
  • (25) (P9) Turner. Michael Bockemuhl, Taschen. ‘The Passage of the St. Gothard’, 1804 Turner J.M.W. Watercolour with scraping out, 98.5×68.5cm. Kendal, Cumbria, Abbot Hall Art Gallery.
  • (26) Quote – “…story about J.M.W. Turner, has him tied to the mast of a steam-ship for 4 hours during a nocturnal snow storm.” James Hall – A Sublime Roller Coaster Ride Through Art History. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/sublime-roller-coaster-ride-through-art-history.
  • (27) Quote – “”Terror is in all cases…” Burke E. (1729-97) On the Sublime and Beautiful. Havard Classics. http://www.barleby.com/24/2/202.html
  • (28) ‘Photo of O’Keeffe’ Stieglitz A. Back cover, O’Keeffe, Britta Benke. Tachen.
  • (29) B (P67)’Cliffs beyond Abiquia, Dry Waterfall’ 1943. O’Keefee G. Oil on canvas 76.2×40.6cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art.
  • (30) B (P10) Quote “Inspired by the…”
  • (31) A (P-168) ‘My Front Yard, Summer’ 1941, O’Keefee G. Oil on canvas 50.9×76.5cm, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.
  • (32) B (P12) Quote “The rhythmic, almost musical…”
  • (33) B (P12) ‘Canyon with Crows’ 1917, O’Keeffe G. Watercolour/graphite on paper 22.5×30.5cm. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.
  • (34) B (P13) ‘Red Mesa’ 1917, O’Keeffe G. Watercolour/graphite on paper 22.5×30.5cm. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.
  • (35) B (P10) ‘Special No. 15’ 1916, O’Keeffe G. Charcoal on paper 48.3×62.2cm. Philidelphia Museum of Art.
  • (36) B (P11) ‘Special No.21’ 1916 O’Keefe G. Oil on cardboard 34x41cm. Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe.
  • (37) B (P11) Quote “I have things in my head” O’Keeffe G.
  • (38) A (P80) ‘Lake George’ 1922 O’Keeffe G. Oil on canvas 41.3×55.9cm. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
  • (39) A (P204) ‘Photograph-Ghost Ranch Hills, Chama Valley’ 1937 Adams A. Gelatin silver print on paper 35.1×48.9cm. Collection Centre for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.
  • (40) A (P165) ‘Chama River, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico’ 1937 O’Keeffe G. Oil on canvas 77.5×41.9cm. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art.
  • (41) A (P158) ‘Black Mesa, New Mexico’ 1930 O’Keeffe G. Oil on canvas 61.6×92.1. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.




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