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Observing the Differences and the Developments of Landscape

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 Painting in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century

Landscape painting is a genre of painting that illustrates the natural environment around us. Often, landscape painting depicts nature in its ideal state. Such paintings can be traced back as far back as 4th-century China. Though these types of paintings didn’t take off in western civilization until the renaissance, around the 16th century (Blumberg, 2017). Some painters prioritized painting landscapes whereas others made them as well as other genres. Camille Pissarro, John Steuart Curry, and Vincent van Gogh are painters during the 19th and 20th centuries who have created famous landscape paintings. Pissarro’s Jalais Hill, Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape, and Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses are all landscape paintings, but each one of them has their own technique, style, and content. Each artist made their artworks with influences from the style at the time and their own; their works have many similarities despite the near-century difference from each other.

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Camille Pissarro was born in 1830 and created his famous painting Jalais Hill in 1867. He was a French painter who was heavily influenced by the impressionist movement. One can see the influence of the movement when looking at the level of detail in Jalais Hill as well as his other paintings. This painting is nearly 3 feet by 4 feet and possesses very lifelike details when in the French landscape. Pissarro’s style includes having lots of linear perspective and shading of one color. Jalais Hill is mainly comprised of the color green; even where there is a dirt patch there are scattered amounts of green. Jalais Hill has great value, form, shape, and line. He uses value to show shadows from the landscape and distinguish the different types of grass and trees. Form and shape are displayed when one looks at the houses and trees and line is emphasized in the dirt road, horizon, and patches of grass. His linework is what caught my attention the most. There is a lot of lines all around the painting yet it stays very cohesive. The right side of the image has very symmetrical and even lines on the hill whereas the left side has intersecting lines of different heights and widths around the houses, yet the unity still stays. He follows the impressionist style with lighting/contrast/value. Impressionists often depict light very accurately to their respected scenes, just like The Absinthe Drinker by Edgar Degas. Pissarro’s The Boulevard Montmartre at Night really emphasizes his ability to depict light. Where I think Pissarro expresses his artistic freedom is with his sharp line work. In most impressionist paintings, the painting often has a soft feel to it, usually blending and mixing colors, where he tends to keep the lines separated and doesn’t blend edges as much as other impressionists.

John Steuart Curry was an American scene painter born in 1897. Curry was a part of an artistic movement called Regionalism. Regionalism was an American art movement that had painters illustrating images of small-town America. It is thought that Curry’s painting Wisconsin Landscape was made purposefully to represent an excessively beautiful farmland to bring light current events of the Great Depression. This painting is a very good example of regionalism, it perfectly depicts the movement. The image likewise if very representative of his style. Curry’s paintings were mainly comprised of picture-perfect images of rural America like Our Good Earth and The Homestead and the Building of the Barbed Wire Fences. Curry, unlike the other artists mentioned, didn’t make a lot of oil on canvas paintings. A lot of his artworks were lithographs, which is a technique of printing black ink on paper. One unique feature of Wisconsin Landscape is its perspective. Often Curry’s paintings are often of a subject that is close up whereas this painting is a broad view of a whole landscape. Something which is also noteworthy is that the possible influence of impressionists. A key feature of impressionists, as mentioned above, is their utilization of light. When looking at the middle ground and background one can see the sunshine that is peering through the clouds above. This specific feature’s incorporation is unique in the sense that it is the sunspots are intermittent throughout. The element of art that this painting describes best is value. The painting’s value is almost the subject of the painting. It takes the viewer’s attention away from the foreground which is unlike most of Curry’s paintings. Wisconsin Landscape displays a truly beautiful view but I don’t think it is very accurate to the real world. The main reason being the lighting. The picture does see a lot of land, but that the sun rays seem unrealistic especially for a relatively small amount of land. My other critique of his work is the perspective of the painting. Although it doesn’t seem wildly inaccurate, it does seem slightly off. The buildings in the middle ground look slightly flat and the hills just before the background don’t seem to be very proportional for such an ideal image. I feel like this is because he may not be used to creating images so far from the foreground. This critique may also be unfair after viewing such a perspective heavy painting like Jalais Hill. I think that this image is quite different from John Curry’s usual style but right in line with the ideology behind regionalism.

Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands. He is undoubtedly one of the most famous painters to ever live. What many people don’t know is the fantasizing upbringing van Gogh had. He was brought up with a religious and cultured family (SOURCE). Early in his life he was unsure of the correct career path for himself, trying occupations such as bookstore clerk, art salesman, and a preacher in dreary town in Belgium; as a preacher Gogh was fired for his “overzealousness”. Van Gogh ended up at a school for art, hoping to connect with likeminded people. Turned out he was a hard companion. He painted all day and stayed up all night talking which impacted his mental health. Van Gogh had many issues with his mental health. At some points he lost consciousness and couldn’t control exactly what he was doing. In one of these moments without consciousness he ended up cutting off his own left ear. Gogh ended up being admitted into a mental asylum. After his release apparently his health seemed much improved. Unfortunately, he ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot to his head when he was just 37. He lived his life in poverty and without an appreciation for his artistic capabilities.

Van Gogh painted during the post-impressionism/neo-impressionism time. This caused Gogh to try his hands at the tiny brushstrokes and light colors of impressionism. This was an influence in his paintings, but he prioritized a style called expressionism. Expressionism was a movement that had artists illustrate images with the intent of expressing some emotion. This emotion is exaggerated and usually distorts reality to help that exaggeration. Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses has these influences at the time. The composition of the painting has its fair share light colors and small brush strokes. Even though this example of his work, as well as his others, is similar to other impressionistic work, the content isn’t impressionistic. Gogh’s paintings were made as expressionism rather than impressionism, meaning that his works aren’t true to life, rather an artist’s expression. Cypresses is a great example of van Gogh’s expressionism. Most of the landscape looks pretty realistic until one looks at the sky. The sky is full of super curvy and wavy clouds, so much so that it may be hard to tell the difference between the clouds in the sky and the mountains in the background. The mountains are blue because Gogh used atmospheric perspective to make them appear further away. Cypresses is quite typical of his paintings. When juxtaposing to his famous Starry Night we can see his obsessive use of wavy lines. Both paintings have an atmospheric perspective mixing with the sky and a darker vertical line going through the light horizontal subject. Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses displays the elements of art and principals of design extremely well. Line, texture, and color are the best-utilized elements of art in this painting. Having the darker green tree off to the right I feel is a great way of showing variety. Even in Starry Night, he keeps the image bright even though the setting is at night. The texture in Cypresses specifically is great when one looks at the bushes, trees, and grass. In-person the bush on the left seems extremely accurate to a real bush’s texture. Van Gogh’s use of line stands out to me the most in Cypresses as well as his other paintings. He avoids having any square shapes in his artworks, often subjects that are straight, like the tall tree, have natural bends and tiny lines coming off of them to show texture. The swirly/curvy lines he uses comprises more than half of this painting. The sky, mountains, and bushes are all derived from these lines. Vincent van Gogh is a manifestation of the post-impressionism movement, being more rebellious and expressive.

Although these paintings were from different artists, they are full of similarities. Both Camille Pissarro’s Jalais Hill and John Steuart Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape share this idea of realism and idealism. The paintings were created more than 70 years apart but Jalais Hill’s impressionistic influence and Wisconsin Landscape’s rationalistic influence created realistic representation of a landscape. These two paintings both display great depth, although I feel as if Pissarro’s is more realistic. Each of these also displays houses in the middle of vast fields. They also have similar colors, mainly green, yellow and blue. Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields with Cypresses and Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape both can be considered expressionism. Basically, all of Gogh’s works are expressionism, but Curry’s weren’t focused on expressionism. I believe that Wisconsin Landscape can be argued to have expressionistic attributes. I believe it is because I feel as if the roots of regionalism comes from the idea of expressionism. An expressionist often distorts reality to express some sort of emotion. I believe that this is very similar to how regionalist depict ideal images of small-town America. The ideal image doesn’t express emotions necessarily but its creation is based on the idea/emotion of patriotism.

These may all be landscape paintings, but their differences are what make them unique and special. Firstly, van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses is the painting I believe is the most unique of the three. He made this painting in 1889, which is in between the creations of the other two. What makes his painting vary the most is because Cypresses isn’t a realistic image. This is due to the expressionism movement that he was a part of. The landscape has impressionistic features but the distortion of reality comes from his expressionistic style. The Cypresses painting also has the boldest verticality, meaning the tall dark green tree is very apparent and interrupts the flow of the painting, adding variety. Shifting to Camille Pissarro’s Jalais Hill, I believe his painting looks the most realistic despite being the oldest painting (1867). His landscape painting has the most going on. It only has a little emptiness in the sky whereas Wisconsin Landscape is completely barren and Wheat Field with Cypresses has a lot going on in the sky. The mood in Jalais Hill is very calm and happy whereas the others may be considered mysterious gloomy. Finally, John Steuart Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape utilizes and contrast and value the best. He has the sun peer through the clouds and illuminates only parts of the ground. The other two have an overall light appearance which is likely because of the impressionist movement that they are influenced by. Wisconsin Landscape is was a part of the regionalism movement which explains the artist’s freedom in removing the light from the image.

Initially, when I saw these paintings my favorite was Wisconsin Landscape. I thought it was the most realistic of the paintings and was a beautiful illustration of mid-west America looks like. I still love the sunlight coming through the clouds; I think it makes the view look divine. The more I looked at this painting I felt as if its proportions were the most accurate. I still think the setting is my favorite of the three but not my favorite overall anymore. After looking into the paintings and movements I decided that Wheat Fields with Cypresses is my favorite. It is the most simplistic, but I feel like I get more out of looking at it. My favorite feature was the lone forest green tree; it adds a lot to the image due to its color and direction. Initially, I picked it because of the alluring van Gogh style in the clouds, but now I’m in love the expressionistic style. The final image I picked was Jalais Hill not because of anything specific but because of how cohesive it looked. From afar it looked like a picture taking with a camera. The attention to detail and the amount of talent required to create it is astonishing. I believe I like this one because I can’t find any flaws in it myself. After doing my research, Wheat Fields with Cypresses became my favorite because of the artist, movement, and style. Jalais Hill and Wisconsin Landscape may not be my favorite but still is are some of the best illustrations of landscape paintings I’ve ever seen.

All in all, landscape paintings have changed a lot over the years. Each aforementioned painting was from their own respected movements and artists. This variation throughout the decades is what gives us the beautiful artwork we have from the 19th and 20th centuries.  

References

  • (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection.
  • Blumberg, N. (2017, February 2). Landscape painting. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/landscape-painting.
  • Camille Pissarro Paintings, Bio, Ideas. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.theartstory.org/artist/pissarro-camille/.
  • John Steuart Curry. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://americanart.si.edu/artist/john-steuart-curry-1082.
  • Stokstad, M., & Cothren, M. W. (2020). Art, a brief history (7th ed.).
  • Van Gogh Gallery – His Life and Works. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vangoghgallery.com/. 
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