Landscape painting- brief history

Here  I want to take a brief look at the history, or rather a lineage, of landscape painters chronologically, without going to much into detail or biography of the artists, to gain a better understanding of the development of the genre.

ALBRECH DURER (1471-1528)

Albrecht Durer was a painter and printmaker of the German Renaissance. He is found to be the first painter to paint Landscape as a subject.


I find it quite fascinating how contemporary these watercolor landscapes from the 15 th century look. I like that the houses in the foreground are left in pencil and the unfinished style of the top left painting.

 Albrecht Durer was one of the Northern European artists that had the most contact to the Italian Renaissance artists. He was corresponding with Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael and visited Italy twice as well. Influenced by this, he was the first Northern European artist to introduce nudes and perspective drawing into his work.


He got famous already in his twenties for his incredibly detailed and high quality woodcut prints and elevated this medium to become its own art form.


He also painted many simple motives from nature in watercolor , like this one- Young Hare,  still on of the most reproduced motives in the world:


Another of his most well known works today  is “Praying hands”, a pen and ink drawing, also still one of the most reproduced motives of art history:


These watercolours were revolutionary in the choice of simple subjects- a piece of turf and simple field flowers :


CLAUDE LORRAIN (1604/5- 1682)

Claudie Lorrain although originated from Lorraine, later part of France,  was mainly living and painting in Italy. He is a painter of the Baroque era, where landscape was a major subject, but very idealized and staged. He often included small figures in his paintings, also to elevate the subject to the more prestigious history or mythos painting, but they were never his main focus or strength as a painter. He was the first known artist to include the sun as the source of light in the painting itself. He often sketched at dawn or dusk, and many of his sketches are still available today as well.

These paintings are perfect for studying foreground/ middleground and background. They are layered and built up like a carefully framed stage with clear although dark foreground and then successively smaller,less sharp and detailed objects receding into a lighter background, giving a great sense of depth.


The German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s works do not have that surrounding carefully arranged frame. The landscapes seem to continue beyond the frames of the painting endlessly, we just see a small piece. Here too, if there is a human figure, it is very small and often alone. The nature is dominant and often with an overwhelming, powerful and sometimes fear inducing grandeur. The painter was a very religious man and here God manifests through nature, this is a look of awe to nature. The lonely monk or lonely tree is very small. Caspar David Friedrich often painted edges- the edge of a cliff, of a forest, the edge of light of the day.


Wwwbcedu. 2016. Wwwbcedu. [Online]. [2 December 2016]. Available from:

 William Turner ( 1775 –  1851)

William Turner was a British Romanticist painter , contemporary to Caspar David Friedrich. He painted in oil, but also many watercolor works. Here too nature is shown as grand and awe inspiring. Especially in the later works, colours are claiming a life and meaning of their own, the mood of the painting becomes more important than a precise rendition. This is a precursor to the Impressionist movement emerging.

Nationalgalleryorguk. 2016. Nationalgalleryorguk. [Online]. [2 December 2016]. Available from:

James Abbott McNeill WHISTLER (1834 –  1903)

The American born but Britain based artist Whistler is known for portraits and etchings as well, but what interests me most for this chapter about landscape are his “Nocturne” paintings, or  “moonlights” as he also called them- landscape paintings in a misty nighttime. He painted the first three of these night time landscape paintings during a trip to Chile, but then developed the theme in London and Venice during the next ten years, always in a misty blue and green palette.

It is interesting to see the unsharp lack of details the night light allows. The top right painting is a firework and is paint flicked on the canvas. There is a lot of atmosphere in these paintings. A new idea to develop for this chapter- landscape in the night.

Jamesabbottmcneillwhistlerorg. 2016. Jamesabbottmcneillwhistlerorg. [Online]. [27 November 2016].


CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)

Claude Monet was one of the founders of the Impressionist movement. Here landscape painting is focused on the light, on the changing of the seasons and moods of the landscape, giving an impression, a feeling rather than a precise description.

I grew up in Paris and remember visiting Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny that are now a museum and being very impressed by the paintings . They are so easy to love, with the beauty of the motives, and the incredible light. For me a good reminder not to get too hang up on details and focus on the mood of drawings instead.


PAUL CEZANNE (1839-1906)

I already took a closer look at the French Post- Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne for the last chapter on still life, but it is worth mentioning him here again in a lineage of influential landscape painters. He painted his home region of Provence in every light , season and mood. He painted an incredible amount of paintings of the mountain Mont St Victoire alone. His analytical approach to painting , building up the image with patches of color and light, paved the way for modern art, greatly influencing Picasso and Braque , the Cubist movement. Picasso is famously known to have said about Cezanne, that “he is the father of us all”

Author: james voorhies. 2016. The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. [Online]. [2 December 2016]. Available from:

L.S LOWRY (1887-1976)

The British artist Laurence Stephen Lowry painted mainly industrial or urban landscapes as well as some seascapes and fantasy landscapes. He grew up in an industrial area where factory chimneys were a part of the landscape. Here too, the human figures are not detailed, they appear almost as stickfigures at times and although there are often a lot of figures, the surrounding landscape is always the dominating feature.

Tateorguk. 2016. Tate. [Online]. [27 November 2016]. Available from:

So this became a very short overview from what is called the beginning of landscape painting as a genre, with Albrecht Duerer, with a glimpse of Baroque with Claude Lorrain, Romanticism in Germany with Caspar David Friedrich and in England with William Turner. Colour and form slowly take over as we move into the Impressionist movement with Claude Monet and Post- Impressionism with Paul Cezanne to arrive at industrial landscapes with L.S Lowry. I will continue looking at contemporary landscape painting in a separate post.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s