Natural Landscape

Natural Landscape

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The Industrial Revolution raised concerns about the natural landscape when broad social and economic changes also generated increasing pollution across England. Around the same time, ideas of naturalism (from French Philosophical writings) swept across Europe. They persuaded people to go back to nature’s simple ways. Enlightenment theories of Reason disseminated ideas of nature as teacher and guide. However, landscape painting in England was unimportant at that time, compared to Portraiture or History Painting (Gardner 2009, pp 793). A passion for landscape art was advanced by the developments in road and rail infrastructure due to rapid industrialization. New thoughts on the Subjective associations of landscape painting with spirituality, Morals and Philosophy were inspired by Romantic poetry. 19th century Poetry epitomized sublime forces and mystical kinship with nature (Gardner 2009, pp 793). Landscape painting soon emerged, becoming a medium for a full range of conscious and subconscious emotions; it entered the realm of sublime and symbolic expression

The Industrial Revolution which began in the middle of the 17th century brought vast social and economic change to the demographic landscape of Great Britain. This phenomenon later spread to the U.S. and Europe, affecting similar changes to (their) social and economic conditions (Wyatt 2009). The English landscape was the scene of rapid physical transformation. Spinning mills loomed where once there was an unspoiled country side. The swift expansion of steel and mining industries turned night into day. Days were turned into smog filled panoramas of gloom. An increase in wealth also brought with it physical problems caused by pollution and unhealthy working conditions.

Figure #1 is a representation of an Industrial landscape at night. The strange glow of a coal furnace is contrasted against the natural light of the moon. The picture embraces an honest depiction of present conditions. Its dystopian context is symbolized by the contrast between a man-made industrial hell and natural landscape. The genre of landscape painting in England during the 18th century was not given as much importance as portrait painting or historical illustration. This “hierarchy of genres” (Langdon 2007) lost importance during the industrial revolution when people began to relate to the subjective impressions found in landscape painting.

The subjective association of landscape with emotional meaning evolved when new sensitivity to the world of nature inspired poets and writers. The pure force of nature’s metaphor compounded with poetic and prosaic imagery. One of Wordsworth’s first Romantic poems regrets the loss of mans spiritual union with nature.

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In his poem, ‘Lines written in early spring’, he writes,
“To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man?
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes”.

The literature of Jean-Jacques Rousseau may have inspired French naturalism and a return to a simple existence. However, nature inspired the romantic poet to seek out a more compelling existence within its mysteries. Romanticism began as a literary movement in the late 18th century in reaction to a bare Neoclassicism (Vaughn 2007). The well of antiquity; the source of classical inspiration failed to inspire students (of neoclassicism). Nature provided the romantics a rough and ready stream of fresh wonder. The representation of emotion, spiritual and mystical symbolism placed the artist in a central position as the purveyor of a vast realm. That realm subsumed the actual nature of art and function of the artist--in the social order (Vaughn 2007). The movement manifested in the visual arts as an intense, contextual expression of individual forms. In landscape paintings, (especially) in the works of John Constable, Caspar Friedrich and Joseph Turner – romanticism received its greatest historical impetus (Vaughn 2007).
The Hegelian opinion of art was of its relation to varying religious views; the capacity to conceptualize the divine, as well as, mans infinite and higher nature (Smith 2002, pp 134). The power of landscapes to explore spiritual meanings manifested in its potential to render those forms significantly. The air of Caspar Friedrich’s landscapes is one of a deeper than usual melancholy. His works are personal expressions of his solitary, spiritual quest and search for an ultimate (Christian) truth. Friedrich’s landscapes contain repetitive elements of Gothic architecture, sunless skies and a pervasive despondency. He portrays himself as the eternal wanderer, a central figure in search of answers that never come. His single figure occupies a mysterious land that appears bleak and inhospitable (Marceau 1998, pp 376). Typically, he conveys the romantic's belief in nature’s sublime power and dramatic vicissitudes. Burke (1909, pp.10) identifies this quality of strongest emotion as the source of the sublime. Figure 2, conveys a feeling of tragedy and personal loss: a visit to a tomb at the end of the day in the light of the new moon and evening star. Friedrich’s paintings of grief characterised the romantic ethos of human struggle against mysterious forces.

Friedrich was the disconsolate existential hero of romantic painting. Romanticism soon became evident in figurative and landscape art, which not only portrayed the beautiful--but also the sublime energies of the psyche (Marceau 1998, pp.378).

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