311 Gallery in Raleigh presents Landscapes


Landscapes Over the Centuries at 311 Gallery in Raleigh


The earth has always been a wonderful inspiration for artists. 

Landscape painting has played different roles in art history over the centuries beginning as backgrounds for portraits and historical, religious, and allegorical paintings. It wasn’t until the end of the 15th century that artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Duer began painting pure landscapes. 

The Netherlands was the first place in western culture that landscapes were painted thus the term landscape is probably a derivative of the Dutch landschap (tract of land). When the Dutch middle class wanted secular imagery for their homes, artists turned to nature because people enjoy looking at calming green fields and blue waters. Landscapes never grow old.

In the early 16th century artists throughout Northern Europe developed a new style of landscape painting using aerial and graphical perspective to create an idealized Italian landscape; pastoral, hilly, and wooded. Many Northern European artists made a living selling Italianate landscapes without ever making a trip to Italy! This style was so popular that it became formulaic and was copied over and over again.

In the 17th century, landscape paintings were done in a ‘classical’ style where It was important to position objects, often in contrived ways, to create a balanced, harmonious, and timeless mood. 

By the 18th century, landscape paintings evolved into ‘historical’ works which were based on the study of real nature. John Rushkin noted “that the appreciation of natural beauty and the painting of landscapes is a normal and enduring part of our spiritual activity.” This idea intensified during the Romantic movement and was refined by the French Barbizon School, providing the starting point for Impressionism. 

Through the late 18th and the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution altered many traditions and ways of life, including landscape painting. Landscapes moved from an idealized, classical form to the more focused painting of the out-of-doors, creating a more tactile and visual experience portrayed by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionists. It was during the late 18th century that acceptance by the Académie Royale gave landscapes the validity needed to move up in the hierarchy of accepted genre that were exhibited in Europe.

In the 19th century artists focused more on painting en plein air. Their style concentrated on tactical (how they applied the paint) and visual influences. Artists experimented with unexpected, non-naturalistic color and unusual application of paint, while exploring the psychological and spiritual places in landscapes. This was the era of the ‘modern’ landscape.

The early 19th century was also the time when the United States was expanding west; artists were encouraged to go out west and record the epic scope of the landscape. The Hudson River School’s mammoth scale works gave viewers a sense of the new territory while celebrating what a wondrous creation the land is. Not long after, artists began to incorporate the raw, terrifying power of nature into their work.

The introduction of photography in the early 20th century gave artists more control over composition and subject matter, shaping landscapes through both technique and freedom. Artists began to use the viewfinder to crop or focus close-up, creating unique viewpoints. Photographs allowed artists to paint in the comfort of their studios and to easily combine elements from multiple landscapes into one.

While originally landscapes were a form of escape from the reality of everyday life; today they are often used to raise awareness of conservation issues by showing the ways we relate to the places we live and our impact on the environment. 

Moving into the 21st century, the genre has expanded to respond to our fears of global destruction and ecological disasters, allowing artists to continue to celebrate the environment while contemplating the impact humans have on the land. Contemporary landscapes have expanded to include urban, cultural, industrial, and architectural with the more traditional land, sea, and water-scapes. Artists are no longer constrained by reality; they use landscapes to study light, color, (sometimes using wild color schemes), texture, and ecology.

311 Gallery is excited to host its annual national juried exhibition, Landscapes and Seascapes, showcasing artists’ ongoing conversation with nature. The exhibition will be up until September 28, 2019.

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