Exercise 1.3: Establishing conventions

Using internet search engines and any other resources, find at least 12 examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities you can find across your examples. Consider the same sorts of things as you did for the sketching exercise at the start of Part One. Where possible, try to find out why the examples you found were painted (e.g. public or private commission). Your research should provide you with some examples of the visual language and conventions that were known to the early photographers. Now try to find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions. Collate your research and note down your reflections in your learning log.

The paintings:



The Stonemason’s Yard 1726-30 (, 2018) Canaletto (1697-1768).

Canaletto mostly painted crystal-clear scenes of famous sights, this view which was probably made to order for a Venetian client, shows a more intimate view of the city.


Gainsborough, Thomas; Romantic Landscape; Romantic Landscape with Sheep at a Spring

Romantic Landscape with Sheep at a Spring, ca. 1783 (, 2018)  Thomas Gainsborough RA (1727 – 1788 )

This was thought to have been painted for diploma work, but it seems now that this wasn’t necessary for him so is unlikely; it is the size generally hung above a chimney. This is a romantic landscape and idealised and not realistic. The sheep are spotlit implying the sun is to the left, though in the background it seems to be rising or setting near the mountain. There is a hollow’ in the centre of the painting which seems to be sheltering the figures and animals.



Lake of Vico 1783 (, 2018) John Robert Cozens, 1752–1797.

Cozens was a draftsman and a watercolour landscape artist, this was probably painted for a wealthy patron from sketches he made when travelling in Italy before 1779.



The Abbey in the Oak Wood (1808-10) (Artble, 2018) Caspar David Friedrich.

A German romantic painter, Friedrich made sketches and then painted in his studio. This painting seems unusual for its time with the painting divided into two by a horizontal line of fog. It could be described as a political statement as it “reflects a nationalistic pride in the monuments of the German Gothic past that were particularly significant during the years of Napoleonic occupation… 20th-century German Expressionists would also look back to the Gothic as a source of national and religious strength” (Artble, 2018).



The Hay Wain 1821 (The National Gallery, 2018) John Constable.

It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1821, the year it was painted, but failed to find a buyer. However it was awarded a gold medal by Charles X when exhibited in France. His idealised rural landscapes influenced many other painters. Constable didn’t see a conflict between painting in a mechanical way (for instance the way he accurately represented cloud formations) and as a poetic representation.


Norham Castle, Sunrise c.1845 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Norham Castle, Sunrise circa 1845 (, 2018) Joseph Mallord William Turner.

This was made from watercolours of sunrise in 1797 but painted on his return in 1831, though Turner never viewed it as finished. The ghostly dark ruin emerges from a blast of white light in the centre of the canvas. It has been suggested that it is a painting about the turbulence of the nation state of Britain “Norham Castle, Sunrise…is a painting about ghosts, violence and the limits of national identity” (Jones, 2018). Apparently it is topographically correct and Turner painted it in Scotland whilst looking at England.



The Lake of Thun 1854, (The National Gallery, 2018) Alexandre Calame

The painter’s record-book shows that the picture was originally commissioned in 1852 by H. Vaughan.



Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866, deYoung Museum (Stanska et al., 2018). Frederic Edwin Church.

Though it appears unrealistic it includes scientifically accurate and observed elements, the double rainbow which has a reversed colour spectrum in the second of its two bands (Alexander’s band). The tropical fauna is based on botanical sketches he made while living in Jamaica. It has been interpreted as a reflection of Church’s renewed optimism, both about his personal life and about a spirit of national unity following the end of the American Civil War” (Stanska et al., 2018).



Jefferson Rock, Harper’s Ferry, circa 1820. (, 2018) Joshua Shaw (1776-1860).

This is a picturesque style, a theatrical approach to compositional arrangement and an idyllic conception of man’s dominion over the land, but also influenced by his interest in inspiring primal powers of nature.  He wanted to paint a series of essential American landscapes for the middle classes and collaborated in a projects to produce Picturesque Views of American Scenery.  Though it has a Turneresque sky he focused on trying to depict the rock formation.



Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil (1873) (The Eclectic Light Company, 2018)  Claude Monet (1840-1926)

This has the gestural brushstroke and brilliant colour style of the late 1860s and early 1870s impressionism. The trees and buildings lack detail but the atmosphere is strong.


Grimshaw, John Atkinson, 1836-1893; Lights in the Harbour, Scarborough

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893) (Lights in the Harbour, Scarborough., 2018)

He made a living as an artist through the patronage of Leeds Philosopical and Literacy Society and had a second home in Scarborough. He was influenced by the pre-raphaelites, their use of accurate colour and vivid detail, although he used his artist skill with the light to create a poetic feel rather than a realistic feel to the view.



Landscape with Poplars about 1885-7, (The National Gallery, 2018) Paul Cézanne.

Again an experimentation with brushstrokes and brilliant colour to suggest detail and texture.



The Starry Night 1889 (, 2018) Vincent Van Gogh

This was the view from his room in the asylum, he has idealised the village and used impressionist techniques to convey the brightness of the stars in the sky, which for him symbolised hope. His exaggerated brushstrokes paved the way for expressionism.

Conventions and commonalities:

I found the easiest way to collate this information was to enter it on a grid:

The most common feature was the presentation of the landscape a romantic idealised vision, along with 12/13 of the paintings I have shown being landscape presentations. Light is also a key feature often used to frame the scene and the sky seems particularly important to the artists whether depicted in a realistic or atmospheric way.

Examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions.

download.jpgansell adams

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley, California, ca. 1937 Ansel Adams (Cain, 2018)

This photograph has leading lines, central light framed by hills and trees and shaded foreground.

         White Goose Pathway, Huangshan Mountains China                      (Alegria, 2018)

          2008 Michael Kenna (Huxley-Parlour Gallery, 2018).

Kenna here employs the techniques of framing and using central light on his subject, indeed coulisses with the trees as theatre wings. He is also illustrating the sublime power of nature. It is a departure from a landscape format. The second image uses the traditional compositional technique of leading lines but in a modern minimal way.


Yangtze: The Long River 2007 Nadav Kander (LensCulture, 2018)

Mostly his work does not conform to the older landscape conventions but this image does have small figures to give scale to the landscape and has leading lines. It is also a response to cultural change.

Brazil, 2005. © Sebastião Salgado                   Alaska, 2009 ©Sebastião Salgado                         Amazonas Images / nbpictures (Edge, 2018)                    (Alegria, 2018)

The first image uses figures to give a scale but it is the light on the subject that connects this to earlier landscape art. The second highlights the sublime beauty of nature and the light is uses again in a compositional way.

David Brookover   (Alegria, 2018)                       (RFOTOFOLIO, 2018)

These images show in both leading lines and in the second the framing of the landscape by the rocks.

All of these post 19th century landscape images have visible sky which is used to artist effect. I had to search through the work of these modern landscape photographers to find images that adhere to some of the older landscape art conventions as most of their work departs from these; their work is driven by other things than traditional landscape techniques, for instance emotional responses, environmental concerns, the need to capture natural beauty.

My learning points:

  • I knew nothing about the conventions of landscape painting so this exercise has been useful.
  • It has been interesting to see the development of landscape painting and how this has translated into landscape photography.
  • I guess that conventions have been established to give an impression of 3 dimensions on a 2 dimensional surface and hence some will be used by modern landscape artists.
  • Having an awareness of such conventions has heightened my way of looking at the landscape.


Alegria, F. (2018). 10 Famous Landscape Photographers and Their Photos. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Artble. (2018). The Abbey in the Oakwood. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018]. (2018). Art UK | Discover Artworks. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

Cain, A. (2018). The Photograph That Made Ansel Adams Famous. [online] Artsy. Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Edge, K. (2018). Sebastião Salgado – Genesis. [online] On Landscape. Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. (2018). 10 Facts that You Don’t Know About “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

Huxley-Parlour Gallery. (2018). White Goose Pathway, Huangshan Mountains, China, 2008 | Huxley-Parlour Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

Jones, J. (2018). Jonathan Jones on British landscapes. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

LensCulture, N. (2018). Yangtze: The Long River – Photographs and text byNadav Kander | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018].

RFOTOFOLIO. (2018). David Brookover Photographer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. (2018). Romantic Landscape with Sheep at a Spring | Works of Art | RA Collection | Royal Academy of Arts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

Stanska, Z., Stanska, Z., Stanska, Z., Stanska, Z., Stanska, Z., Stanska, Z. and Stanska, Z. (2018). Frederic Edwin Church, Rainy Season in the Tropics – – Art History Stories. [online] – Art History Stories. Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018]. (2018). Work of the week: Norham Castle, Sunrise by J.M.W. Turner. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

The Eclectic Light Company. (2018). Trees in the landscape: 8. Claude Monet and his poplar series. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

The National Gallery, L. (2018). Alexandre Calame | The Lake of Thun | NG1786 | National Gallery, London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018]. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Oct. 2018]. (2018). A Paradise of Riches: Joshua Shaw and the Southern Frontier. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

The National Gallery, L. (2018). John Constable | The Hay Wain | NG1207 | National Gallery, London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

The National Gallery, L. (2018). Paul Cézanne | Landscape with Poplars | NG6457 | National Gallery, London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018]. (2018). Lake of Vico Between Rome and Florence. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].