Learn about landscape in a short course
The history of landscape in six acts
In this six-week art history and theory course, art-world experts and international scholars offer a unique perspective on the history of the depiction of landscape in art – from its origins in the Renaissance to the modern day, across a range of themes including forests, seascapes, gardens, deserts and cities.
The course is suitable for all levels of experience, for individuals with a willingness to be open minded and enjoy a challenging mix of art-historical knowledge and learning.
To celebrate our 250th birthday, we’re highlighting 250 beautiful, odd and inspiring objects from the RA Collection in 25 themes. In this edition – inspired by the beautiful cloud drawings of Tacita Dean, currently on display in her ‘LANDSCAPE’ exhibition – take a few minutes to drift through the clouds that have been etched, sketched, printed and painted throughout history.
Russian-born Alexander Cozens was fascinated by the sky, and made charts of different types of sky and clouds which he reproduced as etchings. A drawing master at Eton, his etchings were intended to aid amateur artists painting landscapes – he made 20 studies of skies which were copied by John Constable after his death.
John Constable liked to climb to the high points of Hampstead Heath to paint his many cloud studies, wanting his canvas to be lit by the very sky he was painting on it. He often recorded precise details on the reverse of the works. This one is inscribed: “Hampstead, Sept 11, 1821. 10 to 11 morning under the sun – Clouds silvery grey on warm ground sultry. Light wind to the S.W. fine all day – but rain in the night following.”
This very different landscape by Constable depicts Brighton's coastline as he saw it when his wife Maria had been sent there for fresh air to help her tuberculosis around 1824-28. During his many visits to the city, Constable practised rapid sketches of the sea and sky while sitting on the beach – a paint box balanced on his knees and a sheet of paper pinned to the lid. Here, the figures and boats often present in Constable's sketches are nowhere to be seen among his bold brushstrokes.
This print depicts the Bible story of the prophet Moses cursing the Egyptian people with a plague of fire and hail. It’s a reproduction of J.M.W. Turner's first “history” painting (grand works depicting events deemed to be important). The painter made it in collaboration with a specialist printmaker, his namesake Charles Turner. J.M.W. Turner studied under Dr Thomas Monro, who owned drawings by Alexander Cozens (above) and knew of his methods for depicting clouds.
The watercolourist William Henry Hunt (1790-1864) was, like Turner, a pupil of Monro. While little-known today he was admired by the artist and writer John Ruskin, who took lessons from him and considered him a great painter of still-life. This drawing of rainclouds over the sea was probably made near Hastings, where Hunt often spent the winter months.
Cornelius Varley (1781-1873) was both a landscape painter and inventor of optical equipment. He approached painting from the perspective of a scientist, concerned less with the construction of pictorial space than the detailed observation of a landscape seen from a particular spot at a particular time. This is evident in his careful rendering of cloud outlines in this watercolour.
Weather is central to John Milton's epic poem 'Paradise Lost', in which Satan is carried upwards towards heaven when “some tumultuous cloud / Instinct with Fire and Nitre, hurried him / As many Miles aloft”. This mezzotint, one of many works by John Martin inspired by the poem, shows Satan looking up towards heaven, the space in between filled with clouds.
Edinburgh-born Peter Graham specialised in landscapes capturing the effects of wet weather in the Highlands, and coastal scenes with bleak, storm-lashed cliffs, sketched from boats moored on the rocks. His skill for evoking weather conditions is evident in 'Homewards', which Graham submitted to the RA as his Diploma Work in 1882.
This painting is based on drawings made in the Lammermuir Hills in midwinter, where Rae found “incredible sunset-quality colours: inky blues, pale mauves and lavenders, pink fluffy clouds… The feeling, the atmosphere of pink, indigo and purple was there”. The painting was completed in one sitting at Rae’s studio in 1997, and presented to the RA later that year.
Bertram Priestman was described by fellow artist Frank Brangwyn as “the finest sky painter of our day”. He considered skies to be the “keynote” of a landscape and in this instance portrayed a warm but fresh evening light with “the sun behind the clouds illuminating their edges”.
Sir George Clausen was attracted by the expressive qualities of watercolour, especially towards the end of his career when the effects of light and atmosphere became increasingly important to him. In 1930 he described how he would try to “put the colour on in one wash, without retouching” in order to capture “the spontaneity and effortless rightness that one finds in Nature itself”.