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Saturday, 17 October 2015

Must-see landscape paintings in London

To coincide with Nicky Philipps's current landscape exhibition, 'Travels with my Paintbox' at Fine Art Commissions, we take a look at some of the gems of the genre housed in London's art galleries:

John Constable, 'Study of Cirrus Clouds,' Victoria and Albert Museum
John Constable, 'Study of Cirrus Clouds', c. 1822 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Constable owned Thomas Forster's Researches about Atmospheric Phaenomena, which was accompanied by a series of engravings that illustrated the changes and developments of clouds. Inscribed with 'cirrus' on the reverse of the painting, this study shows the artist's scientific knowledge of cloud formations and accurate observation of the sky. 

J.M.W.Turner, 'The Fighting Temeraire', The National Gallery
J.M.W. Turner, 'The Fighting Temeraire', 1839, © The National Gallery, London
Turner depicts a 98-gun ship that after playing an acclaimed role in Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, became known as the 'Fighting Temeraire.' In 1838, the ship was towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe to be broken up. Depicted travelling away from the sunset in an easterly direction, it is believed this painting illustrates the abatement of Britain's naval power, evoking a sense of loss that is suggested in parallels between the breathtaking sunset and old warship. 

Painted when Turner was in his sixties, the work demonstrates his impressive mastery of the sea and sky. His heavy application of paint for the sun's rays contrasts to the scrupulous depiction of the ship's rigging. 

James Whistler, 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge', The Tate Collection
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 'Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge', c. 1872-5 © Tate, London
'By using the word 'nocturne' I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest which might have been otherwise attached to it. A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and colour' - Whistler. 

'I did not intend to paint a portrait of the bridge, but only a painting of a moonlight scene...My whole scheme was only to bring about a certain harmony of colour.' - Whistler, quoted during the Ruskin Trial. 

Similarly to Monet's painting, Whistler also chooses a bridge as his central motif. In this case, the artist depicts Battersea Bridge, with Chelsea Church and the new Albert Bridge illuminating the backdrop. Deemed one of Whistler's most controversial works and used as evidence in the renowned Whistler-Ruskin trial in 1878, the painting was the fifth in the series of Nocturnes produced by Whistler during the 1870's. Named as Nocturnes by Frederick Leyland, whose apt label intended to combine the moonlit subject with its musical associations, Whistler's series captures the serene beauty of the Thames. 

Inspired by Japanese woodcuts, such as Hiroshige's 'Moonlight at Ryogoko', Whistler deliberately crops part of the bridge out of the composition and exaggerates its height. Whistler completed sketches and then finished his paintings in his studio from memory, building up the canvas with transparent layers of paint that he thinned beforehand using a combination of copal, turpentine and linseed oil. 

Paul Cezanne, 'Mount Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine', The Courtauld Gallery
Paul Cezanne, 'Mt Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine', c. 1887 © The Courtauld Gallery, London
Cezanne painted many representations of the landscape around his home in southern France, which he used to delve into an experimentation with form and colour. Roger Fry wrote in the catalogue for the 1910 exhibition 'Manet and the Post-Impressionists' in London that Cezanne 'showed how it was possible to pass from the complexity of the appearance of things to the geometrical simplicity which design demands.' 

Cezanne's technique differed from other Impressionists; he painted using blocks of colour and strong outlines rater than thick, short daubs of paint, dazzling complementary colours and no definitive outlines. 

Cezanne's simplified interpretation of the landscape, bold use colour and flattened planes of parallel brushstrokes foreshadowed abstraction and was admired by a younger generation of modernist artists. 

Claude Monet, 'The Water-Lily Pond,' The National Gallery
Claude Monet, 'The Water-Lily Pond', 1899 © The National Gallery, London
Following Monet's move to Giverny in 1883, where he lived until he died, he created a water garden and built an arched Japanese style bridge 'for the purpose of cultivating aquatic plants.' Once the garden had fully evolved, Monet painted the motif of the bridge at different times of the day and under differing light conditions. In this instance, the bridge is viewed from the pond itself and is enveloped by lush reeds and willow leaves.