The Eye in the Landscape
Blake, Newton, 1795. Blake represented Newton in a negative way, someone oblivious of and blind to
the beauty of the world and nature.
Wright of Derby, Sir Brooke Boothby, 1781, Tate Britain. Contemplative, holding
a book by Rousseau (which he translated).
SUBJECT – PERCEPTION – NATURAL WORLD
A landscape represents the relationship between the subject and the natural
Alan Ramsey – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Kant and Rousseau introduced the idea that everyone sees the world in a
different way although Newton had done experiments involving poking pins in his
eye for the same reason – to investigate the visual effects that are based on
our mechanism of vision.
The idea developed in the early 19th century that there is an emotional,
subjective component to viewing. The idea that observation leads to truthful
inferences and an understanding of the natural world and thus knowledge breaks
down. Previously seeing was a metaphor for knowledge and the camera obscura a
metaphor for knowledge.
Claire-voie or clear view is the derivation of the term “ha-ha” which is a
concealed ditch in the ground.
The importance of seeing things developed. Thomas Girtin exhibited
Eidometropolis in 1800, a monumental panorama of London that dazzled his
contemporaries. Sadly, it did not survive.
Alexander Cozens painted scenes based on blots.
Cozens’s famous ‘blot’ technique was fully evolved by the 1750s.
However he did not explain it in detail until the publication of ‘A New
Method of Assisting the Invention in
Drawing Original Compositions of
Landscape‘(1786). The idea seems to have originally been developed
by him as a teaching aid, to liberate the imagination of the student
who, he felt, spent too much time in copying the works of others. He
wrote that the blot was a ‘production of chance, with a small degree of
design’. The true blot was ‘an
assemblage of accidental shapes’, ‘forms without lines from which
ideas are presented to the mind’. Blotting was done deliberately, the
‘rude forms’ which result having been made ‘at will’.
(Like the Rorschach ink blot test – pronounced ”raw-shock”). His son was
Robert Cozens who painted Rocky Bat Scene.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) talked about the idea of vision
Turner, Sun Rising Through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish 1807
Constable, Hampstead Heath with a Rainbow, 1836. (“Painting is just another
word for feeling.”)
The emotional content of seeing includes the sublime (see
It is more powerful than beauty. See Roy Porter’s book on
Enlightenment that makes the connection with Romanticism.
A related concept is that of the picturesque with its certain raggedness,
figures that see into areas we cannot enter, caves, volcanoes and mouldering
Ward’s Gordale Scar, 1811-13 (tate). A perfect image summarising these ideas.
Where is the horizon? A Romantic vision – knowledge explored. It breaks every
rule in the book. The background punches you, the centre is all blackness. It is
closer to the sublime and a long way from the rational.
Emotional content in landscape, the Hay Wain is in some sense Romantic as
Constable explores his memories while working in his London studio.
Constable, Hadleigh Castle, 1828. Painted after his wife died, not just
according to convention. A romantic approach to the subject matter, a cracked
open tower (no comment).
the name of the theory of mind in which ideas are built up from associations
ultimately derived from sense data. It was also associated in the early
nineteenth century with the utopian theories of Robert Owen and others. The
ideas of the picturesque involved concepts that were derived from natural
phenomena with beautiful and sublime associations.
Turner, Ulysses deriding Polyphemus, Homer’s Odyssey, 1829. Low horizon,
hierarchy of spaces, a painting about vision, sight and blindness (Homer has
just blinded the giant Ployphemus who can be seen above the mountains in the
background). We are almost blinded by the sun. He also used the idea in the
Garden of Hesperides, and amazingly original idea. A watercolour about colour,
light and freedom.
John Sell Cotman, Greta Bridge, 1806-7. In an article by Hemingway he argues
that Cotman’s Greta drawings (1803-5) were inspired by the new Romantic ideas
partly as a result of living with the Cholmeley family who owned the estate. In
Cotman’s earlier paintings of 1800 he painted in a picturesque style.
The son Francis Cholmeley was “so immersed in associationism” that he was
teased by Palmerston (letter 1805). This theory of taste stressed a landscapes
appeal depended on associated ideas in the min of the viewer rather than any
intrinsic quality in the landscape.
Scott in his novel Rokeby (1812) picked up the same Romantic landscape
features not because he had seen the paintings but because both depended on the
same selection process derived from the same pre-established and much discussed
aesthetics. This differs from Gilpin’s eighteenth century formulation that was
derived from seventeenth century pictorial prototypes, such as Poussin and
Claude. Cotman’s colours are too fresh and vivid to be comprehended by Gilpin.
Uvedale PRice reconceptualisation of the picturesque in 1794 and 1798 is
relevant – it was conceived in relation to the landed estate as were Cotman’s
intimate pictures within the Cholmeley estate. The category of topographical
publications known as the history of rivers demonstrates the same aesthetics.
Cotman’s frontal composition of balanced masses is associated with the
classical landscape tradition of Poussin and Dughet.
Girtin, The White House, 1800.