Research point: Expressive landscape

Spend sometime investigating how other landscape artists have responded to this challenge…

Tate Online: Expressionism refers to art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas



See Pinterest board:

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) When I was in my late teens and living in a bedsit it was just about compulsory to have a poster of Salvador Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus on the wall (I can thank Athena for steering my early artistic tastes!). Dali’s depiction of Narcissus changing from the youth staring at his reflection in a pool to Narcissus the flower emerging from a hand held egg  is clever, complex and mysterious and so very appealing to a teenager with an overactive imagination.  Dali’s landscapes are characterised by eerie, mystical scenes scattered with figures with a mythical quality and  seemingly randomly selected objects such as a telephones  with the wires hooked up on cleft sticks (he likes cleft sticks does Dali). The landscapes themselves are surreal and  simplified. What gives them their mesmeric quality? Perhaps it is the relationships between these weird objects and figures in an alien landscape…they make the mind do overtime trying work out what is going on. See Forgotten Horizon (1936), Mountain Lake (1938) and Port Lligat on my Pinterest board.

Max Ernst (1891-1976) It’s good to be reminded of the work of Max Ernst – I explored it briefly last year during Drawing 1 and experimented with frottage,  which I enjoyed a lot.

See Antediluvian landscape, La foret (1928) and The Entire City (1934) on Pinterest.

Frottage, from the French verb frotter – to rub – is a technique that involves placing paper over a textured object (e.g. wood or brick) and rubbing with a medium such as pencil or crayon. Max Ernst and other Surrealist artists incorporated these rubbings into their paintings using collage. ‘Grattage’ a similar technique, used by Ernst and others, involves scraping oil paint across a textured object. Both techniques were popular with Surrealists because they introduced an element of chance into their work as the artist is not totally in control of the outcome. I’m going to try this with acrylics – I like losing control!

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) This artist is new to me…in the years before World War I, he founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which  influenced the surrealists. His landscapes feature strong architectural lines and angles in simplified buildings that retain a classical air, sometimes with high arched colonnades and sweeping plazas. He uses bright but earthy colours with bold, dark shadows.  Despite the fairly  colourful palette the paintings feel mysterious and ever so slightly threatening. I don’t think I’d walk through the middle of one of his scenes, I’d scuttle  around the edges… He uses statues and mannequin like figures and, like Dali, he throws in  seemingly obscure objects such as bananas, artichokes, a rubber glove and balls…  See The Song of Love 1914 and Enigma of the Day 1914.

Looking at this artist’s work, I get the feeling that de Chirico must have influenced Dali and I find that intriguing because Dali’s work is so very singular that I had not considered the possibility that other artists may have influenced him. But o course we are all influenced one way or another and a great merit it is too.



See Pinterest Board:

Paul Nash (1989-1946) Now I realise that I have looked at but not properly absorbed Nash’s war landscapes in the past. He painted scenes from both the 1st and 2nd world wars and depicts the harsh reality of lands polluted and laid barren by battle – with bomb craters and land ripped apart by explosions and trees stripped of their foliage, The artists uses strong angular lines in The Menin Road (1918) and We’re Making a New World  (a new world but not a desirable one) and yet in both paintings the sun sun rises each day and shines upon the scenes of devastation.  In Totes Meer – Dead Sea –  (1940-1), Nash has painted a pile of abandoned aircraft from a photograph he took in Cowley Oxfordshire. He said: “The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea … the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. And then, no: nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead.” Nash’s work expresses the waste of life and violation of the land.

Nash’s war works contrast hugely with his softer, warmer surreal landscapes such as Landscape from a Dream (1936-8) and Equivalents for the Megalith (1935). I have pasted these two into my Surrealists Pin Board.  Nash definitely goes on my shortlist for an artist to research in more depth in future.

Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) Sutherland has a different but equally compelling perspective… as a war artist he focused on the bomb damage and destruction of buildings and architecture in the east end of London and further afield. His work is quiet and still, without figures, and uses a subdued palette. His 1941 Devastation series includes East End Burnt Paper Mill, East End Wrecked Public House and An East End Street.  These pictures  speak volumes about the devastation wreaked upon the landscape by the Second World War. He also depicted  damage caused by mining and I should think that this is what he is expressing in Black Landscape (1939-40). Sutherland paints using crayon, ink, pastel and gouache and the scraping, grating texture of his work contributes to its expression. I need to see some of his work in the flesh as the texture fascinates me and I’d like to be able to replicate it.

John Piper (1903-1992)  The loose architectural quality of Sutherland’s work made me think of John Piper  so I wasn’t surprised when mooching about Tate Online that I came across bomb damaged buildings by Piper including All Saints Chapel Bath (19442) and Somerset Place Bath (1942). He uses lighting in a more dramatic way but, like Sutherland, leaves us feeling utterly miserable as we stand staring at the devastation with the knowledge that it is not just the buildings we have lost.



Pinterest Board:

Emil Nolde (1867-1953)emile-nolde

German expressionist Emil Nolde’s impressionistic watercolours and acrylics don’t need words. They sweep you in with vibrant colour and make you feel alive with energy flowing through your body.

I spent time looking at Nolde’s equally amazing figure paintings last year and wrote up some brief notes including biographical info on my blog which you can read here.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938 –  German) Fluid landscapes with wonderful use of vivid colours within  limited but very effective palettes.

Hubert Roestenburg (Dutch) born 1935 and the lone survivor of the German Expressionists. Strong colours and powerful use of the palette knife – this really makes his work stand out for me.

August Macke (1887-1944 – German) I would describe his work as a pretty and whimsical and with  its soft curving lines it is somehow safe and comforting. I don’t expect there to be anything spooky around the corner…

Oskar Kokoshka (1886-1944 – Austrian) I saw some of Kokoshka’s portraits at the National Gallery  last year (Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna) but I’ve never studied his landscapes before  … they are  so unexpected. They are like living, vivid, moving marks on a canvas. There is a great deal of energy in his portraits and it is fascinating to see this transferred to his landscapes but  in a way that feels totally different.

Kandinsky (1866-1944 Russian) – Again another surprise… I’m used to thinking of Kandinsky’s abstracts and when looking at his landscapes I find candy coloured palettes and gentle scenes all aglow with soft colour and light. I feel I’ve walked into a cosy dreamland – someone wake me up please!



Pinterest Board:

Tate Online definition of Symbolism: Late nineteenth-century movement that advocated the expression of an idea over the realistic description of the natural world

Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918 Austrian) – My most favourite book in my art collection is Gustav Klimt Landscapes by Stephan Koja.  I may be betraying how popular my taste in paintings is, but it feels impossible not to enjoy the beauty and serene detail of Klimt’s tree paintings, the Poppy Field, the Church in Cassone and others. It is a uniquely appealing style that many people try to copy. Klimt’s ability to combine simple shapes with the most exquisite detail is simply awe inspiring.

Gustave Moreau (1826 t 1898 French) My goodness what a lot of work he produced and it is all entirely new to me. I feel overwhelmed by these mystical scenes of faraway exotic places with their mythical figures. He has so many different styles and approaches that I do not know where to begin… so I’m going to leave it that having gathered a few paintings together on My Pinterest Board and absorbed what I can in one short research project.

Leon Bakst (1866-1924 Russian) His work includes some wonderful ‘other wordly’ set designs but most striking for me is his painting Terror Antiquus in which, using a bird’s eye view, and a backdrop of an ancient landscape the minuscule islanders of an Aegean archipelago are struck by lightning, and flash flooding has them running hopelessly for cover in the nearest temple. What a lot of drama – I feel my heart racing!

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954 – Mexican) Frida Kahlo’s life was beset with pain – the pain of childhood polio and a serious bus accident later, emotional pain caused by her tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera and the pain of miscarriage. Kahlo is known for her extraordinarily honest and revealing self portraits and in her landscapes she puts herself centre stage – on a hospital bed, on a hospital trolley, as a deer shot with arrows in a forest. The emotion and pain pours out of these striking landscapes and I’m so glad to have spent some time (not enough) looking at them today.

References: The Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC Your Paintings, Tate Online, Imperial War Museum and others acknowledged on the Pin Boards.



2 thoughts on “Research point: Expressive landscape

  1. Pingback: Exercise: Creating mood and atmosphere |

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