The quintessential English landscape

John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner were some of the finest landscape painters of their generation, whose efforts to capture the silent beauty of England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought about a new way of thinking in this category of art.
Alone, their names are commanding, synonymous with greatness, of technical skill and artistic mastery. Banded together they are a supremely potent force, a powerful faction whose work delivers almost excessive amounts of delight.
The Royal Academy of Arts has put together a quietly thoughtful show looking at how these three giants were at the heart of the discourse surrounding landscape painting, and how, pre-modernism, they sought to add new levels of creativity never before seen in art.
This included addressing what was meant by “truth to nature”. This very concept was already in the midst of change, as new ideas started to bubble up to the surface, sparks of buried enlightenment finally coming to life.
What this ultimately meant was the protracted end to the notion that an artist must deliberately extract himself emotionally and spiritually from whatever work he was producing, to depict reality as it were.
By the eighteenth century, this rigid approach was beginning to falter, or at least its ideology was losing its hold on the way artists tackled, engaged and portrayed the natural world. After all, as human beings, we are part of the earth, however much we try to estrange ourselves from nature. Artists needed to connect to it more than just figuratively.
And so what we see in their work are echoes of feeling from Constable, Gainsborough and Turner, as if the grass, the trees and the sky are features of their former selves, like a cryptic journal that has never been completely transcribed.
There is Turner at his most emotional, swathes of sentiment pulsating out from the canvases. There is Constable opening up his heart, a true romantic unable to keep his feelings hidden. And there is Gainsborough, brooding, spiritual and imaginative.
The paintings speak to us. They say this is, in part, who I am, this is how I felt, this is the world in which I lived, suffused with my hopes and dreams and my despairs. Yes we have romanticised what is already patently beautiful, but we see this as another lens through which to view the world. When you look at our work, you will be able to understand us a little bit better.
Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape at the Royal Academy of Arts in London runs until February 17th 2013.
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