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Around the galleries

Green and pleasant land: British landscape art tours the USA

— March 2015

Article read level: Art lover

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Edward Lear, Kinchinjunga from Darjeeling, 1877

Art from the Welsh national collection shows both what British landscape artists have done, and what inspired them

Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion For Landscape (catalogue) by Tim Barringer and Oliver Fairclough

Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills, a title of quotations, expresses both the best and worst aspects of Britain’s appearance during the period that landscape painting became so prominent a genre. This  detailed catalogue, with introductory essays by its guest curators, accompanies an exhibition of 88 works from the collections of Amgueddfa  Cymru – National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, which is now touring the USA (see Background info box, right). I’m unlikely to see the show, so this review deals solely with the publication, the project’s most tangible lasting legacy. And it’s a publication well worth bringing to notice, for although there are few unknown artists within its pages, the selection includes numerous interesting but little-known works of great interest by some of Britain’s most eminent artists.

Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, discusses the development of landscape painting and its position within an increasingly industrialized society. Oliver Fairclough, Keeper of Art at the National Museum of Wales, examines the Welsh dimension within the evolution of British landscape art in more detail. Crucially, their accounts are firmly centred on the Welsh experience, one that has been somewhat neglected as a discrete subject within studies of 18th-century art.  Fairclough’s account of the development of ‘the Welsh tour’ c.1800 is especially interesting: this was an expedition which (when made in full) provided an enormous range of topographical experiences and subject matter, sometimes undertaken by Englishmen for whom it ‘often proved daunting’ but was well worth the (artistic) experience. Turner, an indefatigable traveller, made five visits to Wales between 1792 and 1800.

The individual works are arranged in six thematic sections, presented chronologically within each section. The first section, ‘Classical Visions and Picturesque Prospects’ covers Claude Lorrain,  Salvator Rosa, Richard Wilson, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Jones – all major figures in the inspiration and development of the landscape painting. Richard Wilson and Thomas Jones are particularly important in this show, being Welshmen who worked in London and Italy; their work has all too often been discussed with reference to the places they travelled to, rather than where they came from.

This section also displays some humour, for satirist Thomas Rowlandson  is included here, making fun  of himself as An Artist Travelling in Wales (an image based on his own very wet tour of 1797), and also illustrating William Combe’s wonderful satire of the picturesque movement, The Tour of Doctor Syntax.  The next section, ‘Turner and the Sublime’, demonstrates the development of Turner’s style from early topographical studies to atmospheric watercolours, and his dramatic views of the Rhine and the Alps. Edward Lear  provides more sublimity with a view of the Eastern Himalayas, a contrast to his better-known images of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. 

In the section on ‘Truth to Nature’ we see humbler cottages and cornfields, rocks and rooftops. Gainsborough is here, but Thomas Jones is the star, original in his plein-air painting in oil, a practice he developed with great success in Italy. Then in ‘Picturing Modernity’ the Satanic Mills appear, as artists responded to increasing industrialization and urbanization, from Paul Sandby’s   Iron Forge of 1776 to images of London by Cedric Morris and Oskar Kokoschka in 1926. Images of London continue in the next section, ‘Monet   and Impressions of Britain’, which includes views from across the British Isles. The last section, ‘Neo-Romantic to Post-Modern’, takes us from the 1840s to the 21st century, with powerful compositions by Ceri Richards and Kyffin Willams, and photographic works by Hamish Fulton  and Richard Long.    The final example, however, is a ‘work-in-progress’ – David Nash’s  Ash Dome, a growing landscape feature which will continue to develop over a long period. 

The catalogue entries, which accompany excellent full-page images, are informative mini-essays, written by a number of specialist curators of the National Museum of Wales. All in all, the publication should provide a valuable addition to studies of both landscape art and the artistic recording of Wales over several centuries, and of course to the national collections of Wales.

Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills: The British Passion For Landscape  by Tim Barringer and Oliver Fairclough is published by the American Federation of Arts, New York, in association with D Giles Limited, London 2014. 232 pp.,  115 col illus. ISBN  978-1-907804-34-2


Patricia Andrew
Art historian

Background info

Wales is a country to the west of England. It was conquered by King Edward I of England in 1282 and is now part of the United Kingdom, while retaining its own character and traditions, including the Welsh language. Edward I’s son became the first Prince of Wales in 1301 and the reigning monarch’s eldest son has been Prince of Wales ever since.

Exhibition itinerary

Organized in association with the American Federation of Arts, ‘Pastures Green & Dark Satanic Mills’ is at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida until 5 April. Its next venue is the Frick in Pittsburgh, after which it travels to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, and finally to Princeton University Art Museum, where it finishes in April 2016.

Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (until 5 April  2015)

Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh (7 May –2 August 2015)

Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City (27 August–13 December 2015)

Princeton University Art Museum (23 January–24 April 2016).

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