Now that summer is here and holidays are happening, how many of us continue on that long tradition of sketching and painting the countryside – knowing that the light is clear and translucent, the shadows sharp and the weather likely to give us plenty of time to bask in the glory of the great outdoors.
Artists of this world have gone out into the depths of countryside to set up their easels, to take out their sketch book, open their satchel to extract their paints, their water bottles and start utilising that creative streak that brings us the magic of the muses.
Our words ‘technique, technology and technical’ are derived from the Greek word “techne” ... when art implied mastery of any craft – one who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry ... a creative person, including one who cultivates one of the fine arts.
|Book of Hours|
The muses presided over each of these nine fields of human creation – but in ancient Greece sculptors and painters were held in low esteem, somewhere between freemen and slaves, their work regarded as mere manual labour.
Over time the word art, derived from the Latin “ars” meaning ‘skill method’ became appreciated with the advent of decorated religious manuscripts. Initially these decorations would be simple letter characters, but soon delicate drawings of the beasts and flowers were incorporated.
Art really came into its own as we would recognise it today back in the 1400s, when the Renaissance humanist polymath Leon Battista Alberti’s works focused on the importance of intellectual skills of the artist rather than the manual skills.
Academies of the arts, philosophical and scientific centres, were established in sixteenth century Italy – patronised by the noble families of the period ... leading to Academies being founded in the cities of Europe, our own Royal Academy being founded in 1768.
Turner’s painting of Ivy Bridge
Artists were treating landscape in the classical style, painting as it might have been depicted in the Roman era, but times were changing with Dutch and French artists starting to paint the countryside as they saw it.
This influenced J M W Turner (1775 – 1851) who became one of the greatest of British landscape painters. Turner was a Londoner, who was inspired by the countryside, particularly while pursuing another love – that of trout fishing.
A controversial figure in his day – but now revered as a master of his craft. A man who was happiest while fishing and sketching capturing the magic of the British countryside that we so admire in his pictures today: which also give us an insight into his world two hundred and fifty years ago.
Constable’s painting of Wivenhoe Park;
now the campus for the University of
Essex – and as an aside ... the park
is host a very large colony of rabbits!
John Constable (1776 – 1837) another of those times, painted the area around his home of Dedham Vale in Suffolk ... deciding that he ‘would paint his own places best’ – however he sold more paintings in France than in England ... only becoming accepted once elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52.
Over the years many excellent British artists have attempted to distil the peculiar magic of the countryside, which lurks in our woods and fields: from the Romantic style of Samuel Palmer (1805 – 1881) to the Surrealist Paul Nash (1889 – 1946).
Garden in Shoreham. Painted
in the 1820s or early
1830s by Samuel Palmer.
Other artists emerged belonging to the tradition of natural history illustration, which dates back to the pioneer botanists and zoologists of the 18th century – see my post on the early Naturalists.
Thomas Bewick (1753 – 1828) working around the early 1800s, was a countryman, an author and illustrator, with a dedicated respect for the facts of natural history.
He founded a style of wood-block engraving which has continued to this day, carving in harder woods, notably box wood, against the grain, using the fine tools normally favoured by the metal engravers.
A barn owl from Bewick's
History of British Birds
His name lives on in the species of the Bewick Swan, and of the (American) Bewick Wren ... but he is also noteworthy for having used his fingerprint as a form of signature, in conjunction with his written name to denote individuality in his publications.
Perhaps two hundred years ago he was among the first to recognise the uniqueness of each individual human fingerprint.
He wrote and illustrated many books of which his greatest achievement is his History of British Birds (1797 – 1804: in 2 volumes – Land Birds and Sea Birds).
Into these strong beginnings of recording the natural world came the curious and investigative Victorians and Edwardians, who ensured this natural knowledge of botany, zoology and horticulture, continued to set the standards.
The Reverend Keble Martin’s (1877 – 1969) Concise British Flora is a family favourite ... it is a work of art depicting the richness of the wildflowers of our land – a comprehensive reference work. Many diarists followed this tradition and their works are reprinted to this day.
The world of the published Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943) dawned ... but did you know – she was self-published! Interest had been shown in her art work in the late 1800s, but with the Tale of Peter Rabbit in browns and greens the publishers wanted colour illustrations ... which by now were both popular and affordable.
Potter self-published in 1901 before the publishers recognised that the manuscript would compete with Helen Bannerman’s wildly popular “Little Black Sambo” and other small format children’s books.
|First edition cover|
Negotiations were reopened to include colour illustrations and they promptly signed her up ... as Potter had finally agreed to use colour realising it was essential for the market place.
Bannerman (1862 – 1966) had lived for a good proportion of her life in India, where her husband was an officer in the Indian Medical Service. The heroes of her books are recognizably south Indian or Tamil children, while the plots celebrate the intelligence and ingenuity of children.
Sad that these stories have been misconstrued .... as I marvelled at the fun of getting the tigers to chase themselves round that palm tree, before they melted into butter, with Sambo’s mother rewarding him with pancakes made from that self same butter ... ah childhood memories.
Helen Bannerman has another claim to fame ... which Stephen Tremp of Breakthrough Blogs will relate to ... she is the mother of famous physicist Tom Kibble, who co-discovered the Higgs-Kibble mechanism and Higgs boson – both in the scientific news recently and featured in Stephen’s posts.
|Wastwater in the Lake District|
What’s this got to do with painting in the countryside ... not much probably ... but it is the summertime – the colours of the landscape are at their best, the vagaries of the wind creating magical skies and thus shadow and light onto this earth of ours below.
The creative bloggers – the artists, musicians, authors et al – will be using the summertime to hone their creations, start new projects, rejuvenate their thoughts ... or just dabble in the sheer delight that is summer.
Who knows what will be discovered in the years ahead that will be linked back to our endeavours of today ... a new art form, another forensic beginning, a scientific discovery – will we be time travelling, and how will we be reading and writing ... have a happy, relaxing or prolific summertime.
Dear Mr Postman ... just a quick update on my mother ... we had a lively day when she was very chatty – determined to get to the library to find an autobiography ... no names – I tried a few ... one was John Knott – immediately back came the retort: ‘no he’s a politician’! She wanted to go to the dentist – he’s in Morrab Road she said: he is! The brain is an extraordinary organ ... she hasn’t been in Penzance for 4 ½ years ... let alone reading or to the dentist! Always amazes me and we then enjoyed Wimbldeon!
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