Book review – Landscape Painting by Norbert Wolf

wolf-bookresizerimage604x805I am a beginner when it comes to the history of art and so, looking for a comprehensible and fully illustrated book, I was delighted to find this 2017 edition published by Taschen in its Basic Art Series 2.0.

The book is concise and the writing fluent and easy to read. Of its ninety five pages, almost every one has a full colour and often full page illustration of the painting under discussion. And if ever a book needed digitising, this is it because high quality as these plates are, the ability to zoom in on detail would be a wonderful thing.

The first twenty seven pages provide us with a potted history of landscape painting as an art form – its lowly beginnings as merely background to ‘real art’ which was often religious, through a transitional period where a few figures are included, possibly to avoid the often derogatory comments made by the academic art community such as that by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) who said that they ‘entertain people because they are low and because they are beneath the earnestness of public life … and required less intellect’. (P8). This had not improved by the mid 17th century where guidelines arising from Andre Felibien’s ‘Conferences de l’Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture pendant l’anee 1667′ said that ‘only still lifes and flowers ranked lower than landscapes‘. (P10).

Wolf goes on to describe the gradual emergence of landscape painting from these prejudices through symbolism, and ‘heroic landscapes’, to modernism, and the remainder of the book describes some thirty four individual works by artists from Hieronymus Bosch through to David Hockney, each beautifully illustrated.

There is for me, a key omission in that there are no female artists listed. A 2010 Guardian article by Germaine Greer hints at why this might be with its title, ‘Painting landscapes requires authority, is this why so few women try them?’ Greer notes that, “The six daughters of Scottish landscape painter Alexander Nasmyth were taught by their father to paint in his second-best manner; they were never encouraged to make compositions of their own. The reason has nothing to do with hand-eye co-ordination, or missing synapses or dwarfed dendrites in the female of the species. It has to do with authority.’ Running a Google search for either women or female landscape artists brought up almost nothing until Google Arts and Culture identified Tina Blau (1845-1916), even then noting the common belief that, ‘because she was a woman, there had to have been a man guiding her as no woman had the talent to be successful without a man behind her‘. Perhaps the next edition of this current book will rectify that.

Lack of female representation notwithstanding, this for me was an ideal purchase; introductory without being simplistic, illustrative both in language and visuals, and easy to read throughout.

I would add the caveat that very small font size and narrow line spacing might be a challenge for anyone with close vision difficulties – probably another good reason for digitising.

 

Wolf, N. 2017. Landscape Painting. Taschen, Basic Art Series 2.0.

Greer, G. 2010. Painting landscapes requires authority, is this why so few women try them? The Guardian. [online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/28/germaine-greer-therese-oulton-landscapes Accessed 30 May 2020.

Tina Blau via Google Arts and Culture. [online] Available at https://artsandculture.google.com/theme/the-women-painters-overlooked-by-art-history/7AJCHFiEkqVKJg?hl=en
506 words excluding title and references.

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