A painting depicting a terrain of land with particular detailing of the surroundings encompassing the natural bodies, floras and faunas are usually termed as Landscape Paintings. The word landscape is borrowed from the Dutch term ‘Landschap’, meaning ‘region, tract of land’. In the late 16th century the meaning of this genre of painting became ‘a picture depicting a scene on land’ with essential aesthetic connotations and emerged as one of the most celebrated and important genre of painting.
History of Landscape Paintings
Landscape Paintings have their genesis rooted in the antiquity. After the initiation of this genre by the Greeks and the Romans with land and garden-scape in the form Frescos, with the fall of these great societies landscape only became a space to illustrate religious backdrops. But by the turn of 16th century, landscape grew up as a subject in it, and gained popularity particularly in Netherland. With the shift in the human consciousness from theological mind set to a more anthropological one, the rising middle class of Europe comprising the Protestant Christians demanded a secular art genre. Landscape painting was the genre which sufficed this need and taste of the people during the Renaissance.
Different Perspectives of Landscape Paintings
In Western tradition of Landscape Painting the dominating perspectives are:
- Aerial Perspective
- Linear Perspective
- Conceptual Perspective
Different Traditions of Landscape Paintings
Augmented by the different landscape art movements throughout the world, this genre developed itself through two distinct traditions. They are:
- Western Tradition
- East Asian Tradition
- Birth of Classical Landscape Painting: By 17th century, Classical Landscape painting became popular in Europe and was influenced by the Greco-Roman landscape art seeking an ideal landscape recalling Arcadia, a place in ancient Greek known for its natural pastoral beauty of the land. By 18th century, landscape painting gained the stature of academic visual culture and study of historical landscapes was greatly admired, especially in France.
- Birth of Modern Landscape Painting: With the fall of feudal system in Europe and with the Industrial Revolution and fall of old ideas of life and human condition, landscape paintings gained absolute supremacy with the advent of ‘plain air painting’, i.e., distancing from the classical landscape, the artists started ‘out-of-doors’ painting directly from nature as live model under the realist style with perspectives and three dimensionality.
- Advent of the Impressionist Landscape Paintings: Pushing the boundaries of the academic landscape painting, the Impressionist painters like Courbet, Monet and Renoir of 19th century redefined the genre. This genre was much enriched in the 20th century by the late impressionists like Cezanne and Van Gogh.
East Asian Tradition
The tradition of East Asian Landscape Painting is much older than the Western as it is in vogue since 10th century A.D. Mostly with a greater size of canvas, this tradition depicts the landscape in a wider scale than its western counterparts .In this tradition the two most important regions to contribute to this field immensely are:
Often known to be the greatest contribution to the visual art of the world, Chinese landscape paintings are greatly inspired by the Taoist tradition in the Chinese culture. With cityscape, people, manmade monuments, rivers and trees, Chinese Landscape Paintings inculcate a sense of narrative in it. The following are some of the characteristics in the development and evolution of the Chinese Landscape Painting.
- Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 B.C.): With the Han Dynasty, Chinese landscape painting achieved an unparallel success both in terms of form and style covering an extra wide view of the landscape depicting hunting, farming, houses and animals. These paintings have mostly survived on the walls, stones and clays of the tombs. These paintings had a Persian flavor and were a popular style of court painting.
- Song Dynasty (960 B.C. – 1279 B.C.): The Southern School of the Song Dynasty comprises some of the best landscape paintings and much of them have still survived. This tradition is still surviving as an uninterrupted form till this day. Sometimes the subject included a human figure contemplating over a view of a mountain, but mostly the landscapes would not feature any man. These paintings were accompanied by poems written by the then emperors.
- Eight Views: A very important concept in this region’s art is the Eight Views (especially that of Xiao Xiang) – denotes beautiful and significant scenes of the same area. Various series of eight views were produced in China, and a whole artistic tradition was nurtured revolving it.
- Shan Shui Tradition: This form of landscape painting developed through extensive and exquisite use of pen and ink. Literally meaning ‘mountain-water-picture’, this artform flourished during the Song Dynasty. This art form in the East Asian tradition attains a philosophical level in comparison to the West - these artists were not interested in capturing the landscape on the denotative level, rather they would paint them as a symbolic and connotative image. More than how the landscape appears to our eyes, this tradition revealed an awareness of inner reality and wholeness flowing directly from the artist’s heart and mind.
Much influenced by the narrative structure of the Chinese traditions of landscape paintings, this tradition also dates back as early as the 12th and the 13th century B.C. The ancient artifacts in which these Japanese Landscape Paintings were found are:
- Yamato-e Scrolls: Yamato-e is a style of landscape painting in scrolls inspired by those of the Tang Dynasty developing in the Heian Period. Considered to be Japanese traditional paintings, these are called Yamato-e to mark distinction from its Chinese counterpart called Kara-e (in Japanese). These paintings often unfold interesting narratives with texts written on it. Purely denotative in nature, their main stress was laid on natural beauty, famous places and the four seasons. A popular Japanese narrative, ‘tale of Genji’ has been illustrated in this style.
Various schools were developed with this style, with some interesting characteristics like: emphasis on foreground, over sized human figures and birds, animals and trees in a horizontal composition.
- Ukiyo-e Paintings: A style of landscape painting practiced during the 17th till the 20th century, Ukiyo-e paintings literally mean ‘pictures of the floating world’. Mainly featuring motifs of tales from history, theater, and pleasure places with a dominating subject of landscape, these were mainly colored woodcut or woodblock paintings.
Indian Landscape Painting
Historians brand Ajanta cave paintings to be the first architectural landscape as the paintings incorporate natural foliages, houses and animals in their depiction. Indian landscape painting has never come as a focal point like the Western tradition or the Chinese or the Japanese ones, but has provided as a backdrop for various activities of the Indian society.
Development of Landscape Painting in India
The modern era of landscape painting in its true meaning is pioneered by the likes of Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore (in his later stage of life) and Nanda Lal Bose. The Tagore tradition of landscape painting can be seen in the Santiniketan style where the painting of the indigenous origin marked a striking difference with the Western tradition. Binod Behari Mukherjee and Gopal Ghose where the modern stalwarts in Indian traditional landscape painting and the former explored the exquisite flora and fauna of Santiniketan, the beautiful rural place where Rabindranath Tagore had built his unique university. Both the painters had a conscious venture to capture the natural and serene beauty of the rural Bengal.
Contemporary Indian Landscape Painting
Among the modern contemporary artists, landscape paintings of Indra Dugar, B.R. Panesar, Prokash Karmakar, Suhas Roy, Ganesh Haloi worth throwing light upon. More contemporary artists like Biswajit Jana, Nilay Sarkar, Subhasis Roychowdhury, Tarun Chakraborty, Sourav Shahu, Swapan Roy, Dr. Tapan Raychaudhuri are the celebrated ones in India.
The category of landscape painting in India has extended itself to:
- Natural Indian Hillscape