British Watercolours 1750-1900: Learning to Look - Landscape and the Imagination
From the 1750s drawing increasingly formed part of the education of both gentlemen and ladies, as seen in Thomas Rowlandson's 'The Country House'. Many watercolour painters were also drawing masters, and encouraged students towards a taste for landscape painting.
Alexander Cozens was a notable drawing master and Sir George Beaumont, future patron of John Constable, was one of his students. Alexander Cozens was interested in creating imaginative landscapes rather than describing a particular place. He developed a technique using ink 'blots' to aid his students' invention, the blots encouraging generalised landscapes. 'View near Rome' is not a blot picture, but is typical of Alexander Cozens' monochrome work, focussing on composition rather than colour.
William Gilpin was one of a number of 18th-century writers who sought to analyse, define and order experience. From 1782 Gilpin published his 'Tours' of Britain, in which he codified what he defined as the 'Picturesque' in British landscape, literally those elements of a landscape which could form an appropriate landscape painting; for example Gilpin's 'Landscape'. By following Gilpin's illustrated Tours 18th-century travellers learned to look at the British countryside as an interesting subject for painting. We see this mind-set in the 'Claude glass', which travellers used to reflect actual landscapes as if seen in a painting.
The search for the Picturesque in landscape, using Gilpin's 'grammar' as a guide, was so popular that it became the subject of satire; particularly William Combe's 'Tours of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque', which was illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson.
Click on the images below for larger versions.
The Country House
Museum no. P.117-1931
Watercolour over traces of black chalk on paper
The Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque
Museum no. DYCE.813
Watercolour, pen and ink, on paper
Museum no. DYCE.669
Drawn with a pen in bistre and sepia, and slightly washed