Sunday, 19 October 2008

Clarkson Stanfield - "Staging" Landscape

In 19th century Europe landscape painting was highly en vogue, and travelling through Europe - especially to Italy - was seen as substantial to the education of every artist who strived for a successful career. Soon, other European countries and landscapes were added to the "must see"-list of every educated traveller, and with each of these countries and landscapes there were certain view points connected: The touristic "discovery" of the Rhine coincided with the "discovery" of the medieval castles and ruins, and so ruins of medieval castles are often part of paintings that depict scenes near the river Rhine.

Most of the travelling artists did not paint every motif they saw, but selected motifs that corresponded to the contemporary landscape concepts of the picturesque and the sublime. They thusly helped to cement certain stereotypes that are still present in our modern-day perception of these landscapes. And even back then, the eye of the travelling observer was thusly schooled, was trained to see nature as a landscape composed after certain standards. The rich bourgeoisie saw Italy as modelled after Lorrain's and Poussin's landscape paintings.
The tourist who wanted to be reminded of the "highlights" of his travels when he was back home became the new customer for the travelling artist. To him the arist sold his pictures on site or back home. This market was exploited rather quickly by publishers who provided the interested buyer with albums and illustrated books.

In this context, Clarkson Frederick Stanfield (Dec 3, 1793 – May 18, 1867), an acclaimed English marine painter, was sent by his publisher to continental Europe to draw landscape motifs of the Moselle, the Rhine and other popular regions, that were later to be published in different albums. His "Sketches on the Moselle, the Rhine and the Meuse" were published in 1838 by Hodgson & Graves in London. They show a landscape that is highly "inszeniert": the landscape is orchestrated to a picturesque vision of an idyllic country. Influenced by the Dutch landscape paintings and stage scenery the artist, Stanfield, who worked for different theatres throughout his career, created a vision of the Rhine regions that is hardly realistic but all the more poetic. He "dramatized" the landscape and made it to a fairy tale.

Consequently, the landscapes Victor Paul Mohn (1842-1911), a German landscape painter, drew for his fairy tale illustrations are not too different from Stanfield's landscapes:

The 19th century perception of landscape tended to idealize in a way that let fiction and reality blur together. No wonder that the late 20th century started to discuss the complexities of landscape perception.

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