The Royal Academy delve into their vast collection of paintings to showcase ‘the Making of Landscape’. Presenting works from 3 of the most esteemed artists to depict the English landscape Royal Academicians John Constable RA (1776 - 1837), Thomas Gainsborough RA (1727 - 1788) and JMW Turner RA (1775 - 1851) are brought together to explore the development of this art form.
Split between 5 rooms the exhibition reaches far beyond that which the title first suggests to include works by modern artists who have been influenced by these past masters as well as featuring work from their predecessors notably Claude Lorrain. It is this added depth, which provides the exhibition with substance. In fact, it is not until you reach room 4 that you are introduced to the wonders of the headliners. Two of Constable’s celebrated paintings ‘The Leaping Horse’ (1825) and ‘Boat Passing a Lock’ (1826) are hung alongside Turner’s Dolbadern Castle (1800), Gainsborough’s Romantic Landscape (1783) is also on display in all its beauty. It remains a privilege to be in a position to witness such paintings in such close proximity to one another.
Thomas Gainsborough RA, ‘Romantic Landscape’, 1783 JMW Turner RA, Dolbadern Castle, 1800
A sense of innovation & rebellion is lost when taking these works out of the era that they were created. However, depicting such landscapes in such a realistic manner was met with concern, uncertainty & doubt within the art establishment. The period was more accustomed to grand romantic scenes, which offered the imaginings of the surrounding environment. What is now heralded as a true reflection of the natural beauty was innovative of its time.
The practice grew to eventually captivate its audience & the art industry transformed to embrace a different form, which in turn created a genre of art that became known to be distinctively British. This also served to publicise the beauty of the British Countryside & tourists began to flock to the various locations immortalised through paint to see the wonder for themselves.
This era is also known for the emergence of prints, which served to popularise the art form & introduce it to an entirely new audience. This is also portrayed well as many of these prints are featured throughout the exhibition.
A certain intimacy is introduced into this exhibition as Turner’s watercolour box, which accompanied him on many tours are placed on display alongside Constable’s palette of oils and letters sent by Gainsborough to other artists. One of which had been written on his death bed to his long standing artistic rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Academy’s first president.
Encompassing paintings, prints, drawings, books & the tools of the artists themselves provides a comprehensive insight into British landscape painting, which first served to put British art on the international art stage in the late 18th & early 19th centuries.
John Constable RA, The Leaping Horse (1825)