This summer, perhaps more so than any other, has us all the more eager to travel to faraway lands and swap bustling cities and unbearable heat for countryside views. If seasonal journeys are on hold in favor of transporting yourself through works of art this year, sit back – we’ve got you covered.
Here’s a brief introduction to landscape art, as well as 12 famous landscape artists best known for capturing the great outdoors, spanning from the 7th century to the contemporary world.
What is a Landscape Artist? A Brief Introduction to a Noteworthy Genre
Landscape artists are those that portray the outdoors in their works, such as scenes of rolling hills or meadows, fields, mountains, lakes, the seaside, and beyond. As shown in landscape paintings by famous artists, elements of the natural world take precedent over people as the focus in this genre. If depicted at all, humans typically serve as minor elements in the composition.
In the Eastern world, landscape painting is generally considered one of China’s greatest contributions to the art of the world. It reached such importance as a genre thanks in part to the Chinese Taoist tradition. Starting from the Han dynasty (c. 206 BC – 220 AD), landscape paintings depicted scenes of hunting, farming and animals, emperors on horseback traveling through mountains and more. Chinese landscape artist Wang Wei (699-759 AD) became known for shifting landscape art toward a monochrome style.
Later on, in the West, paintings of landscapes (which stem from the Dutch word landschap, or a patch of cultivated ground) became their own genre in the 15th century. Dutch Realist artists of the 17th century, however, were accredited for officially bringing landscape painting to light. Following this, 18th-century Venetian painting popularized architectural townscapes, which then sparked growing interest in topographical paintings among landowners looking to show off their properties.
The 19th century was dubbed the “Golden Age” of English landscape painting in the West and also led to the emergence of plein-air techniques which became central to French impressionists like Claude Monet. The Hudson River School, a group of artists working throughout New York and New England in the mid-nineteenth century, brought landscape painting to the United States, with artists depicting the then largely unexplored, vast, and naturally beautiful country.
12 Famous Landscape Artists You Should Know
While oil paintings probably jump to mind when thinking amount landscapes, artists have long incorporated numerous other techniques. These include etching, watercolor, and drawing, the latter of which famous landscape artists like Leonardo da Vinci mastered.
From ancient Chinese pioneers to Old Masters, to notable modern landscape artists, here are 12 major influencers of the genre to draw inspiration from.
1. Zhan Ziquan
Zhan Ziqian (c. mid-to-late 6th century) was a famous ancient Chinese painter notable in his time for painting several genres and religious works, most of which have not survived. His only painting that survives (pictured above) is Strolling About in Spring (c. 600), which is described as the earliest surviving work of Chinese landscape painting. It is also described as the first shan shui painting – a form of Chinese painting that depicts natural landscapes like mountains, rivers, and waterfalls in brush and ink.
2. Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian Renaissance master who was fascinated by science and invention, drawing and painting, sculpture, math, music, literature, geology, and more. In fact, his understanding of geology and the natural world around him can be seen in his earliest known drawing (pictured above), a landscape drawing of the valley of Arno and Montelupo castle. While he is not necessarily renowned for his landscape works, da Vinci was said to have been ahead of his time in this drawing and other early compositions. Today, this landscape drawing for Santa Maria Della Neve can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Tiziano Vecelli (c. 1488/90-1576), or known in English as Titian, was an Italian Renaissance painter and the most influential part of the Venetian school of the 16th-century. He is recognized for his versatility and expertly crafted landscapes (example above), portraits and religious subjects, to name a few. Titian’s painting methods – particularly, his use of color – paved the way for centuries of Western art.
The Italian word paesaggio, or “landscape,” first appeared in a letter Titian wrote in 1532 to Emperor Philip II. In it, he described the meaning of the term for the first time. Titian introduced a new concept to landscape painting – he brought natural landscapes to life with light and color, so they no longer served as simple backgrounds for main characters. In a sense, he turned landscapes into protagonists themselves.
4. Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1530-1569) was considered the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. He is known for his landscapes and scenes of everyday peasant workers. He famously mastered the technique of making both landscapes and peasants the subjects of his paintings. Bruegel, born in present-day North Brabant, the Netherlands, had a strong influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and was one of the first artists to emerge from a period in which religious figures were no longer the main subject matter of painting.
5. Jan van Goyen
Jan Josephszoon van Goyen (1596-1656) was a Dutch landscape painter who is known to have created around 1,200 paintings and over 1,000 drawings. Van Goyen often depicted genre subjects of everyday life in the tonal style of the era. His paintings often show scenes of canals in The Hague, the Netherlands, and of the Dutch villages of Delft, Rotterdam, Gouda, and others. Van Goven frequently painted on thin oak wood.
6. John Constable
English landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837) followed a Romantic tradition, emphasizing emotion, individualism, and the glorification of nature in his works. He is most well-known for his depictions of Dedham Vale, the region around his home. His most famous paintings are now some of the most highly valued in British art, such as Wivenhoe Park (shown above).
7. Claude Monet
Born in France, Claude Monet (1840-1926) was the founder of the French Impressionist movement. He led the movement in his expressions of one’s perceptions before nature, seen in his plein air landscape paintings. In fact, the term “Impressionism” as a genre of art was coined after Monet’s painting, Impression, Sunrise of 1872.
Monet is most famous for his beautiful portrayals of the French countryside, particularly of his own garden and the lily pad-filled pond at his home in Giverny. Here, he painted his famous series Water Lilies, among several other renowned landscape paintings of the Impressionist style. His understanding of the effects of light on colors of objects was particularly influential for Impressionists to follow.
8. Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was a French Post-Impressionist painter who paved the way for more radical 20th-century art. He is said to have connected 19th-century Impressionism with 20th-century Cubism, and was a major influence on famous modern artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, among others.
Cézanne often painted landscapes of places he knew well, and his early works featured large groups of human figures, painted heavily and with imagination. Later, he developed a light and airy painting style. At the start of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Cézanne moved to L’Estaque, in the south of France, where he predominantly painted landscapes in the Impressionist style.
9. Vincent van Gogh
Dutch artist Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890) was a post-impressionist painter and among the most famous painters in Western art. He created about 2,100 works of art in just over 10 years, including landscapes, still lifes and portraits. His use of bold and dramatic colors, as well as his impulsive brushwork, have highly influenced modern art.
Van Gogh’s landscapes included scenes of the French countryside, from wheat fields to cypress trees in starry nights, to blooming orchards and farm life. Over the course of his life and mental illness, including his stay at a mental hospital in Arles, France, Van Gogh’s use of color, techniques, and style went through several transformations that continue to fascinate admirers today.
10. Wassily Kandinsky
Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) is regarded as a pioneer of abstract art. While he was born in Moscow, he spent most of his childhood in Ukraine, then later studied art in Germany and lived his final years as a citizen and resident of France. Most of Kandinsky’s existing paintings date to the beginning of the 20th century, during which he painted landscapes and towns using a wide range of colors. He did not typically include human figures in his paintings. While the technique of pointillism and style of Fauvism appears in his earlier works, later Kandinsky works become more abstract in depictions of shapes and figures.
11. Georgia O’Keeffe
American artist Georgia Totto O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is well-known for her paintings of New Mexico landscapes, as well as her works depicting large flowers and New York high rises. She is considered the Mother of American Modernism. In 1929, O’Keeffe started spending summers in the Southwest, where she was inspired to paint New Mexico landscapes centered around the Taos Mountains and images of animal skulls in the desert. With friends, O’Keeffe went exploring on many backpacking trips in the area, where she sought out subjects for her works.
O’Keeffe became a legend in the art world for being a strong, independent female role model, and according to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, she was “one of the first American artists to practice pure abstraction.”
12. David Hockney
British artist David Hockney (born 1937) has dabbled in various styles and techniques across painting, printmaking, photography, stage design, and more. He is considered an important part of the pop art movement, and one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.
As he has experimented with various types of media (including computer and iPad drawings), Hockney’s landscapes, as well as his still lifes and portraits, have varied greatly over the course of his career. In the 1990s, he was inspired by his terminally ill friend Jonathan Silver to paint local surroundings in Yorkshire, where he would visit his mother. First, he painted scenes from his memory, but then came to paint the countryside en plein air using oil paints and watercolor. Hockney’s largest painting is a landscape titled Bigger Trees Near Warter, which measures 15 feet by 40 feet.
The future is bright for landscape artists
Today, landscape art lives on in the contemporary art world. Artists like Harold Ancart and Etel Adnan, among others, continue to bring to life natural wonders from their unique perspectives, experimenting with mixed media and contemporary techniques. Among modern and contemporary art collectors, landscapes remain some of the most expensive paintings sold at auction. For example, in May 2020, Cecily Brown’s Figures in a Landscape I (2001) sold for $5.5 million via Gagosian. In July 2020, Sotheby’s expects Cottage Garden, Leonard Stanley, a 1940 garden landscape by Stanley Spencer (whose landscape art has been widely popular), to fetch over £300,000 at auction.
Looking for more? Browse fine art for sale at auction now on Invaluable.