Room 5: Landscape painting

Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage - Italy’ exhibited 1832
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage - Italy exhibited 1832

Landscape painting

Few observers on either side of the Channel disputed the originality of the British landscape school. The aims of British landscape painters diverged markedly from contemporary French practice. French artists sketched in the open-air (plein-air), like their British contemporaries, to encourage spontaneity and careful observation of natural light and colour. But these qualities often vanished in the final painting. Finished works were invariably arranged artificially, to accommodate an elevated subject from mythology, literature or nature. These were often set in Italy, because of its associations with an idealised classical past.

By contrast, a number of French critics and artists were struck by the ability of British painters, such as Constable and Bonington, to present finished works which retained the freshness of the original sketch. In 1824 the statesman and journalist, Adolphe Thiers, claimed that ‘the British don’t dream of a better world, they copy what they see and paint the truth.’