When art historians read changes in style as reflecting broader political changes it is often possible to argue from both ‘sides’. For example, Ann Bermingham in her essay ‘English Landscape Drawing around 1795’ argues that the impact of the French Revolution was seen in a rejection of earlier forms of landscape composition, based on the idealised classical landscapes painted in seventeenth century Italy, in favour of more naturalistic drawings where the forms of nature took on a more individual character. From a liberal perspective, this would be consistent with an appreciation of the real qualities of the English countryside, rather than the kinds of views sought on the Grand Tour. However, from a conservative point of view, the change in landscape painting could equally be seen as a rejection of the systematic abstractions of theory and the open intellectual spaces of the prospect view, in favour of local scenes demonstrating the timeless qualities of the native landscape.
These political differences reflect contemporary changes in picturesque theory. The conservative position was essentially that taken by Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight in their criticisms of the gardens of Capability Brown and the picturesque theories of William Gilpin. Both Brown and Gilpin had imposed the harmonious compositions of painters like Claude onto the real landscape. Thomas Hearn provided the illustrative etchings of Brownian and Picturesque gardens for Knight’s didactic poem The Landscape (1805). Ann Bermingham sees the new style embodied in Hearn’s art. She contrasts Hearn’s detailed view of Oak Trees (c1786) with a slightly earlier view of The Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo (c 1779) by John Robert Cozens. So Cozens’ older painting could be either a comforting conservative souvenir of an idealised Italy or a liberal artistic expression of the eighteenth century’s expanding horizons. Take your pick.