Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons
A 1991 edition of the poetry magazine The North included a plea from Stanley Cook for the return of the prospect poem: ‘The writing of prospect poems reached a stage in the 18th century where one critic complained that there was hardly a molehill left that had not been celebrated; it could reach a similar stage again. In the meantime it is frustrating to see the perfect tool for so many jobs lie unused. There are so many Northern towns and cities where from the viewpoint of a nearby moor one could survey industrial dereliction and urban regeneration, shopping malls rising on the sites of satanic mills, across the valley to the nearest motorway, and the sad figure of a rate-capped councillor wending his weary way home.’
Cook’s favourite prospect poem is John Scott’s description of Amwell which I couldn’t locate on-line – maybe someone else can find a link? There are some other Scott poems are here. John Scott (1730–1783) was known for his pastoral verse and friendship with Dr Johnson, but he also dabbled in some fashionable garden design at the family home, now Amwell House – the grotto was recently restored. According to the Hertfordshire literary map, ‘the name Amwell is derived from 'Emma's Well', now a dried up hollow alongside the New River which broadens around two small islands there. The well has a stone enscribed with part of John Scott's poem "Emma" at the entrance.’
Charles Baudelaire’s reviews of the Salons of 1845 and 1846 both have sections on landscape. In the 1845 review Baudelaire defends Corot against those who claim he cannot paint because his work looks unfinished. The 1846 review identifies different types of landscape painters:
il y a des paysagistes coloristes, des paysagistes dessinateurs et des imaginatifs; des naturalistes idéalisant à leur insu, et des sectaires du poncif, qui s’adonnent à un genre particulier et étrange, qui s’appelle le Paysage historique.
Baudelaire praises the modern landscape painters who have devoted themselves to the study of nature, but he has no time for ‘historical landscape’, where the aim is to rebuild nature in accordance with ‘healthier and purer rules’. A good tragic landscape is thus
un arrangement de patrons d’arbres, de fontaines, de tombeaux et d’urnes cinéraires. Les chiens sont taillés sur un certain patron de chien historique; un berger historique ne peut pas, sous peine de déshonneur, s’en permettre d’autres. Tout arbre immoral qui s’est permis de pousser tout seul et à sa manière est nécessairement abattu; toute mare à crapauds ou à têtards est impitoyablement enterrée.
an arrangement of stereotyped patterns of trees and fountains, of tombstones and funeral urns. The dogs are cut out on a certain pattern of historical dog; a tragic shepherd cannot, on pain of dishonour, have any other kind of dog. Any immoral tree which had the cheek to grow independently and according to its own nature is necessarily cut down forthwith; any pond full of toads and tadpoles is mercilessly filled in. (trans P.E. Charvet).
Baudelaire also had a section on landscape in his final 1859 Salon review and here he makes clear that the naturalistic depiction of landscape still needs to convey the artist’s feeling and provide a satisfying composition. This is something Corot achieves while Rousseau sometimes falls short, dazzling the critic with his effects but in his ‘blind love of nature’ mistaking a simple study for a finished painting:
M. Rousseau a le travail compliqué, plein de ruses et de repentirs. Peu d’hommes ont plus sincèrement aimé la lumière et l’ont mieux rendue. Mais la silhouette générale des formes est souvent ici difficile à saisir. La vapeur lumineuse, pétillante et ballottée, trouble la carcasse des êtres. M. Rousseau m’a toujours ébloui ; mais il m’a quelquefois fatigué. Et puis il tombe dans le fameux défaut moderne, qui naît d’un amour aveugle de la nature, de rien que la nature ; il prend une simple étude pour une composition.
In their survey The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom trace developments in the art of the book. Islamic manuscript illustrators may not have painted landscapes per se, but, as with Renaissance painters in the West, some of their work displays a definite interest in depicting nature and it is fascinating to trace the ways in which they incorporated landscape elements. Three examples spanning the fourteenth century: