I’ve talked before about some of the ways twentieth century artists turned away from landscape. It is telling, for example, that Marcel Duchamp chose a clichéd landscape image to transform into a readymade artwork, Pharmacy (1914), through the addition of a couple of dabs of paint and a signature. Walking round the superb ‘Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia’ exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday I read on the wall that Duchamp’s Glider, part of his Bachelor machine, is ‘activated by a waterfall (which Duchamp did not represent as he wanted to avoid the trap of becoming a landscape painter).’ The case of Man Ray is also interesting. The Tate curators say ‘Even before he met Duchamp or Picabia he was playing with the conventional elements of art works: Man Ray 1914 is both a landscape and the artist’s signature.’ This small painting looks at first glance like a cubist landscape, influenced by, say, Cézanne or Braque, but once you read the artist’s name it becomes hard to see it as anything other than a reduction of the modern artwork to its one essential component, the signature. There is a clear affinity with Duchamp's Pharmacy, which was made in the same year.
An interesting article by Edward Leffingwell sets Man Ray 1914 in context. Man Ray had been producing landscapes in New Jersey in 1913: ‘two landscapes from that first winter are distinguished by a tentative, exploratory use of unprimed canvas serving to represent bare fields... With the change of seasons, Man Ray began to produce vibrant landscapes in watercolor and oil that again bring to mind the precedent of Cezanne... The oils Ridgefield Landscape and the more abstracted Ridgefield (both 1913) incorporate receding bands of rolling hills extending to the ridge beyond. The first is largely pastoral, with a repoussoir motif of trees and two farm houses in the foreground and a freight train in the middle distance; the other establishes elongated factory sheds in the foreground and repeats that form in the bands of hills and fields beyond.’ Man Ray subsequently ‘produced a series of watercolors and oils of the Ramapo Hills, in which abstracted arrangements of trees and hills become increasingly Cubistic and also increasingly expressive. In the decorative Elderflowers (1914), relatively large at 30 inches square, he produces an allover field, abstracting the white, saucerlike clusters of blossoms on a dense, crosshatched thicket of leaves. Reduced and compressed to the status of an icon, Man Ray 1914 consists entirely of the date and artist's name, piled up like palisades across the surface of the diminutive oil.’
The Great Salt Lake in Utah, home to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, is facing the most severe drought in its history. Water levels are “inches” fr om the historic low set in 1963, says Bonnie Baxter, the director of the Great Salt Lake Institute. As a result, the pink salt-encrusted basalt rocks of Spiral Jetty are perhaps the most exposed they have ever has been—the 1,500ft-long work was constructed in 1970 during a drought and subsequently submerged for more than three decades before re-emerging in 2004.
However, the consensus among the three organisations that look after the work (the Dia Art Foundation in New York, the Great Salt Lake Institute and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts) is that there is no need to take direct action to protect the work. “The current thinking by most is that Robert Smithson would have loved to see the environmental changes that occur around his artwork, so there is no real talk of intervention,” Baxter says.
Gilbert Meason was the first writer to use the term ‘landscape architecture’, in the title of his book The Landscape Architecture of the Great Painters of Italy (1828). It says here he ‘died without the faintest idea that his concept of 'landscape architecture' was destined for a worldwide future. Few copies of the book were printed but one of them fell into the hands of John Claudius Loudon, the most prolific garden author of any age. Loudon took up the term and passed it to Andrew Jackson Downing, who passed it to Frederick Law Olmsted...’ And the rest is history.
Apparently, few copies of Meason’s book were produced in 1828 and I don’t think it’s been reprinted. However, the British Library has a copy of the original which you can flick through in their rare books room. Its frontispiece, the first of many lithographs in the book by H W Burgess, is based on a Dominichino painting. The book then opens with a quotation from Reynolds' Discourses which urges architects to aim for ‘variety and intricacy’, an approach consistent with Meason’s picturesque ideal. The text that follows discusses various types of building, in chapters on: The Rise of Domestic Architecture, Defensive Architecture, Roman Villas, Masonry of Roman Architecture, Architecture of the Middle Ages, Domestic Architecture of England, Architecture of the Italian Painters, Tuscan Architecture and Gothic Architecture. At the back are the illustrations accompanied with brief descriptions - Burgess’s depictions of buildings that appear in the drawings and paintings of artists such as Raphael, Leonardo, Andrea Mantegna, Sermonita, Claude, Palma Vecchio, Guercino and Lavinia Fontana.
Meason explains that ‘in selecting examples of landscape architecture from the pictures of Italy, we have avoided those in the foreground or in street architecture, as well as those, (such as in Claude,) which had so much Grecian or Roman ruins attached to them as gave the air of composition architecture of the artist.’ So, interestingly, he was tending to choose buildings that were quite incidental to the main theme of the painting. Meason found that these tended to display a mixture of architectural styles, partly based on real buildings sketched by the artists. He quotes Richard Payne Knight: ‘the best style of architecture for irregular and picturesque houses, which can now be adopted, is that mixed style which characterizes the buildings of Claude and the Poussins…’
Here are three examples of Meason’s landscape architecture (sadly without the lithographs).
Plate 1: This is taken from Titian and shows a castle with prominent round towers. Meason says ‘Titian seldom introduced buildings of consequence in his landscapes, and to such as are given, sheds and low mean buildings are joined. This building is in a landscape of a mountainous country. It is difficult to assign any period for its construction, or for what purpose part of the building was destined.’
Plate 15: This is a tower on a rocky promontory by ‘Nicolo Poussin’. ‘This picturesque building is only a small part of that magnificent pile in the fine picture of the infant Moses exposed. The scenery and site are by our artist, for the original had none of note near the extensive buildings. It is to the architecture of this picture that Sir Uvedale Price refers [Meason’s footnote: See Essays on the Picturesque vol ii p316]. The whole is evidently a composition; and in the central tower Poussin had for his model the castle of St. Angelo in Rome.’
Plate 54: Here Meason looked back as far as Giotto for his material, but the drawing takes some poetic license – it is a dark and rather Romantic sketch of a castle-like building. ‘We give another specimen of a building of this father of the art of painting, copied from a fresco in the Campo Santo. We have here a very early example of the Tuscan window: Outward steps lead to the door from the platform; and the large windows, and of course the principal rooms, are placed high in the building. These are indications of the necessity at the period of defensible country dwellings.’
Gilbert Meason wanted to see the landscape architecture of Italian painting recreated in the British countryside. ‘In selecting specimens out of many in our possession to illustrate this work, we have in view such as may be useful to architects in the composition of irregular mansions. These may be arranged under single towers, buildings of small size but simple in their form, and large edifices, picturesque in the disposition of their parts, and those parts of such breadth as to impress, in general, grandeur on the whole composition… Such edifices spread over the country would contribute most essentially to the beauty of British landscape.’
In 1740 Handel premiered a composition based on Milton: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Its libretto by Charles Jennens interweaved L'Allegro with Milton's companion poem Il Penseroso ('The contemplative man') and, in the third movement, resolved their differing moods with a poem of Jennens' own, Il Moderato. Here is part of the libretto which starts with text from Il Penseroso and ends with the lines in L'Allegro just before those quoted above, describing a pleasant scene of unfeasibly cheerful pastoral characters:Streit mine eye hath caught new pleasures
Whilst the Lantskip round it measures,
Russet Lawns, and Fallows Gray,
Where the nibling flocks do stray,
Mountains on whose barren brest
The labouring clouds do often rest:
Meadows trim with Daisies pide,
Shallow Brooks, and Rivers wide.
Towers, and Battlements it sees
Boosom'd high in tufted Trees,
Wher perhaps som beauty lies,
The Cynosure of neighbouring eyes.