John Robert Cozens
Lake Nemi with a Distant View of Genzano (and Monte Circeo)
John Robert Cozens
Lake Nemi with a Distant View of Genzano (and Monte Circeo), 1778-1790
Watercolor applied with brush, graphite
37.1 x 53.2 cm (14 5/8 x 20 7/8 inches)
Anonymous Gift 70.118.19
(September 1, 2011 – June 3, 2012)
British artists began to travel to Italy around 1750 to sketch its ancient sites and idyllic countryside. Inspired by the idealized classical landscapes of the most famous landscape painters of the previous century, namely Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, the Britons carried with them a preconceived idea of what nature looked like—a perfect harmony of form, composition, and space. At the same time, Edmund Burke’s philosophy of the sublime, proposed in his A Philosophical Inquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), challenged perfectly proportioned beauty, emphasizing instead a vast and sometimes terrifying nature. Accompanying the idealized and the sublime concepts of nature was the British tradition of topographical drawing, which accentuated the accurate description of a particular place through careful pen work and minimal color. The early landscapes of Italy by British artists in this gallery embody this convergence.
Among the drawings presented here, some were executed on site while others were exhibition pieces based on sketches, made after returning from Italy. Indeed, most of these artists used subjects and motifs from their Italian journeys for many years, capitalizing on public interest as well as on the professional authority the Grand Tour—the tradition of visiting Europe’s most eminent cultural sites—lent to their practice. When political turmoil severely restricted British travel abroad, beginning with the French Revolution in 1789 and ending with the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, these works filled the void of foreign travel and offered British viewers memories of distant lands.
This exhibition is organized in conjunction with Pilgrims of Beauty: Art and Inspiration in 19th-Century Italy, on view beginning February 3, 2012.(May 27 –August 14, 2005)
The watercolor medium and landscape subject were auspiciously linked in Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the dynamism generated led to a significant artistic achievement. The RISD Museum has a particularly fine collection of this work, primarily due to the remarkable generosity of an anonymous donor. The first gifts were made in 1969 and have continued to the present. The Museum’s holdings in this area now number over 800 sheets, illustrating nearly all of the practitioners. The innovations of these artists elevated both the landscape subject and the watercolor medium from their former lowly ranking in British Royal Academy’s hierarchy of genres to one of international recognition. Early 18th-century British landscapes were of two types: topographical views, which were recognizable depictions of specific places, and imaginary or idealized views inspired by 17th-century Continental artists in oil such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Over the next century, as artists took an increasing interest in the observation of nature, these traditions expanded in new directions. Topographic watercolors from the mid-18th century were typically drawn in graphite or pen and ink and tinted with color washes, such as those by Thomas Jones and Jonathan Skelton. Others, among them Francis Towne and John”Warwick” Smith, began to experiment with more painterly effects. John Robert Cozens took the expressive possibilities of the medium furthest at this time. His sublime views conveyed his emotional response to nature’s drama and were extremely influential for British landscape artists of the next generation. The early 19th-century Romantics took a close look at nature increasingly included being attentive to the fleeting effects of weather. Watercolor’s luminescence and speed of application allowed artists to capture atmospheric conditions as never before. Working outdoors and quickly to capture changing light effects encouraged spontaneity and invention. With minimal underdrawing, watercolor was directly applied in veils of color washes and loose brushwork, evident in the paintings of David Cox, Peter De Wint, and Richard Parks Bonington. J.M.W. Turner’s late watercolor sketches, with their energetic brushwork, radiant color, and dissolving form, his subjects are barely recognizable.Always on SundayAugust 14, 2:30-3:30 pmAre you interested in learning about British watercolors? Join K. Dian Kriz, Associate Professor, History of Art and Architecture, Brown University, for a gallery talk in the exhibition Luminous Landscapes.
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