For a long time, critics saw the landscape painting as a poor relation to the moral improvement of historical paintings. Landscapists were called “common footmen in the Army of Art”. In the Still Life catalogue, I wrote about the ‘hierarchies of genre’.
In painting, the historical scene had the top position. The list went like this:
- Genre (everyday life)
- Still Life
The French artist Claude Lorrain cleverly combined historical painting with landscape, legitimising the latter. Then, in the nineteenth century, the Romantics pushed landscape and animal paintings to the top. A rearguard push by the Pre-Raphaelites to preserve historical paintings failed. Realists started painting genre pieces and the impressionists, landscapes. Women, forbidden to attend drawing classes because of nude models, were pushed to paint portraits and landscapes.
One might imagine that we are free of these ridiculous hierarchies today, but the reality is that abstract and semi-abstract work is seen as superior to representational work such as mine. Actually, abstract art was a response to the increasing monetisation of art. Artists believed that by lifting their art out of the market it could remain pure. Of course, the market is an all-devouring monster and soon ate abstract art too, finding it a very tasty morsel indeed.
Whether abstract or not, the test of a painting should be intent. If you feel that a painting does more than record surface form or more than display random marks, then it has succeeded. I try to invest my landscape paintings with the genius loci, the spirit of the place.
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