Landscape into Art by Kenneth Clark: a quick look

kenneth clark cover
Cover of  Landscape Into Art by Kenneth Clark  First published 1949 Pelican Books 158 pages with 96 plates.

you come across writers that you really resonate with.

Maybe it’s their personality that shines through. Maybe it’s their ideas (though you may not agree with them at all), or maybe you just love their writing style.

Kenneth Clark, the English art historian (1903-1983) was one of those for me.

Out of Fashion

Kenneth was wildly out of fashion at art school in the 1980’s. (that’s one good reason to check him out… though concentrating on what he's saying now is another matter with our shortened, hyperactive attention spans:)

What I liked about his writing, was that he could pick out the important (and perhaps neglected) artistic feature of artists hundreds of years apart. He broadened your mind.

Clark's is a different, more sensitive, perspective from the typical evolutionary view, ie. this art evolves from that art (all very logically) or the completely material perspective - art and artists are completely conditioned by the economic etc environment.

Good on you Kenneth Clark

About Landscape into Art (1949)

Overall, the book is mainly concerned to show our relationship to nature as reflected in the history of (western) landscape painting. It covers the medieval period up to Cezanne in the beginning of the 20th century.

Contents of Landscape Into Art

1.The landscape of Symbols
2.The Landscape of Fact
3.Landscape or Fantasy
4.Ideal Landscape
5.The Natural Vision
6.The Northern Lights
7.The Return to Order
Epilogue and Index

  • The book is a collection of 7 lectures he made to university art history students. They are packed with opinions about artistic style, anecdotes about artists, quotes, (in french) a joke occasionally, and all told in a brisk and enthusiastic, down to earth manner.
  • Discusses, for example, why certain artists, such as Claude, are more important landscape artists than others.
  • How aspects of art, such as landscape composition, evolved in the context of the individual personality and abilities of the artist and the influence /pressures of their art/historical environment.
  • Other books by Kenneth Clark: Leonardo da Vinci (1939), The Nude (1956).

KC on Claude Lorrain’s Composition

From the chapter on Ideal Landscape, writing on Claude Lorrain (French 1600-1682), he discusses composition - ‘Claude nearly always conformed to an underlying scheme of composition.

'The Temple of Apollo' plate 57 - from the chapter on Ideal Landscape All the illustrations in the book are black and white and difficult to see what's going on. Unfortunately.

Claude's composition involved:

  • a dark coulisse (a kind of flat wing or a flat piece of scenery located in the wings - derived from the theatre) on one side (hardly ever on two), the shadow of which extended across the first plane of the foreground,

  • a middle plane with a large central feature, usually a group of trees,

  • and finally two planes, one behind the other… the second being that luminous distance for which he has always been famous, and which, as we have seen, he painted direct from nature.
and… much art was necessary to lead the eye from one plane to the next, and Claude employed

  • bridges, rivers, cattle fording a stream, and similar devices;

  • but these are less important than his sure use of tone, which allowed him to achieve an effect of recession even in pictures where every plane is parallel.

from pp 76-77 Landscape into Art

(The features, listed above - which you can apply to the above image - are basically the compositional building blocks for landscape artists all over the world ever since.

As well, you can see Claude's influence in film, photography, animation (Disney etc), comics, including in all those awful animated war games, that include ideal landscapes as backdrops.)

apollo and cumaen sibyl -bay of naples -between 1645-1649 - by claude lorrain
 You can see the beautiful, peaceful, luminous distant space in the painting more clearly above. (Apollo and Cumaen Sibyl, Bay of Naples, painted between 1645-1649 by Claude Lorrain) 

Always in Kenneth Clark's writings, he makes it clear it is his interpretations. I like that. You can have your own opinion and not necessarily agree. Of course. But don’t discount the opinions of someone who’s spent day and night with their passion, just because they’re out of fashion.

  • There was a pdf online of this book. But alas, it's been taken down. You can get it on amazon though, new or second hand for a good deal. 

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome (which has the Temple of Apollo)


Great post Susan. Love it.
Sue said…
Thanks very much John, I'm really glad you enjoyed it.


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