Symposium Unit 1

From Zuheros to Cuckmere

A Briefed Discussion of Regional Landscape Painting

The question that aimed to be explored in Unit 1 was about how a place that an artist developed a strong emotional attachment to influence the artistic perspective. The discussion was based on the self-evaluation of my artistic career and researches of landscape painters with a focus on masters of the nineteenth century.

Physical outcomes of the project were an image book with 44 pieces illustration of different sizes; a novel written in the manner of literature; printed postcards, in which way was more straight-forward than displaying full-size paintings individually; an artist book introducing basic idea of composition.

The essential motivation of the project was to analysis my identity which has been ambiguous due to years experiences abroad. Constant travel between two countries with respective cultural background has brought me an awkward situation in which I failed to blend in either of them. The rapid development of society changed the lifestyle in my home country considerably after my departure to England in 2013. England was a strange land where I had to explore all by myself; thus its landscape symbolically stands for a renascence of me — a place whose resources I can gather, whose space I can develop new personalities. Like the understanding of the landscapes considerably changed the recognition of the first generation of Hudson River School painters that they decided to start an artistic style based on American scenes(Ferber, 2009)(1), since the best of my youth was spent in England, an emotional attachment was developed with local landscapes. Especially white cliffs in the Cuckmere, South Downs, due to its distinctive appearance and its cultural figure of representing the region (2), has become a monument of my personal experience in Sussex.

Another major inspiration was my interest in Spanish culture. A german word, Fernweh, which stands for “the nostalgia feeling of a place you have never been to” was developed. Some significant efforts were put in 2018, and an opportunity of holding my very first personal exhibition, while revisiting the region was earned. I acknowledge that people holding Chinese visas are forced to contribute more for the freedom of travelling, and some argued it was tragic discrimination of nationality-based visa system (Czaika, de Haas and Villares-Varela, 2018)(3). Chinese people often consider the opportunity of journeying to Europe rare and treasure due to the political bias in the large environment. These limitations substantially reduce travelling artists’ reflections on observations and would eventually aggravate international isolation.

I never reconciled to discrimination and always devoted to creating artworks reflecting equality and respect. The unfair treatment, on the other hand, encouraged the second part of the project.

The project From Zuheros to Cuckmere contained two parts. English landscapes and Spanish landscapes. While the former discussed how the emotional attachment of England has developed into a second hometown and influenced my perspective; the latter emphasised on the expression of equality and liberalism. Two distinctive paintings styles were developed to distinguish not only the visual style but also to embody different spiritual factors relating to landscapes respectively and kept the entire argument in an optimistic tongue referencing classic masters (Howat, 1987)(4). The involvement of radical political pursuit was deliberately avoided. Since the work was painted in an exotic style, concerns regarding the similarity with the case in which continental practices brought the American market the anxiety of cultural imperialism exists (Burke, 1986)(5).

The core idea was a manifesto that declares everyone has the right to be equally treated; as he who shares the appreciation of the same landscape, would ultimately share the respect and understanding to the people and the culture that cultivated by the landscape.

The decision of the core concept led to a new stage relatively more efficient. Experiments regarding specific painting techniques and styles were initialled even before the project was briefed. After settling down the style of both parts, I found out expressing the idea would be considerably challenging if it was presented by a series of individual images. It was the moment I realise they should be composited in a sequence and being driven by introductions.

Thus, I decided to take advantage of my previous degree in illustration and turned it into an image book. It can it greatly enhance my ability to control a large amount of works, and it was a perfect chance for practising writing in the manner of English literature.

I developed a method of writing which allowed me to arrange the novel in a non-leaner structure. I consider the structure has the benefit of simultaneously describing my characteristic and presenting painting with a satisfying approach. It also allowed my audiences to examine the book in any order they would like to; since the writing is about how the two perspectives of mine were established, the structure granted the capability of expressing the process of establishing my world view as a landscape painter: observing realities occurred in landscapes and combining different results from different locations to form a paragenetic idea (Hamerton, 1885)(6). This design makes sense like the novel when explaining reversely: the two distinctive perspectives derived from my fundamental point of view, and evolved into something new based on acquired experiences. It is not only the salute to Thomas Coles’s sublime of his realistic painting style, but also the guidance to explain my work in the master’s ultimate determination (Howat, 1987)(4). 

Figure 1, Jacob Ruisdael, View of Haarlem with Bleaching Fields, 1665
Figure 2, Thomas Girtin, Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire, 1801
Figure 3, John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821

The digging in the history of art briefly outlined the inheritance of landscape painting in the 18th – 19th century. The passing of painting techniques, especially from Dutch landscape masters like Ruisdael and Italian painters like Claude, significantly influenced English painters who were critical in the movement (Rothenstein and Butlin, 1964)(7). The fact can be supported directly by observations of English painter like Constable, Girtin and Turner’s work (Bartlett, 2002)(8). While the golden age of English landscape painting supported the Romanticism and heroic style, their painting style, however, drifted into two branches. One was led by early regional painters, obsessed with idyll and realism around their residences (Barrell, 2009)(9), demonstrating an orderly system ruled by landlords (Boime, 1987)(10); the other fancied in travelling with versatile painting styles, showing the unpredictable power of nature (Rosenblum and Janson, 2004)(11). Painters devoted to the field of landscape painting still struggled in financial conditions until the Hudson River School gradually brought maturity to both the subject and the market (Howat, 1987)(4).

When Cole travelled to America in 1825, the rapid transition of geographical location significantly changed his perspective. He ditched the traditional training mode of Europe and quickly developed a style distinctive and localised (Felker, 1992)(12).

Figure 4, Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836
Figure 5, Albert Bierstadt, Storm in the Mountains, 1870

While the first generation of artists tended to engage in scenes around the economically superior regions along the Hudson river with their remaining continental fashion, others were forced to find new territory in the field. Painters like Albert Bierstadt tended to work on dreamlike scenes. Subjective manipulations were applied continuously to their images. To some extends it even encouraged the themes in nineteenth-century American landscape paintings to the border of the nation. Ultimately the immersion of conceptual elements persuaded the American aesthetic to lay down conservatism and progressed to continental creativity (Novak, 2007)(13). This new style reflected the young nation’s adventurous spirit, as well as the feature of the time: a call for significant expansion to the west. It was an articulation of the country’s natural wealth and the bravery of its pioneers (Broder, 1980)(14);  It was the last seek in wildlands before the wheel of industrialisation, and the Great War crushes the primitive eager in landscape painting — the exploration of a promising beauty.

Word Count: 1324


(1) Ferber, L. (2009). The Hudson River School. New York: Skira Rizzoli, p.82.

(2) South Downs National Park. (2020). Culture & history – South Downs National Park. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jan. 2020].

(3) Czaika, M., de Haas, H. and Villares-Varela, M. (2018). The Global Evolution of Travel Visa Regimes. Population and Development Review, 44(3), pp.589-622.

(4)Howat, J. (1987). American paradise. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p.21 – p.24, p.49 – p.50.

(5)Burke, D. (1986). In pursuit of beauty. 1st ed. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p.385.

(6) Hamerton, P. (1885). Landscape. 1st ed. London: Seeley & Co., p.14.

(7) Rothenstein, J. and Butlin, M. (1964). Turner. 1st ed. London: Heinemann, p.34.

(8)Bartlett, A. (2002). Drawing and painting the landscape. London: Quantum Books, p.13 – p.16.

(9) Barrell, J. (2009). The dark side of the landscape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.36, p. 144.

(10) Boime, A. (1987). Art in an Age of Revolution, 1750 – 1800. 1st ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, p.4.

(11) Rosenblum, R. and Janson, H. (2004). Art of the nineteenth century: Paintings and Sculptures. 1st ed. London: Pearson Prentice Hall, p.273.

(12) Felker, T. (1992). First Impressions: Thomas Cole’s Drawings of His 1825 Trip up the Hudson River. American Art Journal, 24(1/2).

(13) Novak, B. (2007). American painting of the nineteenth century. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, p.244.

(14) Broder, P. (1980). Great paintings of the Old American West. New York: Abbeville Press, pp.74 – 76.

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