Landscape and the Industrial Revolution

Assignment 4 instructions requires a 500-word analysis of a maximum of four paintings or sculptures, which demonstrate the influence of political, social and economic changes on either the portrayal of the city or the perception of women in the nineteenth century. I wanted to focus on the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the art of landscape at this time.

The Industrialisation revolution from 18th to 19th century is not only responsible for our modern way of life but also sowed the seeds that would later blossom into modern art. The Industrialisation revolution began in England in 1780s because no guild restrictions or customs barriers as per Europe. Exploited still growing colonial empire and overseas trade but cost of lower social level human suffering was very great. It was a time of great change, agricultural efficiencies saw unskilled farmers moving out of the rural life of the country, with its cottage industry and hand crafting processes to take their chances in the cities, with new factories, chances for employment. This caused great stress on those cities for the poor, horrific working conditions, bad sanitation, child labour, starvation, the factories created air and water pollution.

According to WHA, in Manchester 1826, overproduction led to trade recession & thousands of unemployed. successful factory owners had country houses to retreat to while workforce had cheap redbrick back-to-back hosing which turned into slums. From 1830s, factory owners made company towns for workers and cared about their welfare (Owen & Fourier’s theories).

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the landscape genre was the lowest of the low. Landscape was included in art as background at best. The importance of the landscape (still as a background subject) was revived somewhat with Watteau’s painting Pilgrimage to Cythera, which was an important turning point for 18th century art. The subject of courtly scenes in an idyllic country setting was so striking and new that the expression “fête galante” was invented to describe it. Based on the Greek Myth of the Isle of Cythera being the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love, these amorous couples fall in love there.

Jean-Antoine WATTEAU (Valenciennes, 1684 – Nogent-sur-Marne, 1721)
Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera, 1717
H. 1.29 m; W. 1.94 m
INV. 8525
© Musée du Louvre

Interest in landscape painting and in looking at the landscape itself grew rapidly through the second half of the eighteenth century, not a coincidence, leading to artistic definitions such as picturesque, landscape scenes which were seen as being artistic but containing elements of wildness. Writers such as William Gilpin (Observations on the River Wye 1770) and Uvedale Price (An Essay on the Picturesque as Compared with the Sublime and Beautiful, 1794) developed the theory of the picturesque.

During the Industrial Revolution, a new class system emerged where middle and upper classes became richer and had more leisure time. Advancement in train transport allowed for day trips out of the city into the country to enjoy the fresh air. John Constable responded to this change with his huge six-foot paintings, remembering and mourning the loss of simpler times. Reminiscing on his boyhood in the country. The painting leaping horse is one such example. He elevated landscape painting out of obscurity to the size of history paintings, laying the groundwork for the impressionists later in the century.

The Leaping Horse is from this series and depicts a tow horse jumping one of the barriers erected along the path by the River Stour to prevent cattle from straying. Begun in 1825, Constable described the painting in a letter, as ‘a lovely subject, of the canal kind, lively – & soothing – calm and exhilarating, fresh – & blowing’. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1825 but remained unsold. Constable then altered the composition by painting over an old willow stump which was in front of the horse, although a faint trace of the tree can still be seen. The removal of the willow stump and the addition of the half-furled sail on the barge gave the composition greater strength and direction by concentrating the eye on the dramatic leap of the horse. (Royal Academy of Arts Collections, 2011)

John Constable, R.A. 1776 – 1837
The Leaping Horse, 1825
Oil on canvas, 1420 X 1873 mm
© Royal Academy of Arts, London


Air polluted by in industrialisation meant introduction of public parks, lungs of the city. e.g. Regents park designed by architect John Nash (1752-1835) surrounded by middle class houses. Country estate views now available to those classes. Inspired by the parks in Liverpool, American journalist Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) took back the public park idea to the US and collaborated with Calvert Vaux (1824-95) on NY’s Central Park in 1863. When Constable moved to London he was not attracted to the formality of city parks and said ‘a gentleman’s park is my aversion. It is not beauty because it is not nature’. He painted his giant canvas in the studio but did many outdoor sketches and delighted in capturing fleating weather conditions in paint. He studied meteorology and was able to lend that scientific precision to his cloud formations.

Constables contemporary Turner was famous for his wild seascapes and dramatic skies. In his painting The Fighting Temeraire, he mourns the lost of the glory days of sail over steam. Depicting the ‘most noble and distinguished’ warship, the 98-gun ship ‘Temeraire’, as a beautiful, elegant but ghostly presence behind the black steam tug, spewing flame as it pulls the great ship down the river to the Rotherhithe shipyard to be broken up as the sun sets on past times. In fact, much of this is artistic licence, the actual event note that the old ship had been shipped of its sails, guns and much else, even the sunset would have be in the wrong direction. Like Constable, he is painting an idealised memory, even using white and gold paint rather then her dark yellow and black.

Two steamboats “tugged” the Temeraire (the first time this verb was used) along the winding 55 mile stretch of the Thames between Sheerness and Rotherhithe. One tug pulled, whilst the other was behind the Temeraire, acting as a brake. […]

When he exhibited the picture in 1839, he included these lines in the display:

The flag which braved the battle and the breeze,
No Longer owns her.

Indeed, the Temeraire doesn’t fly the union flag any more. Instead, a white flag flutters from the mast of the tug. This shows that a ship was in commercial hands.
However, it also makes the Temeraire look as if she’s being brought in under a flag of surrender, a further insult to her memory. (National Gallery of Art, 2017)

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775 – 1851
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838
Oil on canvas, 90.7 x 121.6 cm
Turner Bequest, 1856

The cities at that time were foul places, poet William Blake is famously quoted referring to London factories as “dark satanic mills”, we can see what he meant when we look upon the painting ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’ by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, from 1801 with its great fiery sky from the great blast furnaces of the iron making town of Coalbrookdale, the horse drawn carts in the foreground are a direct contrast and hark back to the simpler times of Constables world.

Painting, Coalbrookdale by Night by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1801. Oil on canvas; 68×106.7cm, in gilt frame 85.5x124x7cm. Signed and dated. Exhibited as ‘A View of Colebrook Dale by night’ at Royal Academy London, 1801 (cat. 54). Featuring night work at the Bedlam furnaces in Madeley Dale (i.e. Coalbrookdale) along the river Severn, Shropshire. Open coke hearths give off vivid flames and smoke. Archetypal image of the Industrial Revolution.

Photography plays an interesting part in recording the actual conditions, I found these photographs of Burnley from the Weavers Traingle website from the days when the town led the world in the production of cotton cloth:

The Weavers Triangle in c. 1910. A photograph taken from the tower of a factory with Trafalgar Street on the right and Westgate on the left.
The Weavers Triangle in the 1930s. A pall of smoke hangs over the mills making it impossible to see the surrounding hills.
The Weavers Triangle in the 1930s. The canal weaves its way between factories and workers’ housing from Sandygate bridge in the foreground to the Mitre Bridge.























The river Thames in London was particularly polluted, causing hundreds of deaths from cholera. Rather more fantisaical, London artist John Martin’s painting Pandemonium, an illustration of Milton’s paradise lost, depicts Satan standing on what could be opposite Westminster, with the Thames turned into a fiery lava flow.

John Martin, Pandemonium, 1841, oil on canvas, 123 x 184 cm (Private Collection)

The impressionists also turned to the landscape, issues of memory are also important here, as John Berger points out the ‘impression’ is built up not only of paint but also memories of the viewer’s experience with seeing whatever is being depicted, be it sunlight, people, flowers etc.

The impressionist paintings were ‘both more precise and more vague than any other painting you have seen before. Everything has been more or less sacrificed to the optical precision of its colours and tones. Spacious, measurement, action (history), identity all are submerged within the play of light.‘ (Berger, J, 2001)

Scientific discoveries and inventions of the 19th century had an important influence on the impressionists, they experimented with complementary colours and had a keen interest in the way in which the human mind processes what it sees. When we look at a landscape, or a crowd of people, we do not instantly see every face, or leaf in detailed focus, but as a mass of colour and light. Impressionist painters tried to express this experience.

Monet said that ‘the motif is for me altogether seconday; what I wanted to represent is what exists between the motif and me‘ (1895).

‘You cannot enter an impressionist painting; instead it extracts your memories.’ (Berger, J, 2001)

Like Constable the Impressionists did their painting out of doors, unlike him they often started, and sometimes finsihed the painting outside, rather than making sketches from which to work in the studio.

Impressionism appeared as a liberation to the claustrophobic mid 19th century bourgeois culture. ‘to painting out of doors in front of the motif; to observe directly, to accord to light its proper hegemony in the domain of the visible; to relativize all colours (so hat everything sparkles) ; to abandon the painting of dusty legends and all direct ideology; to speak of everyday appearances within the experience of a wide urban public (a day off, a trip to the country, boats, smiling women in sunlight, flags, trees in flower – the impressionist vocabulary of images is that of a popular dream, the awaited, beloved, secular Sunday ); the innocence of impressionism – innocence in the sense that it did away with the secrets of painting, everything was there in the full light of day, there was nothing to hide, and amended painting followed aside – how could this not be taught of as liberation? ‘ (Berger, J, 2001)

As Berger notes, when we think of impressionist paintings we think of sunshine and sunday afternoons at lesuire but despite all this, there are some Impressionist paintings from within London, recreating the atmospheric conditions of the diffused light though the smog filled air such as those Monet created when he visited such as this one (which was actually worked on in his studio in France after the visit):

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
Waterloo Bridge, Gray Weather, 1900
Oil on canvas
65.4 x 92.6 cm (25 3/4 x 36 3/8 in.)
Signed, l.l.: “Claude Monet”
Gift of Mrs. Mortimer B. Harris, 1984.1173


If not for the fog, Claude Monet once remarked, “London wouldn’t be a beautiful city. It’s the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth.” While working on his London series, he rose early every day to paint Waterloo Bridge in the morning, moving on to Charing Cross Bridge at midday and in the afternoon. He observed both motifs from his fifth-floor window at the Savoy Hotel. The Art Institute’s two Waterloo Bridge paintings are dated 1900 and 1903, but both were likely begun in 1900 and dated only when Monet felt that they were finished. He worked on all of his London paintings in his studio in Giverny, refusing to send any of them to his dealer until he was satisfied with them as an ensemble. (Art Institute Chicago, 2017)

Another of Monets London paintings was this one, currently held in the National Gallery, done when he lived here for a year during the Franco-Prussian War.

Claude Monet, 1840 – 1926
The Thames below Westminster
about 1871
Oil on canvas, 47 x 73 cm
Bequeathed by Lord Astor of Hever, 1971


I find it interesting that I like this one much better than the previous, is it because apart from the steam boats, Claudes impression of this sceen is much the same as I’ve seen in my lifetime on a foggy London afternoon?

Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878) also loved to London to escape the war, Daubigny’s 1873 painting, ‘St Paul’s from the Surrey Side’, conveys a similar impression of the Thames, but puts more emphasis on the industrial nature of the river.

Charles-François Daubigny, 1817 – 1878
St Paul’s from the Surrey Side
Oil on canvas, 44.5 x 81 cm
Presented by friends of Mr. J.C.J. Drucker, 1912


An early work of the post impressionist artist Paul Signac also took inspriartion from the urban, industrial landscape. His painting The Road to Gennevilliers (below), shows the industrial town of Asnières (where he lived with his mother) is pushed right back onto the horizon with a bleak, blank forground taking up much of the picture. This area was awaiting future development into factores and houses. All of this all describes a landscape entirely shaped by human activity.

Paul Signac Route de Gennevilliers en 1883 huile sur toile H. 0.735 ; L. 0.92 musée d’Orsay, Paris, France ©photo musée d’Orsay / rmn



Art Institute Chicago. (2017) Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Gray Weather, 1900 At:
(Accessed on 5 Apr 17)

Berger, J. (2001) Selected Essays. New York: Vintage

Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Lourve. (2017) Pilgrimage to Cythera At:
(Accessed on 4 Apr 17)
Musée d’Orsay . (2006) Paul Signac, The Road to Gennevilliers At:
(Accessed on 5 Apr 17)

National Gallery of Art. (2017) Heroine of Trafalgar: The Fighting Temeraire At:
(Accessed on 4 Apr 17)

Royal Academy of Arts Collections. (2011) John Constable, RA (1776-1837) At:
(Accessed on 4 Apr 17)

Tate Glossary. (2017) picturesque At:
(Accessed on 4 Apr 17)
The Weavers’ Triangle, Burnley. (2016) The Weavers’ Triangle, picture gallery At:
(Accessed on 4 Apr 17)


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