Exploring how British artists have influenced the ways we think about the countryside.
Although rolling hills and cosy cottages are now a pictorial staple, England’s green and pleasant land wasn’t always thought of as an elevated subject for painting. In the hierarchy of themes for art, landscape once ranked well beneath history painting and portraiture.
But a show at Compton Verney will show how the genre has come from nowhere to everywhere, and how our idealised notions of patchwork fields and wooded hillocks have been more or less invented by artists like Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Samuel Palmer.
While Gainsborough is best known for portraits, it is said he found landscapes more interesting than landed gentry. Some will claim that Constable came to define our notions or a rural idyll. And Samuel Palmer introduced a note of Romanticism to our rolling hills and woodlands.
Meanwhile, the wealthy were landscaping their estates to resemble paintings such as these. The grounds of Compton Verney itself were worked over by Capability Brown in 1768. Since the park of this Georgian Mansion is an ideal form, the house an ideal setting for this sure-to-be revealing survey.
Just to avoid matters getting too much like the front of a proverbial chocolate box, the gallery has brought tradition right up to date with works to be made as recently as 2017. Contemporary artists have been lined up to give clues as to where the representations of the countryside might go next.
These include Mat Collishaw, Sigrid Holmwood, Hilary Jack, Delaine Le Bas and Ingrid Pollard. How will they fare next to arch conservative Constable remains to be seen.