Thursday, 3 May 2007

Week Four: Painterly and literary responses to Walking Art

Discuss the concept of ‘Landscape Journey’ with reference to up to three works by J.M.W Turner

The Chambers English Dictionary’s definition of a ‘landscape’ is ‘the appearance of the area of land which the eye can view at once’. The same book describes a ‘journey’ as ‘any travel from one place to another of a fixed course.’ According to such definitions it would appear that the idea of a ‘landscape journey’ can be applied to the work of Turner in three essential forms; the first of these categories is Turner’s own record of his journeys through his tour sketchbooks and his immediate interpretations of the landscapes encountered through his use of word and image. The second is Turner’s use of landscape and his experience of it as a means of representing the essence of a particular journey. An example of this can be seen in ‘Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps’ of 1812, a journey that was not experienced by Turner himself but one he attempts to describe through his own exposure to the same landscape faced by Hannibal in 218BC. The third is Turner’s description of his means of travel as he illustrates movement within the context of landscape. An example of such a work is ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ of 1844, a later piece by Turner that illustrates the means of travel now available to those of contemporary 19th century Europe.

When looking at the concept of a ‘landscape journey’ we must first acknowledge the work of Pieter Bruegel, a pioneer in the use of the ‘journey’ as a means to arrange his work. As described by Catherine Levesque in ‘Journey through Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Holland’

‘The journey format employed by these works is more than a convenient organizational device. Rather, this structure, with its connotations of direct experience, is deeply involved with framing a view of knowledge and of history.’[1]

Bruegel’s ‘Large Landscapes’ of 1554-5 demonstrate the journey format, illustrating a serial layout of varied locations that evoke a sense of an unfolding journey as it moves through time and space. As Catherine Levesque states ‘Travel was believed to build character; the decision and trials made on a journey were thought especially helpful in encouraging prudence and refining judgment’[2]. This shows that the journey format was more than just a means of documentation but that the depiction of a ‘landscape journey’ articulates a higher moral worth and value. Lessons acquired through the physical action of a journey were seen to encourage the humanist qualities so desired by society of 16th Century Holland. In order to demonstrate this ‘experience of place’ acquired through travel the artist would also compile descriptive geographies that would include ‘information on history and politics, as well as the physical appearance of a region or locale. Often maps, topographical views and texts were combined in one work in order to provide a comprehensive record.’[3]

The progress made in landscape painting during 16th Century Holland was quickly recognised throughout Europe and became a great influence on the Romantic movement of the 19th Century. Artists and writers soon adopted an approach to travel that required the continual documentation of their impressions of place, seizing the opportunity to describe their experiences through the journey format they encountered. However, the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century prevented many from travelling abroad and the Grand Tour that had previously been so popular a route of travel was now inaccessible. A limited Europe was the result of such unrest and artists were now forced to explore the landscape of their native countries, observing beauty that had been overlooked previously[4]. William Gilpin’s ‘Three essays on Picturesque Beauty’ was a great influence on the British Romantic Movement as he encouraged an appreciation of British landscape and charted a variety of journeys that offered inspiration to landscape artists of 19th Century Britain. These tours encompass all parts of England, Wales and Scotland, describing particular points at which the artist can achieve an attractive view of a landscape or experience a unique combination of terrain. In particular Gilpin talks of the ‘picturesque’, a term used to describe the beauty found in the rustic simplicity of British countryside and her unpredictable weather effects. As he describes in his second essay ‘On Picturesque travel’;

The first source of amusement to the picturesque traveler is the pursuit of his object, the expectation of new scenes continually opening and arising to his view. We suppose the country to have been unexplored. Under this circumstance the mind is kept constantly in an agreeable suspense. Every distant horizon promises something new; and with this pleasing expectation we follow nature through all her walks.[5]

Gilpins’ essays were a powerful influence on the leading figures of the British Romantic Movement of the 19th Century and in particular the work of J.M.W Turner. Turner’s first extensive tour in 1794 composed of a journey that took him through the Midlands, East Anglia and north Wales. His route was undoubtedly inspired by Gilpins work, an influence that is apparent due to one of Turner’s earliest surviving drawings from the tour, a view of Dove Dale, which was adapted from an engraving in Gilpins’ tour-book.[6] The tours of Britain taken by Turner early in his career were not only essential in his development as an artist but also in the methods employed when later touring the landscapes of Europe. Following his tours of Britain,[7] Turner applied an approach to travel that required guidebooks similar to Gilpins’, allowing him to gain the most from his trips around Europe. Using these as a reference, Turner planned each journey with great accuracy, envisaging the landscapes he would encounter whilst capturing a personal experience of them once physically realised. As Venning states, ‘He made meticulous plans for each expedition, some of which survive in his sketchbooks as itemized lists of clothing, distances, places to visit and even his expenses’[8]. This illustrates that for Turner, a journey was an essential part of his learning, requiring utmost organisation in order for him to achieve his aims. As John Gage notes in his book, ‘Turner, a Wonderful Range of Mind’, Turner’s work was ‘in tune with the general inclination of nineteenth-century writers to see painting as a series of visual discoveries;’ an approach that allows Turner to create a journey through landscape.

The sketchbooks from Turner’s tours are a consistent documentation of the landscapes he encountered, demonstrating the role of the artist as witness. It is in these sketchbooks that Turner’s work is primarily realised as a ‘landscape journey’. His first tour to Italy in 1819 illustrates the personal impressions captured by a journey through landscape, his sketchbooks allowing the viewer to experience his journey via a series of annotated images. When Turner returned to London on the 1st of February 1820 he had filled more than 20 sketchbooks that included almost 2000 sketches in both watercolour and pencil. One of Turners sketchbooks from this tour, ‘Paris, Cross France, Route to Italy,’ appears to have originally been intended as a journal yet includes merely one entry at the front referring to a day early in August 1819. Here Turner records ‘Left Dover at 10.Arrive at Calais at 3 in a boat from the Packet Boat’[9]. After these few lines the journal ends, becoming a sketchbook but it then continues with images that carry on from this initial entry. It would seem that Turner instead chose to record his journey through landscape rather than describing in words his every stage of progress. Sketchbooks such as ‘Paris, Cross France…’ allow the viewer to trace Turners journey through the most striking scenes encountered by him.

The route chosen by Turner for his Italian tour and the planning involved prior to his departure is also of importance to the outcome of his landscape journey. Not only was a route to be decided, but all the necessities essential for travel also needed to be organised; such preparations took Turner almost four years. As Gage observes, a notebook of Turners written in 1817, ‘gives details of Italian grammar, methods of purifying water, driving away bugs and fleas, as well as addresses for securing passports and purchasing carriages in London.’[10] J C Eustace’s two volume ‘Tour through Italy’ (1813) became one of Turner’s chief guidebooks and John Warwick Smith’s ‘Select Views in Italy’ (1792-9) provided eighty-four engravings from which Turner made thumbnail copies into his ‘Foreign Hint’ sketchbook. Like Gilpin had provided a foundation for Turner’s tours of Britain, Eustace and Smith did the same for his tour of Italy. These guidebooks allowed Turner to form a basic route for his journey from which he could build upon. The engravings of Italian scenery encountered by Turner prior to his departure allowed him to embark on a landscape journey of the mind which he would soon follow, redesign and reinterpret.

The architect James Hakewill, both a friend and patron of Turner, was another essential influence on the route decided by Turner for his first tour of Italy. Not only did Hakewill sketch out an itinerary for Turner to follow in his ‘Route to Rome’ sketchbook but also contracted Turner to make a series of watercolours to be engraved in his book ‘Picturesque Tour of Italy’ upon his return to England. These watercolours were to be of particular points through the journey that Hakewill had also encountered on his tour of Italy years earlier. He wished for Turner to revisit these sites and conclude his own visions of the landscapes met. Such strong advice could have easily dictated the route taken by Turner however it is clear from the ‘Route to Rome’ sketchbook that whilst Turner visited many of the same places as Hakewill he did not follow the tour in the same order. This is essential for the development of Turners landscape journey as he specialises his route despite the numerous amount of advice given to him on the best way to approach the Italian landscape. It is clear that Turner decided on a route that would best encompass his own interests whilst still regarding the advice of others.

The sketchbooks from this tour illustrate Turners landscape journey through a variety of forms. As discussed, the journey itself took 4 years to plan, each landscape having been imagined a thousand times by the young artist, yet only experienced in 1819. Although travelled by many before him, Turner creates a journey that is both unique and highly personal, documented not through the traditional journal format but instead by sketches of a landscape experienced. We encounter Turners own sensory journey through these differing weather effects and tactile terrain. It is a journey not only of the body but also of the mind as Turner absorbs all the challenges of the landscape and the trials faced by a traveller of the 19th century. Such personal impressions of a landscape and the trials faced when confronted by it within a journey format are exemplified in the watercolour ‘Passage of Mont Cenis (Snowstorm)’ of 1820.

‘Passage of Mont Cenis’ is a particularly good example of a ‘landscape journey’ from Turners first tour of Italy. The image, rather than being merely one in a series of sketches describing the progress of the journey, instead embodies both an event and a landscape encountered by Turner on his tour. Along with his description of the event, the landscape transports the viewer back into it, forcing us to experience the journey for ourselves through the image. As Turner wrote to his friend James Holworthy;

Mont Cenis had already been closed to traffic for some time, even if the newspapers reported that a month before some hot-headed Englishmen had dared to cross it on foot, which the locals considered half madness, a honour that was extended to me and my companions when we set out in the carriage. At the peak we turned over. The carriage doors were so completely frozen that we had to climb out through the windows.’[11]

Although the image itself does not depict the incident described, the viewer can imagine the scene through Turners use of colour and the dramatic weather effects he portrays. A stormy sky engulfs the scene as the carriages struggle through the treacherous passage surrounded by mountains. Turner evokes the sublime as he articulates the insignificance of the small carriages when compared to the vastness of the sky above and the mountains that surround the travellers.

‘The Passage of Mont Cenis’ is a landscape of further importance to Turner due to his interest in the Carthaginian general Hannibal. An Italian guidebook by Henry Sass was thought to have been bought and read by Turner in 1818 as part of the preparation for his tour of Italy. In the guidebook, Sass states that Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218BC choosing a route that led him through Mont Cenis pass. Turner’s prior interest in Hannibal is clear from his earlier work of 1812, ‘Hannibal and his Army crossing the Alps’. Painted following his first tour abroad of 1802 Turner envisaged the general’s journey by following his suggested route through the Alps that took him by the pass known as the Little St Bernard, into the Val d’Aosta. This route was commonly agreed at the time to be the one taken by Hannibal and so was also chosen by Turner so that he could understand the landscape and atmospheric conditions of the general’s journey. However, Sass brought this well acknowledged theory into dispute and undoubtedly Turner wished to also experience the alternative route suggested by Sass as a means of comparison.

This leads us to the second category used to define a ‘landscape journey’ in Turner’s work; his use of landscape and his experience of it as a method of representing the embodiment of a particular journey through a singular work. ‘Hannibal and his Army crossing the Alps’ was first exhibited in 1812 accompanied by Turners poem, ‘Fallacies of Hope’[12]. Once again, Turner chose to illustrate the image by using his own literature in order to describe what he saw as the chaos faced by Hannibal on his journey[13]. By experiencing the landscape encountered by Hannibal first hand Turner could better grasp the trials of the general’s journey and express it to his viewers. As Sam Smiles describes,

‘For Turner, one of the greatest military feats of all time is seen not as a triumph, but as the first act of tragedy, begotten in storm and blood, whose issue will be defeat and destruction. The fury of the storm is thus counterpoised not with a sun symbolic of hope, but with the false light of delusion.’[14]

In this work Turner embodies the entirety of Hannibal’s journey. Through the sublime landscape and the narration of a courageous story Turner communicates the continuous trials faced by the individual on such a journey. The extreme emotions suffered and the continual determination, both physically and mentally required of the human body in order to survive, are expressed through the landscape and the overwhelming vision set before us.

Such an emphasis on the journey itself can also be true of Turner through his compositions describing contemporary 19th Century Europe. The final category of the concept of a ‘landscape journey’ is exemplified in the work ‘Rain, Steam and Speed: the Great Western Railway’ of 1844. In this piece Turner illustrates the very means of a journey through landscape, depicting a scene never having been previously approached. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844 and can be considered the first representation of speed and movement in the history of art. The picture, like the previous landscape journeys described, is based on personal experience. ‘During a thunderstorm Turner was said to have held his head out of the window of his carriage for minutes at a time in order to feel the sensation of the speed and the weather.’[15] In this work Turner illustrates the very essence of movement through landscape. The exhilarating rush of speed experienced is communicated to the viewer by the train’s infinite journey through the melting scenery. Turner disorientates the viewer, allowing us to appreciate the feeling of motion, as if we ourselves our on the train moving through time and space; journeying through landscape.

In conclusion it seems clear that Turner used multiple forms to illustrate a ‘landscape journey’. Such forms cannot be strictly categorised, but attempts can be made to loosely distinguish particular subjects within his oeuvre that show similarities in theme, content and composition. Through his landscape Turner maps the self, representing personal interpretations of landscapes experienced within his journey. The unpredictable nature of a journey is illustrated in Turner’s depiction of extreme weather effects through rough, impulsive brushwork. Such methods could only be used if Turner had experienced the scenes depicted first hand. It is this realisation that brings Turner’s work closer to the viewer, involving us in his own ‘landscape journey’.


Bermingham, Ann Landscape and Ideology; The English Rustic Tradition Thames and Hudson Ltd. London 1986

Gage, John J.M.W Turner; A Wonderful Range of Mind Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1987

Gage, John Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner Clarendon Press, Oxford 1980

Herrmann, Luke Turner Paintings, Watercolours, Prints and Drawings Phaidon Press Ltd. London 1975

Herold, Inge Turner on Tour. Prestel-Verlag, Munich and New York 1997

Levesque, Catherine Journey through Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Holland. The Pennsylvania State University Press 1994

Mitchell, W.J Thomas Landscape and Power University of Chicago Press 2002

Smiles, Sam J.M.W. Turner Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. 2000

Turner 1775-1851. Published by order of the Trustees 1974 for the exhibition of 16 November 1974 – 2 March 1975 organised jointly by the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts

Venning, Barry Turner Phaidon Press ink 2003

Wilton, Andrew J.M.W. Turner; His Art and Life A Tabard Press edition by Office du Livre S.A, Fribourg, Switzerland 1979

Wilton, Andrew Turner Abroad; France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland A Colonnade Book published by British Museum Publications Ltd. 1982

[1] Levesque, Catherine Journey through Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Holland P.2

[2] Levesque, Catherine Journey through Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Holland . Pieter Bruegel’s ‘Large Landscapes’ published by Hieronymus Cock Pp.20

[3] Levesque, Catherine Journey through Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Holland P.2

[4] See also ‘Landscape and Power’ by W.J. Thomas Mitchell. ‘By the late eighteenth century, tours of Britain by the British were well established among the upper and, increasingly, the middle classes. The sights to which these tourists travelled belonged to private estates; they included ruins and natural wonders as well as contemporary houses, parks and industries. Guides, guidebooks, hours of admission, and all the familiar structures of tourism were already in place. Drawings and paintings of such sights, initially commissioned by owners for their own viewing, developed into a business of its own right. The aesthetics of landscape, and the activities of viewing and displaying English places through which it was experienced, created for those who could participate in it a claim on England as their natural aesthetic property.’ Pp104-105

[5] William Gilpin, from ‘Three Essays on Picturesque Beauty’, 2nd edition (1794). Essay 11. ‘On Picturesque Travel’

[6] Gage, John J.M.W Turner; A Wonderful Range of Mind P.42

[7] Gage, John J.M.W Turner; A Wonderful Range of Mind WRITE QUOTE on P.73

[8] Venning, Barry Turner P.53

[9] Wilton, Andrew J.M.W. Turner; His Art and Life P.60

[10] Gage, John J.M.W Turner; A Wonderful Range of Mind P.42

[11] Herold, Inge Turner on Tour Pp.17-18

[12] Craft, treachery and fraud – Salassian force, Hung on the fainting rear! Then Plunder seiz’d the victor and the captive, Saguntum’s spoil, Alike became their pray; still the chief advanced, Looked on the sun with hope; - low, broad, and wan; While the fierce archer of the downward year stains Italy’s blanched barrier with storms. In vain each pass, ensanguin’d deep with dead, Or rocky fragments, wide destruction roll’d. Still on Campania’s fertile plains – he thought, But the loud breeze sobbed, ‘Capua’s joys beware!’ Turner, ‘Fallacies of Hope’. Sam Smiles J.M.W. Turner P.30

[13] Gage, John J.M.W Turner; A Wonderful Range of Mind P.193 INSERT QUOTE by Fuseli on poetry.

[14] Smiles, Sam J.M.W. Turner P.30

[15]Herold, Inge Turner on Tour P.20

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