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Thomas Girtin (English, 1775–1802), A Wooded Landscape, c. 1790s. Watercolor over graphite with scratching out on wove paper, 6 x 4 7/8 in. (15.2 x 12.4 cm). Gift of the Manton Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 2007.8.88

Romantic Nature: British and French Landscapes

January 30, 2011 - November 1, 2011

In 1802, John Constable wrote that he championed what he called “a natural painture,” an approach to landscape painting that rejected many principles of traditional art instruction and relied instead upon the artist’s intuitive response to the observable world. By 1824, the year that Constable’s paintings were featured at the Paris Salon, younger generations of artists in Britain and France were equally entrenched in the belief that “pure” landscape paintings held the same emotive power once believed to be the exclusive domain of historical or religious art. French artists such as Théodore Rousseau, Jules Dupré, and Constant Troyon looked to the achievements of Constable and other leading British artists as transformative alternatives to the classical conventions that had long defined
artistic practice.

Such ideas about the interplay between art, nature, and subjectivity predominated among European writers, artists, and composers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This phenomenon, known as Romanticism, was not necessarily a cohesive movement, but was generally marked by creative explorations of emotion, irrational thought, and personal experience. The works on view in this gallery explore the Romantic sensibilities shared by British and French artists in the early nineteenth century, particularly their imaginative approach to representing nature.

Many of the paintings and drawings on display in this gallery were assembled by business leader and arts patron Sir Edwin A. G. Manton (1909–2005) and his wife Florence, Lady Manton. The collection, a gift of the Manton Foundation in 2007, includes works of art by Constable, J. M. W. Turner, and Thomas Gainsborough, among other leading British artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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