The Idea of the English Landscape Painter

Genius as Alibi in the Early Nineteenth Century

Kay Dian Kriz

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English landscape painting changed dramatically during the time of Turner and Girtin—the new style of painting was seen as more natural and expressive of the imagination and character of the artist himself. The new artistic "geniuses" were hailed by critics as shining stars of a truly English school of landscape painting. In this book Dian Kriz critically examines the emergence of the Romantic concept of the landscape genius, arguing that it was a category produced by critics, painters, and the public, in opposition to other ways of thinking about the artist in the period around 1800. She places the artistic genius of the (male) landscape painter in relation to the (female) amateur, the connoisseur, the decadent Frenchman, and the entrepreneur.

Kriz studies the way in which the application of paint was thought to represent the character of the artist and particular forms of Englishness. Examining a wide range of contemporary paintings, prints, and written texts, she determines how a "visual rhetoric" that relied heavily on brilliant surface effects was understood to participate in discourses on art, politics, commerce, and morality during the decades in which England was at war, militarily and culturally, with Napoleonic France. Kriz shows that the power of the landscape genius lay in his ability to negotiate the seemingly contradictory demands of a market in luxury commodities and a social ideal of a virile and virtuous Englishness. The genius's encounter with external nature provided him with an alibi that served to obscure his activities as an economic producer in a competitive market society.

Kay Dian Kriz is an assistant professor in the department of history of art and architecture at Brown University.

"This is a highly original contribution to the subject of British romantic landscape painting. . . . Kriz contends that although the landscapist appears to represent the 'purified' essence of Englishness, evolving critique of society. Highly recommended."—Choice

"[A] beautifully illustrated book . . . insightful analysis of the discursive construction of genius."—Denise Blake Oleksijczuk, Art History

"Kay Dian Kriz's book is an illuminating analysis of the place that landscape painting and landscape painters held within the evolving nationalistic discourse of aesthetics in the early nineteenth century. . . . A fresh and insightful look at the familiar territory of early-nineteenth-century landscape painting. . . . It is a book that will remake our understanding of the romantic idea of 'genius' and for this reason is essential reading for cultural and art historians."—Ann Bermingham, Eighteenth-Century Studies

"This well-illustrated volume tells the story of the emergence, during the Napoleonic era, of a distinctly 'English school' of landscape painting. . . . An interesting, important complement to the more interdisciplinary studies of Barrell, Bermingham, and Hemingway."—Patrick Brantlinger, Nineteenth-Century Prose

ISBN: 9780300068337
Publication Date: March 27, 1997
Co-publisher: Published for the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art
200 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
50 b/w + 22 color illus.
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