In the early centuries of art in the Western civilisation the early pioneers of ‘pure landscape’ painting may have believed they were totally unique in their approach to painting landscape without historical references, and that they had discovered a new dedicated subject of painting what was viewed in front of them. During the 1700’s landscape painting had been overlooked as non-serious subjects for serious artists by the established art and culture institutions, such as the Royal Academy (in England).
However the Artists, such as Constable and J.M.W Turner, the Barbizon painters and the later the impressionists, were probably totally unaware that on the other side of the planet, to the East, where landscape painting had been practiced and perfected by the Chinese and the Japanese from 300 BC.
It is perhaps not surprising that by the time artists like Monet and Degas were making a name for themselves in France using Eastern concentric composition ideas of the concentric composition arrangements had become almost a central starting point for these innovative Western painters, and many of the artists who were to practitioners of the impressionists style of application of paint and the post impressionists theories of colour in painting landscape.
painting opposite: Sesshu Toyo (1420–1506). Known as Sesshu, was a Japanese Zen monk and painter who is considered a great master of Japanese ink painting.
The world had grown much smaller by the 1800’s and the flood of new and exciting examples of art from the East were being made available to the European artists through the medium of prints exported through the open trade routes along with silks and ceramics. Exotic Eastern imagery became the new inspiration for organising a different form of landscape representation and was emulated enthusiastically, copied and expanded upon in the compositions using the philosophy of Chinese master artists.
Landscape painting and the philosophy of China
In the East painting landscape had been long referred to as just one of “three perfections” (of art) the other two being calligraphy and poetry. Landscape paintings, either on hand held parchment or wall hanging scrolls, album leaves or fans, became an individual genre during the tenth century.
From then it developed and evolved, very often with the active support of the Emperors who enabled visual artists to reach a sublime aesthete for visual art that celebrated the natural world.
This art blossomed in the golden age during the Sung dynasty (Tenth to the Thirteenth century). Nevertheless despite the different range of