Activity - Landscape

Look at this painting by John Constable, The Haywain (1821). Consider the following questions: What are the dominant colours? How is the painting composed? What are the dominant shapes, lines and force lines? The painting is painted in oil. In what ways has the artist exploited this medium? What techniques of perspective have been used?

The dominant colours are green, brown and blue. A red tinge to the house's tiling creates a muted complementarity with the foliage surrounding it. However, the saturated red on the horses creates a strong contrast with the green leaves and grass, and enlivens the colour scheme as a whole.

The straight lines are primarily vertical or near-vertical (notice in particular the house and the cart). In general, there is a near-diagonal cutting across the picture plane, from lower-right to upper-left. These dominant lines, however, are only loosely followed, and are marked by the river and the skyline. Indeed, the river's line moves both across the painting from left to right and then, towards the top of the painting (moving into the distance). We are invited to follow this line by the movement of the horse and cart. This creates a force line which meanders across the picture plane.

The brushwork is loose - something which is made possible by the use of the medium of oil. What this means is that we are not invited to examine the painting detail by detail, but rather to consider it as a whole.

There is some evidence of linear perspective, although the trees in the middle distance do not recede to infinity. Colour perspective is evident in that the only strong complementarity takes place in the foreground, between the red and green colours.


Look at Ludwig Meidner's, Apocalyptic Landscape (Apokaliptische Landschaft) (1913): click here (external link). Consider the following aspects of technique. What are the colours used, and what relationships are there between them? Does the artist use techniques to convey distance, such as linear (or near-linear) perspective or aerial perspective? Are there contrasts of light and dark? What is the overall composition of the piece? What dominant lines guide the eye? Which human figures appear? How do they relate to the landscape?

The painting is dominated by complementary colours, such as the red and green of the sun and sky behind it. There are also very stark contrasts of light and dark (for instance, the black reclining figure in the bright lower centre of landscape; the dark mountain range and the stark bright sky; the bright river with dark objects floating on it).

The painting has an open composition, with the river guiding the eye in a near diagonal direction, following the direction in which the boats are moving. But the boats are moving towards the mountain range, behind which the bright light appears.

The composition is based around two diagonals. The dominant diagonal line goes from lower right to upper left. But notice how that diagonal is formed: along with the direction of the river, it is also shaped by the houses, which lean from left to right - in other words, it is shaped by a distortion of how the buildings ought to appear.

The two human figures add to the disturbing impact of the painting. One, in the lower left, appears to be running towards the viewer, and is depicted with very broad brushwork. A daub of red beneath his ear, and a smaller stroke of red beneath his nose, suggest that he might be bleeding. The figure in the lower centre is ambiguous: he appears to be reclining possibly even smoking but he also appears exposed. Our attention is drawn to him, and the plane on which he is reclining, both by the contrast of light and dark, and by the diagonal force line leading towards him.


Look at Paul Cézanne, The Sainte Victoire, Seen from the Quarry Called Bibemus, and consider the following aspects of technique. Is there any use of aerial perspective? Has the artist used linear perspective? Have the forms been modelled? What are the dominant colours, and how do they relate to each other?

This is a dazzling display of an artist breaking our expectations of what a landscape should be like. Cézanne achieves this by subtle manipulation of several of the aspects of artistic form which we have discussed in Part II of this course. The focus of the painting is the mountain, which is in fact quite far in the background. Yet, as we found in Unit 2, when artists portray objects in the distance, they use a variety of techniques to create the illusion that they have receded in space. Here, however, the distant mountain does not recede into space, but actually dominates the painting. Let us explore how Cézanne achieves this effect.

Is there any use of aerial perspective?

There is practically no aerial perspective here. In fact, the lines around the mountain in the distance are bolder and clearer than those around the objects in the foreground. This means that the conventions of aerial perspective have in fact been inverted.

Has the artist used linear perspective?

The mountain - the object furthest away - actually dominates in terms of scale. Whilst this does not necessarily mean that it is not painted in linear perspective, it is very difficult to locate the mountain in a regular scheme of linear perspective.

Have the forms been modelled?

The modelling on the mountain, and on the landscape below, is very limited, and difficult to perceive as plasticity. In fact, it is rather as if we are faced with a series of flat planes which are exposed to more or less equal light. (These planes are painted in broad brushstrokes which together form blocks of colour.) Even in the section of orange cliff just to the right of the centre of the painting, which ought to be in full darkness, the shadow cast is not strong.

What are the dominant colours, and how do they relate to each other?

The colour composition is based on large expanses of single colour: the blue of the sky, the orange of the cliffs and the earth, the green of the trees, and the grey-white of the mountain. Narrow streaks of green unite the trees. The mountain itself is in a very neutral colour, which forms a contrast with the bold, saturated colours of the other areas of the painting.

In a classic study on Cézanne, Erle Loran compared the painting with a photographic reconstruction of what Cézanne would actually have seen. We find that Cézanne has actually made the mountain itself appear larger than it would have done in reality. (Loran's book is a wonderful example of how painstaking formal analysis can help us to understand paintings better. It is Erle Loran, Cézanne's Composition: Analysis of His Form with Diagrams and Photographs of His Motifs [1963] (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006).)


The University accepts no responsibility for the content of external sites.

This resource was created with the help of a University of Leeds Faculty of Arts Enterprise Knowledge Transfer Grant.

© Matthew Treherne, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT.