04 Yi Ying The Real Difficulties and Possibilities in Landscape Oil Paintings(Part I)

Realism landscape painting is the objectification of a natural power of people, and the contemplation on the nature of self which appears in the exchanging process of the relationship between people and nature. Therefore, the performance of natural beauty in landscape painting has never been the understanding of nature itself, but the result of a human culture which depicts themselves in various ways.

Independent landscape painting initially appeared in the Netherlands in a late Gothic style, instead of Italy with a developed humanism, and originated from a Nordic Pantheistic doctrine. In the 1800s French classical landscape paintings reflected the majesty of autocratic monarchy with the use of order and a magnificent form; at the same time as landscape paintings appeared in the Netherlands which reflected a popular interest from citizens, while British landscape paintings became the spiritual sustenance for people urging to return to nature. The subject of the Barbizon school was rural scenery and the countryside, which symbolized that people had a finial perspective on the spiritual homeland which was on the threshold of modernization.

Seen from the surface, Cezanne was the last master of landscape painting, but he actually deconstructed the traditional landscape painting. Modernist artistic movement flourished after Cezanne, although landscape was an important theme for some modernist artists in the period from post impressionism to the Paris school, there was not any master of traditional landscape painting, but to be a medium for artists to express themselves, like other traditional categories such as the human body, still life, etc. Although traditional landscape painting had not disappeared, it had increasingly become a popular culture dominated by the market, divorced from the innovative artistic subject value in a rapidly developing modern society.

Seen from the history of visual culture, the visual cultural product of the human is a constantly evolving and enriching process, in the traditional agricultural society, humans’ visual cultural products mainly include architecture, sculpture, painting, costume and handicraft, etc., while the visual culture with a real typical meaning is mainly concentrated in the upper class elite and based on aristocrats. Because of the blocking of traffic and means for information dissemination, people found it difficult to see original works, and even the aristocrats themselves had problems. Like other types of painting, landscape painting has the function of knowledge, education, etc., in addition to aesthetic. For example, American Hudson River School appeared in the 19th century, the painting which was themed as spectacular, savage and wild landscapes of the Rocky Mountains were created for the leisure class in the city instead of the pioneers, in a sense, it is visual tour, it is an indirect way of for a tour in the era of poor transportation. Such as, in the early 19th century, when the British Isles was threatened by the Napoleonic wars, the wealthy dispersed to the countryside, people who had always resided in the cities were surprised by the beautiful natural scenery and countryside landscapes, thus etchings of landscape painting began to be popular when they returned to the city. This trend also greatly stimulated the prosperity of landscapes, and even led to travelling. Going into the 20th century, along with the development of photography, film and print, modern art was increasingly ideological or conceptual, while the traditional practicalities of painting were badly weakened, traditional paintings of landscape and still life were in circulation as interior decorative furnishings, while modern landscape painting followed the way of Cezanne, reflecting a formal conception, rather than naturalistic connotation.

Since oil painting was introduced to China from the West in the 20th century, landscape painting mainly embodied the significance of form and technique, but rarely acting as an independent category influencing modern fine art thoughts, including some masters such as Liu Haisu and Yan Wenliang who were also outstanding landscape painters. After the founding of the People Republic of China, especially in 1950s, the introduction of the teaching system of oil painting and creative thinking from the Soviet Union heavily improved and developed realistic oil painting techniques and themed paintings; but they were dominated by the policy of art and literature, it served politics, so landscape painting had to be desolated, on the other hand, it revealed that a naturalistic tradition was absent in China, although artists studied Western oil painting technique including landscape painting, it was difficult for them to accept naturalistic concepts. Entering the new era, undertaking the inertia of social realism themed painting was in prosperity for some time within the critical realism trend, but it was soon replaced by the avant-garde movement affected by Western modern art. A byproduct of avant-garde art is the marketing of the traditional art style. Chinese art markets appeared when the avant-garde movement declined, and the basic structure has not changed in nearly ten years, that was the overseas buyers’ market with a reflection of a popular cultural interest dominated by a popular art market, while landscape painting, isolated through the decades received an unexpected prosperity and development with these market conditions.

After the Cultural Revolution, although landscape painting had never generated any independent effectiveness, the influence of realism painting was obvious in the following trend, it could be said that they simultaneously developed. We can see some new approaches to deal with landscape painting in the themed painting at that time, which greatly impacted on the following landscape paintings in the market. For example, He Duoling’s “Spring Wind Comes Again”, his description of grassland was clearly impacted by the American realist painter Wyeth; Liang Mountains Group Paintings by Cheng Conglin absorbed the skills of Spanish style doctrine painter El Greco to construct rural residential areas. In addition, “Tibet Group Paintings” by Chen Danqing absorbed the French painter Millet’s tone of color and brushstrokes. These styles basically constituted the main interest of landscape painting. Some techniques of modern art also reflected in the landscape painting in the new era, such as the older generation of painters Zhan Jianjun, Wen Lipeng combined with the romanticism oriented grand style with the brushworks and color of expressionism, showing the natural beauty of symbolic significance. Some young artists integrated Impressionism, Expressionism and a style of Fauvism to create a kind of landscape painting in a modern style, which required a high quality of feeling and skill, denying borrowing any ready-made modes for example, Wang Yuping applied the style of Fauvism to paint some landscapes, which was hard for ordinary painters to do. Seen from an overall perspective, landscape painting in the 1990s continued with the aftermath of realistic painting in the 1980s, in addition it was influenced by the avant-garde movement, and it was trigged by the system of the art market.

In the “Principles of Art History”, Swiss art historian Wolfflin talked about the difference of paintly and non-paintly, when he had an analysis of the five pairs of types of style: broken caps, rotten shoes, beggars, old stuff that is picturesque, as did the ruins, the edge in disorder, jumping of life, were able to be an unit within the background. Instead, neat edges and the façade of buildings missed paintly. The mainstream of Chinese current landscape painting is actually a landscape painting of customs, the performance of ancient building, Hutong, old streets, small town and barren countryside…, a variety of similar themes hidden by huge market dominance. These subjects satisfy the requirement of paintly, but more importantly is that it is suitable for Western tourists to look for adventures, nostalgia, and matches the taste of Hong Kong, Taiwan China, as well as Southeast Asian Chinese communities. It is because of the influence of commercial interest, the nature of landscape painting that is the appreciation of natural beauty and the contemplation of people’s natural energy is invisible distorted, no matter how sophisticated the technique is, how charming the sentiment is, it makes no sense to the contemporary cultural value, and didn’t play a role in the study of contemporary popular culture.

To be continued…

It was originally published in “Contemporary Oil Painting”.

Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

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