Common Land in English Painting, 1700-1850

Common Land in English Painting, 1700-1850

IAN WAITES
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x73dj
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  • Book Info
    Common Land in English Painting, 1700-1850
    Book Description:

    During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of England's common land was eradicated by the processes of parliamentary enclosure. However, despite the fact that the landscape was frequently viewed as unproductive, outmoded and unsightly, many British landscape painters of the time - including Constable, Gainsborough and Turner - resolutely continued to depict it. This book is the first full study of how they did so, using evidence drawn not only from art-historical picture analysis, but from contemporary poems and novels, and the contemporary pamphlets, essays and reports that advanced the rhetoric of both agricultural improvement and new theories on landscape aesthetics. It highlights a deep-rooted social and cultural attachment to the common field landscape, and demonstrates that common land played a significant but - until now - underestimated role in both the history of English art and of the formation of an English national identity, reflecting what are still highly sensitive issues of progress, nostalgia and loss within the English countryside. Recasting common land as a recurrent facet of English culture in the modern period, the numerous paintings, drawings and prints featured in this book give the reader a comprehensive and evocative sense of what this now almost wholly lost landscape looked like in its hey-day. Ian Waites is Senior Lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Lincoln.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-044-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vi-ix)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. x-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION ‘THE SCENERY OF COMMON GROUND’
    (pp. 1-12)

    One ‘traditional’ image of the English countryside is that of a ‘patchwork’ of groups of small fields, enclosed and demarcated by verdant hedgerows. However as some landscape historians, for instance Christopher Taylor in his 1975 book, Fields in the English Landscape, have pointed out, the word ‘traditional’ has to be used advisedly in relation to any type of English landscape, which largely evolved in a constant state of flux, change and contradiction.¹ Much of this change in the countryside occurred during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Britain in general experienced a period of intense social, economic and industrial expansion....

  6. CHAPTER 1 THE PROSPECT
    (pp. 13-36)

    In a 1712 edition of The Spectator, the English essayist and poet Joseph Addison wrote a column on the ‘Pleasures of the Imagination, which arise from the actual View and Survey of outward Objects’. In this, he particularly referred to ‘the Largeness of a whole View, considered as one entire Piece. Such [as] the Prospects of an open Champain Country’. Addison then went on to suggest that ‘we are flung into a pleasing Astonishment at such unbounded Views’, claiming that ‘A spacious Horizon is an image of Liberty, where the Eye has Room to range abroad’. Malcolm andrews, in his...

  7. CHAPTER 2 IDYLLS
    (pp. 37-57)

    William Marlow’s impressive Distant View of Bridlington Bay and Flamborough Head (c.1763, Fig. 11) is a panoramic topographical view of the Yorkshire coastal town, its surrounding common field countryside and the bay beyond. Marlow took this view south-west of Bridlington, looking across the town’s quite complex common field landscape which consisted at this time of a large expanse of common moorland and a four-field system of open arable land. The painting provides ‘a telling record of the bleak Yorkshire coastline’ that was found only a few miles from Burton Agnes Hall, for which it was painted.¹ Its delicately lit sky...

  8. CHAPTER 3 DRAWN FROM NATURE
    (pp. 58-77)

    In his book The English Village Community and the Enclosure Movements, the historian W.E. Tate stated that beyond the 1780s, ‘little more is heard of the case for open-field agriculture and the maintenance of commons. In general, the writers of the period take it for granted that enclosure has come and come to stay.’¹ This is largely borne out by a glance at the work of the topographical painter, Paul Sandby (1731–1809) whose career effectively covered the majority of the period of parliamentary enclosure activity. Sandby was a painter who worked largely in watercolours; his work was especially noted...

  9. CHAPTER 4 AESTHETICS AND PERCEPTIONS
    (pp. 78-99)

    Sometime in the August of 1823, William Blake was listening to a group of people who, according to Blake’s biographer Alexander Gilchrist, were ‘of a scientific turn … discoursing pompously … about the incredible distance of the planets, the length of time light takes to travel to the earth, etc.’. Unable to contain himself any longer, Blake burst in on the conversation by exclaiming, ‘It is false! I walked the other evening to the end of the earth, and touched the sky with my finger.’

    This extraordinary assertion was characteristic of what Gilchrist called Blake’s ‘devout old-world imagination’, a world-view...

  10. CHAPTER 5 LOSS
    (pp. 100-120)

    In Chapter 3, we met an unknown Suffolk labourer who was quoted as saying that ‘everybody in the world may cut rushes on the common’. He was providing testimony at one of the many court cases in the eighteenth century that settled disputes regarding common rights, and he clearly felt that such an open-minded and generous approach to the use of the common would help to protect it, but this would almost certainly have been in vain. The comment might well seem to us today to be naïve and somewhat simplistic but it is nonetheless remarkable because it was obviously...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER 6 THE URBAN SCENE
    (pp. 121-145)

    In the early years of the nineteenth century, J.M.W. Turner took himself once more to the southern outskirts of London at Clapham, where he took a view of the common there. Until the early eighteenth century, Clapham Common was seen as ‘little more than a morass’; in the 1760s it was drained but it was never enclosed by parliamentary act. As such, and even as late as 1830, the common was described as ‘quite a wild place’.¹ Turner’s painting, View on Clapham Common (c.1800–1805, Fig. 29), visually articulates this opinion. As with his sketches of Blackheath, the free painterly...

  13. CONCLUSION COMMON LAND, THE ‘OLD CULTURE’ AND THE MODERN WORLD
    (pp. 146-153)

    TOWARDS THE END OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, in his Third Letter on a Regicide Peace (1797), Edmund Burke feared that ‘All the little quiet rivulets, that watered a humble, a contracted but not an unfruitful field, are to be lost in the waste expanse, and boundless barren ocean of the homicide philanthropy of France’.¹ Even a decidedly non-agricultural thinker like Burke used landscape metaphors, and in similar terms to those commonly employed both by the aesthetes and agricultural improvers of the time. The first part of this statement – that ‘contracted’, ‘not unfruitful’ field – can be seen to describe...

  14. NOTES TO THE TEXT
    (pp. 154-168)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 169-176)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 177-182)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-183)