Among the varied genres of painting, landscape has always been and probably will remain, the most popular and beloved by the public.
Probably it's coincidence, or maybe it's not, but Los Angeles museums this season have organized four major exhibitions devoted to landscapes. A few months ago the Los Angeles County Museum of Art hosted an excellent survey of 17th century Dutch landscape paintings by Jacob van Ruisdael. Currently, at the Huntington in San Marino there is a traveling exhibition focusing on the 18th century landscape paintings by one of the most celebrated British painters, Thomas Gainsborough. He introduced and championed a new and highly unusual subject for his time. His romantic landscapes would be enlivened by images of peasants living in simple cottages in the middle of the forest. By today's standards, his mothers surrounded by barely clad little urchins look rather fetching and romantic but for aristocratic clients of his time the subject contained quite a punch. The tour-de-force of the exhibition is the installation of his famous landscape, "The Cottage Door." The Huntington, which owns this painting, recreated the lavish and exotic tent which the original owner of the painting built in his sumptuous house to showcase this masterpiece. You will be able to step inside the striped tent and see this painting in the flickering light of gas lamps and catch the reflections in numerous mirrors around the tent. Quite a hoot.
At the Getty Museum in Brentwood, there is an excellent new exhibition of landscapes by Gustave Courbet, the 19th century French artist, best known for his monumental figurative paintings. Lesser known is his contribution to the art of landscape. The Getty owns a small but exquisite painting by Courbet entitled "Grotto", which even in the company of several dozen of his works on loan from museums around the world, still stands out due to its remarkable freshness and directness of application of paint. The image almost dissolves into the vortex of the abstract brush marks left by the hand of the artist, who comes across not only as the precursor of Impressionism, but of abstract art as well. Come close--really close, to the surface of his landscapes and you will probably be shocked by the similarity between the brush strokes and texture of 19th century Courbet paintings and the abstract compositions made 150 years later by Gerhard Richter, one of the most celebrated painters of our time.
And the story would not be complete without mentioning another Getty exhibition: the captivating survey of photographic images of the American West, created in the last thirty years by Robert Adams. The exhibition titled "Landscapes of Harmony and Dissonance" introduces us to the artist, who with admirable straightforwardness, guides the viewer through the streets of small towns or brings us to the shores of lakes and rivers probably not seen by many tourists. All that without any trace of sentimentality, but each image is imbued with an unwavering sense of stoicism and dignity.
Sensation & Sensibility: Viewing Gainsborough's "Cottage Door"
Feb. 11-May 14
Robert Adams: Landscapes of Harmony and Dissonance
Getty Center (Brentwood)
February 7-May 28
Courbet and the Modern Landscape
Getty Center (Brentwood)
February 21-May 14