British Romantic artists inherited and transformed the Classical landscape tradition, exemplified by Claude Lorrain (1604–1682), the greatest painter of ‘ideal’ landscape. Turner’s Crossing the brook sums up the Claudean tradition in Britain. The artist leads us gently into an Italianate landscape, framed by trees and suffused with silvery light. At this time oil painting, later regarded as the highest artistic medium, still competed with watercolour. Watercolours by Turner, Girtin and Sandby demonstrate the extraordinary skill of many British artists with this notoriously difficult technique.
From the 1790s artists in Britain, Germany and France began to paint outside, en plein air. Works by Constable, Kobell and Corot show a bold naturalism that sets them apart from academic artists. Such lively sketches were highly influential for the next generation. In The leaping horse Constable marries local observations with high aesthetic ambition: he gained entry to the Royal Academy with this canvas. The Classical tradition also lasted well into the nineteenth-century, with Palmer and Corot still painting Italian light.
Artists portrayed pastoral scenes in an increasingly urban and industrial age. In The sleeping shepherd Palmer experiments with materials, while his idyllic rural scene asserts the eternal importance of agricultural life in turbulent times. Artists such as von Guérard were commissioned by landowners to produce ‘portraits’ of their estates. In Glover’s view of his own new home, A view of the artist’s house and garden, in Mills Plains, Van Diemen’s Land, the embroidered beauty of his English flower garden is set against scrubby Tasmanian bush.