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Landscape Painting
essay by
frederic taubes

The River

oil on canvas, 1962

36 x 27 in.

Or, look at a landscape by Van Gogh; here no liberty has been taken to remake the world before him. Yet, in spite of the fidelity to the homely, the trivial and humble, he gives us a pathos of great profundity. Put through the fabric of the artist’s mind, even the course and the trivial have attained meaning, poetic delicacy and fantasy.

It is not faithfulness to the obvious that confers the sense of reality; it is the artist’s inner cognizance which gives life to empty forms. An image of a landscape will have eternal validity only if the artist’s observation can search out the infinite and thus transform the particular into the universal.

In recapturing the topography of the Earth, in re-creating the world around him, the artist can go about it with his eyes closed, as it were, or he can fix his gaze on a specific vista with the relentlessness of a camera lens.

The flights of his imagination may be limited to scenes around his backyard, or he may zoom into the galactic distances. Whether reproducing or inventing, in either case he will have to create a new world; whatever avenue of approach he chooses, the authenticity of his interpretation will not hinge on fidelity to his subject matter, for artistic validity transcends all topographical or architectural vagaries.

An account of one’s immediate surroundings, no matter how faithfully rendered, will not by the same token carry power to convince, if the picture is not imbued with a fertile imagination.

Call to mind some of the compositions of Peter Breughel or Joachim Patinier, who did not collect the elements of their paintings from immediate surroundings.

These painters, reared in the lowlands of Flanders, saw the Alpine scenery only once when they made their customary journey to Italy in the years of their apprenticeship. Yet the remembered or, rather, invented landscapes are more alive than many a painter’s work whose easel stood before a mountain panorama.

On the Art of Landscape Painting 
Essay by Frederic Taubes

Whether freely invented or accurately observed, to gain eternal life all matter must be stripped of its outer shell. Unless the ephemeral is coerced into the timeless and the incidental distilled into the sublime, even the most faithful portrait of your horse will not have the breath of life.

But‚ÄĒand this may be your gift, Painter‚ÄĒ you may conjure up a moonscape if you will, and make it more real for us than a picture of a horse you now behold in your backyard through the panes of your kitchen window.

Reprinted from

New Essays on Art


Publications, Inc. 1955

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