Ideal landscape vs. 'realistic landscape'  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Classical Ruins

In landscape painting, a difference is made between an ideal landscape (also called historical landscape) and a realistic landscape. The ideal landscape is connected with the picturesque, vedute and capricci.

Claude Lorrain (1600 – 1682) practised the genre of the ideal landscape, where a composition would be loosely based on nature and dotted with classical ruins as a setting for a biblical or historical theme. It artfully combined landscape and history painting, thereby legitimising the former. It is synonymous with the term historical landscape which received official recognition in the Académie française when a Prix de Rome for the genre was established in 1817.

During the time of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875), landscape painting was on the upswing and generally divided into two camps: one―historical landscape by Neoclassicists in Southern Europe representing idealized views of real and fancied sites peopled with ancient, mythological, and biblical figures; and two― realistic landscape, more common in Northern Europe, which was largely faithful to actual topography, architecture, and flora, and which often showed figures of peasants.

In both approaches, landscape artists would typically begin with outdoor sketching and preliminary painting, with finishing work done indoors. Highly influential upon French landscape artists in the early 19th century was the work of Englishmen John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, who reinforced the trend in favor of Realism and away from Neoclassicism.


But it was not until the seventeenth century that landscape-painting became really important. That century witnessed the rise of two great Schools which were to dominate landscape art for generations to come, the School of so-called Ideal or Classical landscape headed by Claude, and the Naturalistic School, of which the Dutch painters were the pioneers. The rival schools hang side by side in every great collection. ... That Claude and his followers were incapable of a more literal and realistic rendering of nature were no fair inference. No modern art student could display greater keenness in observation than the great Italianised French master, who spent long days and nights studying the scenery of the Roman Campagna. The distinction is not between what the rival schools could or could not do, but what each wished and set out to do. The atmosphere of Claude's landscape is that of an Italian garden with its straight walks, clipped edges, marble fountains and symmetrical groves, beautiful in its artificiality, but neither challenging nor losing by comparison with the informal beauty of an English lane or wooded upland. --How to Look at Pictures[1]

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