Landscape, like any other genre in art, develops its own language over time – visual codes that people understand (sometimes without even being aware of them) when looking at landscape paintings or drawings. Some of these codes (or conventions, as they are called) are used to create the illusion of space – so that we imagine we are seeing into the distance, even though we know we are looking at a flat surface.
Other codes and conventions are used to show what the artists feel or think about the landscape they are depicting.
Landscapes are depicted for all sorts of reasons. Some artists simply want to express its beauty, and to share this with others by recording it in paint or charcoal or ink.
Artists in colonial times – for instance, those who sailed to Africa in ships in the 18th and 19th centuries – painted views of the continent that were meant for audiences back home in Europe. There were no cameras in those days, and travel was difficult and dangerous. So these brought images of distant lands to audiences who would otherwise never have seen them.
Sometimes they focussed on scenes that would appear exotic or strange or quaint to European eyes, occasionally including images of the local inhabitants. Early travellers saw the landscape as romantic, or threatening, sustaining, awe-inspiring – but largely empty.
Artists like Thomas Baines, Frederick I’Ons, Thomas Bowler and Samuel Daniel were among the most well-known who drew and painted the South African landscape. These artists painted the country in a way that emphasised its grandeur, but underplayed its people.
The painting above shows I’Ons’ fellow-explorer, artist Thomas Baines, fishing on the Kariega River.
Points of view about the View
Artists have helped us to express or understand the relationship of human beings to the land, throughout the ages, and in countless ways.
What might the land mean to us? Do you have any personal relationship to a piece of land, anywhere? What does it mean to you? We know that the land provides food and protection, sustains our animals, homes are built on it, family graves are in it, and in some cases it contains our ancestral or spiritual presences. But many of us live our lives far from that kind of land. Some of us may live in cities, in apartment blocks, in concrete high-rise neighbourhoods, or in homes with, at best, small gardens. Do we still have a connection to the land?
Many South African people have a complex and fraught relationship with the land in our history. People through out our history, who had a deep emotional and indeed life-sustaining connection with their land, saw it violently snatched away