The Tradition of Landscape: Sandby and Cockburn

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Colonization brought the English tradition of landscape painting, that was characterized by its neat and orderly approach to nature, to North America. Landscape painting was a popular and well established art form in England and became an independent genre in the eighteenth century. Once the Romantic sensibility gained momentum in Europe, the idea of the picturesque arose. It sought to portray the casual beauty of nature, which led to the poetic experience we now associate with artwork from this period. However, much of the English landscape created in Canada was created for much more practical reasons and most were brought back to Europe. It is known as topography. Most topographical art was created using watercolours. This approach to landscape arose out of military tradition and was taught at schools such as the Royal Military Academy in Woolrich. Many of the notable artists of this period, such as Paul Sandby (1730-1809) and James Pattison Cockburn (1779-1847), were also people who served in the army and it was their responsibility to capture the features of the landscape in their paintings. The features depicted would have been considered by European officers in terms of their influence on military operations. Roads, trails and fortifications were considered very important features to topography. Although much of the work was created to be factual and accurate, it is still influenced by the sensibilities of romanticism and the picturesque.