13 landscapes to lose yourself in
If you’re longing for new vistas, you might enjoy a wander through these lovely landscapes. From the blissful tranquillity of Turner’s Tintern Abbey, to the depiction of marshes in the tomb of Egyptian nobleman Nebuman over 3,000 years ago, they provide some much-needed escapism.
Rising from the banks of the lush Wye Valley in the south of Wales, roofless and magical, Tintern Abbey has stirred the imagination for generations. Wordsworth wrote of the 12th-century abbey’s situation on the ‘sylvan Wye’, beneath ‘steep and lofty cliffs’ and J M W Turner made this magnificent watercolour in around 1794 while still a teenager. Turner was as much impressed by the way nature had reclaimed the abbey as by its grandeur – and his time as an architectural draughtsman is evident in this detailed study.
Deep understanding of materials and media can give stunning results, as South Korean artist Minjung Kim shows. Kim trained in calligraphy for 15 years, getting to know ink and mulberry paper (hanji) so well that she says, ‘today, I only have to touch the paper with my fingers to know how it will absorb the water, how the ink will spread on it’. In Mountain, ink was brushed on while the paper was wet, bleeding upwards to create delicate tidelines suggesting a hilly landscape – where does it remind you of?
This palace relief from ancient Assyria shows gardens watered by an aqueduct built by then-king Sennacherib. Dating to the 7th century BC, it shows aqueducts in lush parkland, watered by several channels that cut across the landscape. The panel would have originally been painted with rich colours, recreated here. A feat of engineering, the aqueduct was constructed over 500 years before the Romans started building their aqueducts – read more about Assyria’s ancient gardens here.
Around 600 years earlier in 1350 BC in Thebes, Egypt, a great tomb was created in honour of the recently deceased nobleman Nebamun. To accompany him on his journey in the afterlife was a fine painting of showing him fowling and fishing in the marshes. Nebamun stands, throw-stick in hand, on a small papyrus boat with his wife Hatshepsut behind him and their daughter between his legs. You can explore ancient Egyptian painting and get crafty with our learning resource for 7–11 year olds.
The oldest scientifically dated rock art in Africa dates from around 30,000 years ago and is found in Namibia – where there are more than 1,200 rock art sites countrywide. Mostly made by brush painting or engraving the surface of the rock, the sites depict a range of images – human figures, large animals like giraffe and antelope, personal ornaments and musical instruments, geometric shapes, animal tracks as well as human hand and foot prints.
See more spectacular landscapes and photography from our African Rock Art Project, get close to hundreds of examples of in-situ rock art and even go on a VR tour of selected sites from the comfort of your home here.
Wealthy Romans loved to decorate interiors with wall paintings, such as this panel dating from around 30 BC, from a villa at Boscoreale, near Pompeii. In this charming scene a boat leaves harbour, its sail billowing in the wind, watched from a seaside villa by several people, one of whom raises an arm to wave goodbye. We can almost feel the brisk sea breeze from the artist’s impressionistic brushstrokes.
Another harbour – this time in St Ives – is captured here by Sir Terry Frost (1915–2003), a key member of the ‘St Ives School’ of artists associated with the fishing town in Cornwall, on the south west coast of England. This drypoint print is based on the boats moored in the harbour, a subject Frost had explored since the early 1950s.
He described in 1954 the sensations he had tried to capture in an earlier treatment of the theme: “I had spent a number of evenings looking out over the harbour at St Ives… Although I had been observing a multiplicity of movement during those evenings, they all evoked a common emotion or mood – a state of delight in front of nature.” (Frances Carey & Antony Griffiths, Avant-Garde British Printmaking 1914–1960, British Museum Press).
This painting, titled Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters), depicts a spiritual landscape in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia. It was painted collaboratively in 2013 by a group of senior Aboriginal women of the Spinifex People.
It shows the story of Seven Sisters, a major ancestral (or Dreaming) narrative. The Sisters sang and danced across the land, followed by a lustful man. The women escape his unwanted attention by launching themselves from a hill into the sky, where they become the Seven Sisters constellation (the Pleiades). Such paintings from the deserts of Australia commonly depict the great travelling paths of ancestral beings. In the guise of humans, plants or animals, they crossed the land creating its features such as hills and waterholes. Some of these ancestral journeys cover thousands of miles.
Another coastal landscape – and another print – but wonderfully evocative again. This colour woodblock print was made in Japan by renowned artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). It shows three tiny figures high on the Satta pass. A woodcutter trudges with a large load, oblivious to the spectacular view, but the other two travellers gaze and gesticulate towards Mount Fuji, perfectly symmetrical and elegantly white on the horizon across Suruga Bay. Find out how Japanese woodblock prints are made in our curator’s blog.
From the Japanese coastline in the 19th century to the mountains of China 200 years earlier, take a deep breath and immerse yourself in this painted scroll titled ‘Reading in the Autumn Mountains’. Made by Ming dynasty artist Xiang Shengmo (1597–1658), this painting transports you to the forest near Mount Baiyue (now Mount Qiyun) in Anhui province in the east of China. See the birds fly and the mountains soar!
Staying in the mountains, we join a throng of creatures, from dragons and cheetahs, to crocodiles, vultures and frogs, gathered around a rocky outcrop to listen to the wise crow, perched on the peak. This Mughal dynasty gouache painting, attributed to India’s School of Miskin in around 1590–1620, may be an episode from the popular fable of the crows and the owls, whose quarrel begins when a crow speaks out against the election of an owl as the leader of the animals.
The birth of photography in the mid 19th century meant new ways to document the world. This photograph was taken in the late 1800s by British archaeologist Alfred Maudslay (1850–1931), who took over 800 photos of Maya ruins and also created plaster casts of these amazing monuments, documenting the ancient urban environments. This photo looks towards the Maya site of Tikál in Guatemala.
You can read more about Maudslay’s work, including how casts of Maya sites are being used today, in our virtual exhibition.
To finish our round-up of landscapes is this spellbinding photo taken by Kiliii Yuyan (b. 1979). It shows Taiga (referred to as the Boreal forest in North America) which has small, but in some places, thick tree growth. You might have seen Yuyan’s amazing photography used for our upcoming exhibition about the Arctic. He showcases the diverse landscapes and hidden stories of the northernmost region of the world in photography and film, exploring Arctic Peoples’ relationship with the natural world.
See more of Yuyan’s photography and learn more about the Arctic in our curator’s blog.