Objects in focus
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.

A sunny watercolour view of the ruins of Tintern Abbey. Large Gothic arches loom above a small group of men and women gathered on the grassy floor of the abbey. The roofless structure is overgrowth with foliage, and light streams in through the empty windows. A wheelbarrow lies discarded in the foreground.
J M W Turner (1775–1851), Tintern Abbey, the transept. Watercolour on paper, c. 1794.

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.

An ink drawing on paper that evokes a mountainous landscape reaching into the foggy distance. The foreground starts in dark black ink, and each subsequent undulating layer of ink gets progressively lighter until a light grey sky appears in the background.
Minjung Kim (b. 1982), Mountain. Ink on hanji paper, 2009. © Minjung Kim. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

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?

A carved stone relief showing a garden landscape intersected by a large aqueduct. The aqueduct towers in the centre of the panel, and a man with a large beard and hat stands at the top. On either side of the aqueduct are trees and channels of water.
Relief showing orchards and gardens watered by an aqueduct. Nineveh, Iraq, 7th century BC.

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.

A painted wall-panel showing a man standing on a small papyrus boat, with his wife standing to the right, and young daughter sitting underneath his legs. On the left are reeds and a flock of different birds, some flying, some standing. A brown stripey cat jumps up to catch a bird in its mouth.
Fragment of painting from the tomb of Nebamun, Egypt, 1350 BC.

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.

A photograph showing a rocky outcrop in a dry, red stone landscape. The view focuses on rock art of large animals including giraffes and rhinos on an outcrop on the left.
Engravings of animals including giraffe, elephant and rhinoceros showing the surrounding sandstone. Twyfelfontein, Namibia. © TARA/David Coulson.

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.

A wall-painting of a coastal scene, with a white Roman villa in the foreground, and small white pier on the right. A white sailing boat heads away from shore on a calm, light blue sea. People near the villa wave from the shore.
Fresco of a coastal landscape from a villa in Boscoreale, Italy, c. 30 BC.

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.

An abstract black-and-white print of a harbour scene, with a curved boarder of dark lines all around. Sailing boats are depicted with tall conical sails and rest in the harbour, pointing in different directions.
Terry Frost (1915–2003), Bow movement; Black and white movement. Drypoint print, 1956. © Terry Frost. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

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 19141960, British Museum Press).

A large, multi-coloured painting comprised of many small dots of colour. Concentric circles of dark red appear in different sizes across the painting, with the largest in the centre. The background to theses circles varies from green, to white, to red. Some circles are joined by curving lines.
Kunmanara Hogan, Tjaruwa Woods, Yarangka Thomas, Estelle Hogan, Myrtle Pennington, Ngalpingka Simms; Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters). Acrylic on canvas, 2013. © the artists, courtesy of the Spinifex Arts Project.

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.

A colour print of a coastal scene. On the left, a cliff-face where three figures are seen. In the foreground, an outcrop has two woody trees which frame a snow-capped Mount Fuji in the background of the print. On the right, sail boats float on the calm blue sea.
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), No 17 Yui, Satta-mine (Yui: Satta Peak), part of the series Tokaido gojusan-tsugi no uchi (Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Highway). Colour woodblock oban print, 1833–1834.

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.

A painted scroll that depicts a wooded mountain scene in a palette of greens, blues and oranges. The long image begins with finely detailed trees and plants in the foreground, rising up to a small building where a man reads. Further up, the trees emerge from the jagged mountain, and at the top a mountain range is suggested in mist behind the main peak.
Xiang Shengmo (1597–1658), Reading in the Autumn Mountains. Ink on paper scroll, 1623.

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!

A colourful painting showing a fantastic view of a rocky mountain in the centre. All kinds of animals (mythical and real) are perched up the mountain, looking towards a crow sitting at the top. Trees, foliage and birds populate the background.
School of Miskin (active c. 1560–1604), mounted painting in gouache on paper of the crow addressing the animals, Mughal style. Gouache on paper, c. 1590–1620.

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.

A black-and-white photograph of a mountainous and densely forested landscape. Two white ruins emerge from the canopy in the centre. The image fades towards the horizon.
Alfred Maudslay (1850–1931), Black-and-white photograph of the ruins of Tikál in Guatemala. Photograph printed on paper, 1890 –1891.

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.

A colour photograph of a snowy and sparsely forested taiga landscape. A sled pulled by dogs traverses the woody trees from right to left, and snow-covered hills can be seen in the background.
Kiliii Yuyan (b. 1979), Boreal Forest Dash. Archival inkjet print, 2019. © Kiliii Yuyan.

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.

Take a (virtual) step outside and get lost in all kinds of landscapes by searching our Collection online. Let us know your favourites by tweeting @britishmuseum