Still spots or already landscape?

Landscape painting follows strict formulas. At least it was in the 18th century when the hierarchy of genres drew clear boundaries, established rules and demanded a certain procedure. It should reflect the painter’s ability to deal with animate to inanimate nature. Landscape painting was based on history painting, portrait and genre painting and ended up on the penultimate square before still life painting. The aim was to paint after nature and to surpass it.

The natural was transformed into an idealized nature

Alexander Cozens, stubborn landscape painter and not entirely unprominent godchild of Peter the Great, went his own way in it. As an eccentric he tried to develop landscapes out of abstract forms instead of just through nature. Paint and paper played a central and active role in the design and development of a cloud or mountain formation. In the case of colour, he caused large splashes of colour to melt on damp paper. He crumpled the paper and then pulled it smooth again. The resulting fusions of spots of colour or crease lines in the paper produced their own patterns.

In the second step, he drew the shape of a landscape associatively by laying a transparent paper over the abstract formations and drawing it off. Cozens then created romantic fields, forests, huts and rivers out of spots of colour and folds. The result was the idea of a landscape, created from the interplay of his imagination and the material’s own activity. In 1788 he published his approach in his treatise “New Methods of Assisting in the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape”.

This method makes it clear that Alexander Cozens saw himself differently from many contemporaries, not as the creator of things, but as an organ. A medium that must absorb and process the inspiration and energy of the material. Because the material has a life of its own. A thoroughly postmodern thought that can later be found in artists such as John Cage and Jackson Pollock.