In the first of these two articles looking at a selection of paintings in which views of landscapes are embedded in paintings with contrasting motifs, I showed examples from the early Northern Renaissance up to the early nineteenth century. This article concludes with more from the nineteenth century, when landscape was not only an established genre in its own right, but rapidly became the most popular among new generations of painters. These extend right up to the middle of the twentieth century.
Ford Madox Brown’s painting of The Coat of Many Colours (1864-66) tells the religious story based on the Old Testament account of Joseph and his jealous brothers. The brothers sold Joseph into slavery, then brought his distinctive coat, suitably bloodstained, to their father to convince the latter that their brother had been killed by wild animals. Brown packs many figures into his image, which is set against an embedded landscape based on Thomas Seddon’s paintings made in front of the motif in Palestine. This is not only an appropriate context, but a tribute to the fellow Pre-Raphaelite who tragically died in Cairo of dysentery in 1856.
Although not described as such, I suspect that The Portrait Painter in the Countryside (1891) may have been a self-portrait of Albin Egger-Lienz at work, painting the young woman who is seated rather tensely to the right. The embedded view through the window suggests that this was painted in the Austrian Tyrol, or perhaps in Bavaria.
Edvard Munch painted one of the most unusual embedded landscapes in The Dead Mother (1893), which was inspired by Max Klinger’s print The Dead Mother (1889), and the death of his own mother. In the landscape, the world is bright, sunlit, and green. Inside it is pale blue, and the mother’s skin has assumed the slightly cyanotic pallor of death.
Around 1920, the American artist George Bellows painted more figurative and portrait works, including this Nude with Fan. This wasn’t his first nude (which he painted in 1906, and has now become the second painting by Bellows in a British collection), but is remarkable for its richly-lit embedded landscape with marked aerial perspective, which may have been intended to enhance depth.
Pierre Bonnard was seemingly addicted to embedded landscapes, typically shown through a window. I have chosen just two from the many.
The Open Window from 1921 is one of his better-developed examples. The dark shadow of the blind, the window and curtain behind, and the striped wallpaper below form a strong frame for his view of trees. Bonnard has also just cropped in a pot of flowers, black cat, and a woman – perhaps the blonde Renée Monchaty – in the lowest few centimetres.
The Breakfast Room (Dining Room Overlooking the Garden), from 1930-31, takes this even further. This combines the still life of the laid table in the foreground, the powerful vertical framing of French windows, and the rich terrace landscape beyond. Ghostly repoussoir is provided by thin slivers of figures at the edges of his canvas. This reverses the traditional compositional device of repoussoir in which the figures would be central and the landscape would perform the framing.
The title of this painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale reveals its key figures: Botticelli’s studio: The first visit of Simonetta presented by Giulio and Lorenzo de Medici (1922). Behind Botticelli, Giuliano de’ Medici, Simonetta Vespucci, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Giovanna Tornabuoni and her attendants is an embedded view of the Palazzo Vecchio in the centre of Florence. This is clearly locational, as well as being a reference to the embedded landscapes of the Renaissance.
Although not unique by any means, the New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins had a fondness for embedding landscapes in still lifes.
Painted during the winter of 1931-32, Wings over Water embeds a view from her rooms in Bodinnick, Cornwall. Carefully placed in the foreground is a still life consisting of three large seashells with floral and plant arrangements. Sitting on the fence in the middle of the view is her landlady’s parrot, beyond which is the expanse of the River Fowey. She probably painted this after making an elaborate drawing of the same motif, but there are numerous pentimenti suggesting that she was still resolving its geometry and composition as she was applying paint.
My last examples were painted by Eric Ravilious, a landscape painter, print maker and illustrator who died far too young, during the Second World War.
His watercolour Interior at Furlongs (1939) has the appearance, and many of the traits of, a print, and combines its interior view of a largely empty room in a cottage, with two embedded landscapes, one through the open door, the other through a closed window. The landscape shown is that of the South Downs in East Sussex, Furlongs being the cottage owned by the artist’s friend Peggy Angus. The fragmented view shows woods, a distant hut or cottage, and golden fields of grain crops, so would have been painted in the late summer, at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Ravilious’ landscape (and cottage) is empty, the only sign of life being a coat hung on a hook on the back of the door. In its way, it is as eerie and foreboding as the more overtly visionary landscapes of Samuel Palmer, which were also painted in Kent.
The second of Ravilious’ embedded landscapes is that of Train Landscape (1940), painted during the early part of the war. He had intended producing a book showing the many chalk figures found on the Downs in the south of England. That shown in the form of a triptych, harking back to van Eyck’s Rolin Madonna, is that of a huge horse, near Westbury, Wiltshire (and not even near his pre-war stamping ground of Kent).
Conservation work on this painting has shown that it a composite, assembled using collage, of two different views painted from compartments in trains. One, originally showing the Wilmington Giant, provided the train interior, the other shows the Westbury White Horse seen through the windows. It wasn’t so much embedded as cut and paste.