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picturesque


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Term covering a set of aesthetic ideas about landscape, both real and painted, that flourished in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Devotees of the Picturesque found pleasure in roughness and irregularity, and they tried to establish it as a critical category between the ‘Beautiful’ and the ‘Sublime’. Picturesque scenes were thus neither serene (like the Beautiful) nor awe-inspiring (like the Sublime), but full of variety, curious details, and interesting textures—medieval ruins were quintessentially Picturesque. Natural scenery tended to be judged in terms of how closely it approximated to the paintings of favoured artists such as Gaspard Dughet, and in 1801 George Mason's Supplement to Samuel Johnson's English Dictionary defined Picturesque as: ‘what pleases the eye; remarkable for singularity; striking the imagination with the force of painting; to be expressed in painting; affording a good subject for a landscape; proper to take a landscape from’. The Picturesque Tour in search of suitable subjects was a feature of English landscape painting of the period, exemplified, for example, in the work of Girtin and (early in his career) of Turner, and the Picturesque generated a large literary output; much of it was pedantic and obsessive and it became a popular subject for satire. Romanticism has some of its roots in the Picturesque.

Subjects: Art.


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