‘The country blooms – a garden, and a grave’, Oliver Goldsmith ‘The Deserted Village’.
“The whole ambition of the picturesque was to rework the natural world into a ‘landscape’ – a word that came to England at the end of the sixteenth century
from the German, via the Dutch. Early English uses of ‘landskip’ are strongly cultural – the word is used to describe paintings,
particularly the backgrounds of paintings, and thereby any view that could conceivably be painted.”
“The picturesque encouraged the critical appreciation of nature as a spectacle. Observers of a scene – the word ‘scene’ itself reveals the implicit theatricality of viewing – became an audience, by turns appreciative or critical.
Hence natural landscapes became part of culture, and were understood, judged, and painted according to artistic conventions and aesthetic theories.
For a growing proportion of the increasingly urban population, initial encounters with natural landscapes would be through the medium of art: representations delivered either by pastoral poetry or in picturesque images.”
‘In grand scenes, even the peasant cannot be admitted, if he be employed in the low occupations of his profession: the spade, the scythe, and the rake are all excluded.’ What was allowed was pastoral idleness: the lazy cowherd resting on his pole . . . the peasant lolling on a rock’, an angler rather than a fisherman, and gypsies, banditti, and the occasional individual soldier in antique armour. The image of the countryside presented therefore looked very much in need of improvement – slack, inefficient, indigent, lawless, and archaic. Moreover, once ‘improved’ the landscape was likely to be as empty of agricultural labour as the picturesque depicted it since nearly all the peasantry would have been forced off the land.