Fine Art Friday: Masters of the Watercolor Landscape

Watercolor is a medium in fine art that requires patience and dedication to master. Landscape painting—be it watercolor, acrylic landscape painting, or landscape painting in oil—is a discipline that requires the same thing. So painters of watercolor landscapes often have a doubly difficult time in their chosen field.

If you find yourself in need of a little inspiration, take a look at some watercolor landscapes from the masters.

Watercolors have long been used both as a technique for sketching a landscape to be finished in the studio or to produce a finished painting en plein air. Because of their portability, they are ideal for sketching outdoors. All you need is a little water, a brush, some paper and your paints.

Partly-Completed Painting of a Mountain Town

Rudolf Von Alt’s View of Ischl, 1830

In Rudolf Von Alt’s View of Ischl above, we get a fascinating glimpse of a watercolor landscape in progress. We can see his pencil construction lines and his initial washes of the landscape and town. Who can say why this painting was never finished?

Anyone who has painted outside knows how unpredictable the weather can be. Maybe a sudden rainstorm forced Von Alt indoors, or maybe he felt the painting worked as is.

Early Stages Painting of Road and Doorway

Carl Larsson’s View of Montcourt, 1884

In View of  Montcourt, Carl Larsson shows us just how atmospheric watercolors can be. Larsson’s roiling colors and energetic brushstrokes underscore his impressionist influences and demonstrate how gestural brushwork can be as effective as showing lots of detail.

Painting of Trees, Fench and Open Road

William Merritt Chase’s In Washington Park, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1888

William Merritt Chase’s watercolor of Washington Park is the perfect example of a brief watercolor landscape sketch. Chase uses a limited palette and mostly quick brushstrokes and washes to economically capture this scene. He also made some strong choices compositionally, placing his subject matter in the top half of the painting. The viewer gets the feeling of being under the canopy of leaves right there with the artist.

Painting of Sky and Lush Green Landscape

Camille Pisarro’s Eragny Sunset, 1890

If Chase’s sketch is economical, Pisarro’s sketch seems utterly effortless and elegant in its simplicity. Pisarro’s sky is a soft gray-blue, broken through by the burnt orange of a hazy sunset. The horizon melts into the sky — the viewer can’t even tell distant hills and trees from clouds, in a wonderfully concise demonstration of atmospheric perspective.

Painting of Deep Blue Bay in Stormy Weather

Winslow Homer’s The Coming Storm, undated

Few watercolorists were as daring with the brush or as sophisticated in their understanding of color as Winslow Homer. His approach to watercolor was far more aggressive than many of his contemporaries. Rather than bide his time laying down soft washes and building up veils of color slowly, Homer would go in with a brush loaded with paint, pushing saturated, almost opaque brushstrokes around with abandon.

His bold colors are especially appropriate here, as ominous rain clouds move in across the cobalt lake and seashore. The rust-colored shore grasses, greasy-gray rocks and wind-swept trees almost part the way for the storm as it rolls toward the viewer.

Painting of Brown Farm Countryside, Hills in Background

John Singer Sargent’s The Plains of Nazareth, 1905

No post about watercolor landscapes could possibly leave out John Singer Sargent. For a painter known for oil portraits, it’s strange to think that he may also have been among the best on-location watercolor painters ever.

An American who relocated to Europe early on, Sargent traveled extensively and sketched everywhere he went, mostly for his personal enjoyment. He left behind an amazing collection of watercolors documenting his journeys.

In The Plains of Nazareth, one can see firsthand just how skilled he was. The foreshortened plowed fields dissolve into the haze and glare as they approach the horizon of the parched landscape and the bare blue hills in the distance shimmer in the harsh light. It’s easy to understand how he has gained a reputation as one of the great landscape watercolorists.

What do you enjoy most about painting watercolor landscapes. Where will you take your watercolors next?

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