The Picturesque

The picturesque is one of those terms tossed about in garden history and art history books, often without much by way of explanation of the terminology…after all we all know what picturesque means don’t we? Except that if you start reading around you’ll find that no-one agrees.

The word was first used in 1703 and meant literally “in the manner of a picture; fit to be made into a picture,” but it developed other associations over time so that eventually, according to the Tate Gallery, it meant an ideal type of landscape that has an artistic appeal, in that it is beautiful but also with some elements of wildness. Arguments developed about aesthetics and landscapes in the late 18thc and what became known as “the picturesque movement” became a peculiarly British reaction to the Romantic attitudes sweeping Europe. It soon got mixed up with ideas of the beautiful and the sublime making it impossible to ever define satisfactorily. However by looking at art, literature, gardens and landscapes I’ll try to untangle the mess – and try and show what it means and at least you’ll see some wonderful paintings!