Architectural painting developed into an artform in Western art in the 16th century. Before then, buildings and structures usually formed a backdrop in paintings to the more important figures or story.
Dutch and Flemish artists first raised the popularity of architectural views with their skill for detail and perspective.
In the 18th century, cityscapes became very popular, especially in Italy. An ideal souvenir if you could afford it, a ‘veduta’ was a detailed view of a cityscape such as Rome or Venice. They were usually large paintings, popular with the wealthy nobility visiting as part of their Grand Tour. Foreign collectors would often be buying to remember their visit but also to show off to people at home about their travels to grand cities.
The Cooper Gallery has amazing examples from different periods and art movements, showing a variety of architecture including Venetian palaces, London factories, mosques and ruined abbeys. Drawings and paintings by English artists JMW Turner, Thomas Girtin and Henry Tonks show sublime skill in the delicate use of pencil and watercolour. The Orientalists John Frederick Lewis and Richard Phené Spiers bring their views of Asia and Africa, contrasting with the industrial landscapes of Nevinson and Sir Charles John Holmes.
‘A Gateway’, early – mid 19th century
Samuel Prout (1783-1852)
Watercolour and ink on paper
This work shows the gateway of a medieval building in Gothic style with figures wearing Mediterranean style dress. Prout was a very popular landscape painter in the 19th century who exhibited work at the Royal Academy and the Watercolour Society. He first travelled to the Continent in 1819. He tended to sketch in the open air and add watercolour to his drawings later.