Nature paintings bring the beauty of the outdoors into any living or work space. They may feature stunning landscapes, foliage, and animals, or abstracted images which allow us to see our natural world from a unique perspective.
Artists have created paintings of nature in a variety of styles and mediums for centuries. The practice of depicting nature in art began with Paleolithic cave paintings of wildlife. In East Asian cultures, literati painters used monochrome inks and watercolours to create landscape scenes. Artists around the world created small scientific study drawings and paintings of various flora and fauna in an effort to document and categorize newly discovered species. These images were also useful in determining the medicinal properties of certain plants. During the 17th century, Western painters turned to the landscape genre, painting scenes from the natural world in oil and watercolor. Later artists experimented with different approaches to the genre, painting outdoors and manipulating the composition to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. Artists today still visit the age-old practice of documenting nature, be it plants or animals, in their paintings.
Nature paintings can be created with any painting medium, though watercolor and oil paints have more of a history in the field. The cave paintings at Lascaux, for example, were rendered with a primitive form of watercolor paint ground from natural pigments. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean literati painters refined this watercolor technique, experimenting with different amounts of water to produce a range of monochrome washes. Later watercolorists utilized more vibrant colors to depict the natural world. To create oil paintings of nature, landscape artists often used a photograph as a model or worked outdoors. The Impressionists are known for working in this “en plein air” style, painting rapidly to capture a specific moment.
Artists Known For
The French Barbizon School and artists like Jean-Baptiste-Corot established the landscape tradition in French painting. The Hudson River School, a collective of American landscape painters, painted scenes from the Hudson River Valley. Joseph Mallord William Turner, famous for his watercolor paintings of nature like “Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire” (1809), is considered to be a master of this genre. Later artists, including Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Andre Derain took a modernist, more abstracted approach to depicting nature. Cezanne’s “Mont-Sainte-Victoire” (1895), Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows” (1890), and Derain’s “Landscape near Chatou” (1904) all feature expressive, vibrant colors and fast, messy brushstrokes. Impressionist Claude Monet painted several nature series en plein air, taking poplar trees, lilies, and haystacks as his subjects. Georgia O’Keeffe painted cropped, close-up views of flowers in watercolor. Other artists known for their nature paintings include Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Henri Matisse, Camille Pissarro, Albrecht Durer, and Paul Gauguin.