The landscape painting tradition has passed through the hands of the Romantics, the Avant-Gardes, the postmodernists, and many more art movements – and a lot has changed in the world since they took to the canvas. A handful of places depicted in landscape paintings by famous artists have stood the test of time. Check out these ten real-life locations from famous landscape paintings that can still be visited today.
1.Fishermen at Sea (1796) – Joseph Mallord William Turner
Current painting location: The Tate Collection, UK
As one of the pioneers of Romanticism, J.M.W. Turner had an affinity for the Sublime. In art, the Sublime is a feeling of delightful horror – beautiful catastrophes that envelope the viewer’s mind and make them hopelessly awed by the raw power of nature. Turner’s famous nature paintings bring about that feeling.
Fishermen at Sea is one of Turner’s earliest oil paintings. It was also the first to be exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. The nocturnal scene depicts fishermen on a small boat at sea, fighting against the high waves. The bright moonlight contrasts with the meager, flickering lantern on the boat – symbolic of the fragile vulnerability of the fishermen against the raging sea. Distant, jagged cliffs rise out from the vastness of the sea beyond. Everything here is about the overwhelming power of nature, a key theme of the Sublime.
If you want to experience just a fraction of Turner’s Sublime, make for The Needles in the Isle of Wight in the English Channel. Those are the very same jagged silhouettes of treacherous rocks seen in Fishermen at Sea. The Needles are three stacks of chalk rocks that rise about 30 meters out of the sea. While they may be easy to get to, we don’t recommend going by boat on a moonlit, stormy night.
2. The Starry Night (1889) – Vincent van Gogh
Current painting location: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York
On 23 December 1988, Vincent van Gogh admitted himself to the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole lunatic asylum after self-mutilating his left ear. While there, he was given his own studio and became well-liked by the staff, despite numerous bouts of harrowing mental and physical outbursts. During his stay at Saint-Paul, he produced some 250 paintings, one of them being The Starry Night. If you’re looking for landscape paintings by famous artists, this is the unequivocal jackpot.
The Starry Night is perhaps the world’s most famous landscape painting. The Post-Impressionist masterpiece captures the artist’s hallucinatory dream state and demonstrates Van Gogh’s mastery of a violently expressive form. The painter of sunflowers was also fascinated by the stars. His Starry Night over the Rhone (1888) features swirls of stars akin to the sketches of tiny whirlpool galaxies done by astronomers of the past. Van Gogh, who was disillusioned by Christianity at this point in his life, was said to have sought religion in the skies and celestial objects.
If you want to see the town in The Starry Night, you’ll be hard-pressed to find Van Gogh’s exact depiction in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. This highly stylized beautiful landscape painting, while based on Saint-Rémy, is an amalgamation of elements from the artist’s homeland, the Netherlands, and what Van Gogh saw from the east-facing window of his Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum room. However, you’ll see lots of other true-to-life scenes in the wheatfields and town squares in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and nearby Arles, where the unmissable aura of Van Gogh still resides.
3. Girl in a Boat, with Geese (1889) – Berthe Morisot
Current painting location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Female landscape painters are few and far between. Historically, female artists were limited to painting indoor scenes as it was believed that the outdoor fatigue of the landscape painter’s lifestyle was ill-suited for women. Landscape painting also required authority and understanding of the traveled land; to spend days and even weeks painting a landscape as it is lived in, and have it rendered by an authoritative perspective to create a narrative between the artist and the beholder. This is perhaps why so few female artists had the chance to make it in the landscape painting genre.
In spite of her gender, Berthe Morisot was among the most established of the Impressionists – in fact, she helped found the movement. She was married to Eduard Manet’s brother, who created some of the world’s most famous nature paintings. Morisot was the only woman to have had her works exhibited in the Salon de Paris alongside Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne, and Renoir. Despite this, her legacy remains relatively unknown and some of her works were once attributed to her male contemporaries. Manet’s own sexism prevented him from seeing her true potential, as he said, “…the Morisot (sisters) are delightful. What a shame they aren’t men; nonetheless they might, as women, serve the cause of painting by each marrying an academician.”
Her art effortlessly captured the world of women in a male-dominated medium. The landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot urged Morisot to expand her en plein air (outdoor painting) technique by painting the outside world. Her more famous nature paintings showcase her keen Impressionist eye. Girl in a Boat, with Geese is breezy and fresh with lashings of pastel luminosity. Notice how in this beautiful landscape painting, Morisot pushes the boundary between sketch and brush strokes – a technique unique to her.
The real-life location that inspired this painting is unknown. However, Morisot frequently painted in the Bois de Boulogne, a large public park on the western edge of the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Characteristics of the park include thick, forested foliage, lots of geese, and being popular among painters; not to mention that 19th and 20th-century Parisians loved rowing boats on the lake. We think Bois de Boulogne is a pretty good bet.
4. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886) – Georges Seurat
Current painting location: The Art Institute of Chicago
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is one of the finest examples of Pointillism. Pointillism is… well, imagine if the Impressionists took just one brush technique – the dots – and ran with it. Paris is a goldmine for landscape paintings by famous artists, and this historic scene is set along the sparkling Seine. Between 1884 and 1886, Seurat studied and captured the landscape of Île de la Grande Jatte in Paris, meticulously developing Neo-Impressionism in the process. It was the rebellious response to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
From afar, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte doesn’t look like it’s made up of a million, tiny dots. Everything looks too unified and well-blended. That’s what makes this larger-than-life masterpiece one of the most famous landscape paintings. A personal favorite detail is the well-dressed woman in the foreground walking her pet monkey on a leash. While you might not be able to take your monkey or other exotic pets to the park anymore, you can still visit the very spot depicted in this painting.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is set along a small stretch of green parkland at the island’s northwestern tip, facing the town of Courbevoie. It was where wealthy 19th-century Parisians retreated to when they grew tired of Paris’s urban bustle. Today, well… thanks to a number of celebrity residents on the island, it’s pretty much still used for the same thing.
5. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1830–1831) – Katsushika Hokusai
Current painting location: numerous original impressions of the print are in museum collections around the world, including Tokyo National Museum, Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and in Claude Monet’s Giverny home.
In a world dominated by the Western canon, non-European art often takes a backseat. However, one of East Asia’s prevailing artworks is Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa. This woodblock print is actually part of a series titled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku Sanju-roku Kei).
Hokusai was born in Edo, or present-day Tokyo, and trained in the Ukiyo-e style, which translates into ‘pictures of the floating world’. In its simplest sense, it’s a crossover between folklore, idealized scenes, travel landscapes, and nature. These were elements that pointed towards the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by Japan’s newly wealthy. Ukiyo-e became central in forming the western perspective of Japanese art. The French ascribed the term ‘Japonism’ to the phenomenon, and the style was highly influential in the works of early Impressionists such as Morisot, Degas, Manet, and Monet, as well as Post-Impressionists such as Van Gogh, and Art Nouveau artists like Toulouse-Lautrec.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is the most globally emblematic work to come out of the Ukiyo-e style (if tattoos are any measure to go by). It depicts three boats being threatened by a large, rogue wave while Mount Fuji sinks into the backdrop of the violent ocean. Despite its popularity, there is still some debate as to where exactly the scene was set for this beautiful landscape painting. The obvious answer would be, ‘off Kanagawa’, but scholars and critics disagree about the exact location. The widely accepted guess is, as the name indicates, in the Kanagawa prefecture. Things might look different today thanks to Japan’s rapid modernization, but just keep Mt. Fuji to your northwest, the bay of Sagami to the south, and the bay of Tokyo to the east, to get one of Hokusai’s 36 views.
6. Christina’s World (1948) – Andrew Wyeth
Current painting location: MoMA, New York
Speaking of landscape paintings by famous artists, the image of a pale, young woman lying in a grassy field against the stark landscape of a coastal Maine farm is one of the great American paintings. Wyeth’s Christina’s World is considered to be one of the most famous landscape paintings to emerge out of the 20th-century American Realism genre.
Equal parts eerie and serene, the artist rendered all the elements in the composition to feed into the beholder’s gaze. From the woman’s tense pose, to the main house that seems to have caught her attention, and the curved line where the short and tall grass meets that leads our gaze back to the woman, every part of this famous nature painting is in perpetual motion and feels lived-in. And that’s because Wyeth did live here.
The woman in the painting is Anna Christina Olson, Wyeth’s neighbor, and the farm in the background is her family home in Maine. As a young girl, Olson developed a degenerative muscle condition – possibly polio – that left her unable to walk. Olson, however, refused to use a wheelchair, preferring to crawl down and up the field instead. One day, inspiration struck Wyeth and he sketched the scene as he saw it. However, Olson was 55 at the time, so Wyeth used his wife Betsy as a stand-in – hence Christina’s youthful frame.
The painting is detailed in ways that we’re still discovering. Wyeth put great thought into the subject and her surroundings. He captured Christina’s nervous energy, and said that “the challenge [was] to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.” It is more psychological than landscape.
Today, you can step into Christina’s world in New England’s windswept, austere farmland. The Olson House as seen in the background of Wyeth’s painting can be found in Cushing, Maine. Christina is long gone, and the Farnsworth Art Museum owns the property now, which means it’s open to the public.
7. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) – Caspar David Friedrich
Current painting location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Another beautiful landscape painting is the atmospheric panorama of a man standing alone on a rocky precipice, gazing out over a mysterious sea of fog. It’s by 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich.
Much like Turner, Friedrich merged landscapes with the Sublime, creating something that was larger and more intense than our field of vision. His emotive canvases often featured the Rückenfigur, a person seen from behind. Through this faceless figure, we see the imposing potential of nature as idealized by the human mind.
Friedrich said, “The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.” Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is a mountaineer’s dream – to stand above the horizon where so few have stood, and stare down at the dangerous and beautiful path that was trodden. It’s a concept that had barely existed in the early 1800s.
To get Friedrich’s vantage point, head to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia. Hike through the countryside until you reach the top of the Kaiserkrone, and face the hill in the far right, the Zirkelstein. It might not be as how Friedrich painted it, but remember to use your wanderer’s eyes to see as the Romantics did.
8. The Scream (1893) – Edvard Munch
Current painting location: National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo
While The Scream isn’t naturally categorized as a famous landscape painting, Munch did render the background to be one of the most iconic physical and psychological landscapes in art. Everything from the claustrophobic framing of the subjects and the way the fjord dissolves into the blood-red sky speaks volumes about Munch’s mental state at the time.
Munch was a man with a traumatic past, one which would haunt him for the rest of his life. He had experienced alcoholism, loss, and hospitalization. The Scream was painted sometime after his sister was committed to a lunatic asylum. Before this, he had lost another one of his sisters to tuberculosis. On the day that Munch was inspired to paint The Scream, he was out walking with his friends on a road similar to the one in the painting.
He described the moment that followed as if becoming physically detached and hyper-aware of nature’s true state: “I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord – the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked.”
Munch’s work was not well-received in his lifetime. He strayed too far from convention and represented the invisibles of society. Now, he is the pride of Norway. Some 100 years later, you can walk on the very same path that Munch did when he was incited to paint this terrifying and famous nature painting. It was set on an overlook (not a bridge or pier, as it’s often assumed) in Valhallveien Road on Ekeberg Hill, Oslo. The path is marked by a copper plaque that says ‘Skrik’.
9. Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie’s II (1930) – Georgia O’Keeffe
Current painting location: Tate Modern, London
The Mother of American Modernism painted more than close-ups of vulva-shaped flowers and colorful swathes of blooms. She captured the wild, unrestrained aura of female identity in the scenes around her as well. Her beautiful landscape paintings are often overlooked, as her flowers tend to take center stage.
During her tumultuous relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe painted gloomy, vertical urban scenes of her life in New York. These paintings drew inspiration from Stieglitz’s urban photography. Later in her life, she discovered her love for the New Mexican landscape. The open, sunbleached plateaus and rugged landscapes beckoned her, and eventually she made a home in Abiquiú, near the Badlands.
She spent most of her time exploring this different world, collecting rocks and animal bones from the desert, making them the subject of her work and architectural elements of her home. Here, O’Keeffe created some of her most famous landscape paintings, one of them being Black Mesa Landscape.
Unlike most landscape paintings by famous artists, Black Mesa Landscape departs from the traditional representations of landscapes. Her framing is uniquely modern – O’Keeffe isolated a single section of the mountains, plucking them out from the desert’s vastness. This smaller, narrower frame allows us to focus inward rather than on the totality of the landscape. Special attention is shown to the colors; the cold and warm tones contrast with each other, simultaneously pushing and pulling the viewer. There are soft curves and dramatic folds of land, evocative of flowing water and crinkled fabric. This juxtaposition of opposing elements is characteristic of the dichotomies often found in O’Keeffe’s work.
Black Mesa Landscape is the Rio Grande Valley through a Modernist’s eyes. O’Keeffe painted from her friend Marie Tudor Garland’s ranch, and this sun-beaten land inspired dozens of her paintings over the next two years.
10. Looking Down Yosemite Valley (1865) – Albert Bierstadt
Current painting location: Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
Albert Bierstadt was a German-American painter who made famous landscape paintings of the sweeping American West. He trained in the Hudson River School, which was closely modeled after Romanticism but was called Luminism instead. Unlike Turner and Friedrich’s Sublime which used visible brush strokes and sometimes chaotic elements to create a beautiful landscape painting, American Luminism was about concealment of method and aimed to convey tranquility and softness.
Bierstadt joined many Westward Expansion expeditions and painted scenes of the early American wilderness along the way. Some of his most captivating works are those of the mountains before they were national parks and holiday destinations. His epic landscapes sometimes came under criticism for using excessive light and dramatic elements, and his portrayal of Native Americans was deemed too empathetic and esteemed. It was no wonder that he fell out of favor with society and art patrons.
However, Bierstadt’s work helped spark love and appreciation for the great outdoors. His monumental painting of the sun setting over Yosemite Valley will inspire wanderlust in even the most urban-loving city-dwellers. It’s large too – one of Bierstadt’s biggest canvases in fact, measuring in at 1.6 x 2.5 meters. The size of the painting was perhaps to do justice to Bierstadt’s experience of the phenomenon. Yosemite Valley continues to be a source of wonder and beauty to almost everyone who sets eyes on it. It’s a pilgrimage site for nature lovers and especially outdoor climbers who are fascinated by El Cap’s awe-inspiring routes, like the treacherous Nose, the historic Salathé Wall, and the Dawn Wall which catches the first light of day. Though it was created 155 years ago, this famous nature painting is still relevant in capturing the timeless mood of Yosemite.
To stand in the spot that Bierstadt did when creating this beautiful landscape painting, head to Yosemite Valley just before sunset. Bierstadt painted the view from a vantage point just above the Merced River, looking west. Keep the massive slab of rock that is El Capitan to your right, and the towering Sentinel Rock to your left; the spire of Middle Cathedral Rock should be visible in the distance.
Bonus tip: Find your own famous landscape painting in Suprematism
Liberate yourself from the clearly defined limitations of traditional landscape representations and gaze into the elemental infinity afforded by the art of the Avant Garde. Take a painting, like Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1913) for example, and closely examine your own complicity in the meaning-making process of art.
Landscape or no landscape, notice how the differing exchange of cultural capital has broken society into an insignificant accumulation of empty signs. Is this more representative of the iconic landscapes of our times?