Richard Wilson 18th century Welsh landscape painter
This picture shows another very important device for showing depth: the PATHWAY
Think of it this way: Imagine the view in your picture has attracted the eye of a passing motorist who has pulled in at a lay-by to look. You want to be able to persuade this viewer out of her car and lure her into your landscape. So, provide a pathway. A path, a road, a stream, a shoreline, a wall, a fence – or in more abstract terms, directional lines leading, usually from a bottom edge or corner, into the heart of the scene.
You can lead the eye in at walking pace…
…or at speed
…or meander in slowly following an s-shape…
…or hurtle in downhill. Fences are great hurtlers, with their perspective lines…
In this photo there’s a lovely change of pace. Having pulled us in a great rush to the focal point of the two buildings, the fence then takes the eye off to the left at a gentler pace to the dark foliage top left.
By the way, an S-shape isn’t always a gentle meander. In this ink and wash drawing (below), the assertive nature of the pen and brush strokes pulls us in. Pen is a bold medium and it can’t be rubbed out if it goes wrong, but it can be zestful and assertive.
Sometimes it’s the vertical posts of a fence, ever closer together, that give the distance feel. Another device is a distinctive shape repeated smaller – like these birds:.
Photographers learn these tricks early on. In this photo (below), the repeated shapes of the stones, quickly shrinking as they recede, combine with the forceful perspective lines to rush our eyes towards a vanishing point. But before we hurtle to oblivion, the eye is distracted and pulled back to the left by the static house in the mid distance…
Of course, all this assumes you want to achieve the effect of distance.
Post-romantic artists have questioned the whole business of simulating three-dimensional scenes. They have argued that flatness of subject is more true to the flatness of the medium they are using. They have deliberately taken the elements of landscape and produced something flatter. You can see early experimenting of this sort with Van Gogh’s treatment of clouds, which seem to have the sort of detail and dynamism traditionally reserved for the foreground:
Van Gogh House and Ploughman 1889) Very flat…
By the turn of the twentieth century, landscapes without depth were commonplace. Jawlensky’s Wasserberg (1907 below) is a flat arrangement of areas of texture. The important thing is mood, not depth
Klimt (1915) obviously doesn’t mind that this horizon looks actually nearer than the lake in the foreground: it’s all about textures.
Not that depth was universally abandoned. At the same time, Surrealists like Dali (below) were playing with depth to create something dreamlike or upsettling:
This is by the English neo-Romantic John Craxton (1942) Exaggerated depth from the age of cinematic distortion.
Meanwhile the Cubists had flattened everything completely
Mary Swanzy (Irish cubist painter)
Georges Braque L’Estaque
But even if the Cubists were not bothered about showing depth in the traditional way, there are still pathways and other directional lines that invite the viewer in and around their landscapes.
However realistic or abstract a picture is, it still need to be composed.