Joseph Mallard William Turner. The Shipwreck. 1805

Picturesque is an aesthetic debate and ideal first introduced in 1782 by William Gilpin in one of his books where he would write to ‘instruct’ and educate the British traveller to examine the English countryside and its nature. The idea of picturesque beauty strands from the Gothic and the Celticism, and the term started to emerge as a result of the coming culture of Romanticism in the 18th century. In order to understand the term and the aesthetic debate on picturesque ideal we have to look into its context and history. By the time of the 18th century the awakening of the Enlightenment was well on its way, affecting all arts, that including painting and architecture. Picturesque grew out of the ideals of beauty and sublimity, the Enlightenments rationalist started to argue that these to terms were something non-rational and instead instinctive.

This argument was supported by the awakening of our subconscious and philosophies at the time, taking as an example; we do not look at curves and lines and thereof decide that they are beautiful but it is because something within us has awaken. A strong mind and influence in this debate was Edward Burke. He believed in the space between beauty and sublimity that there could be beauty and horror side by side in coexistence.

And for the curious Londoner, you can also see the exhibited work above at Tate;


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