Artwork

Marvel at Wye Valley artwork created by Wordsworth's contemporaries, and learn more about the artistic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Wye Valley was the creative inspiration for both written and visual art throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. As landscape painting emerged in Britain in the latter 1700s, artists from around the world flocked to the Wye—including the notable travel writer, water-colorist, and founder of "the picturesque," William Gilpin, and esteemed landscape painter J.M.W. Turner.

William Gilpin

William Gilpin first defined the term, "picturesque" as "that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture" and detailed these "principles of picturesque beauty" in his Essay on Prints (1768), and later in his most famous work, Observations on the River Wye. These principles emerged from rules of landscape painting, and emphasized wholeness, harmony, natural distribution of light, contrast, and perspective. According to Gilpin, the British landscape exemplified many of these qualities, but he clarifies that nature is "seldom so correct in composition, as to produce an harmonious whole" (Observations 31), which is why he supported the use of artistic license to embellish or adjust the scene for the sake of harmony.

Gilpin demonstrated this revisionist principle when he tore out the pages containing black and white prints of the landscape in his own copy of his travel book, Observations on the River Wye, watercolored them, and then placed the watercolored prints back into their proper places in the book.

"The New Weir" by William Gilpin
Observations On The River Wye
The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage

J.M.W. Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner is hailed as "the painter of light." Unlike other landscape painters such as John Constable, Turner does not prioritize pure realism, but instead experiments with abstraction and prioritizes subjective impressions of the landscape. Turner was at the vanguard of the landscape painting movement, and is often credited for elevating landscape painting to the same caliber as history painting, which had long reigned as the most popular and highest form of art. Turner received great praise for his oil paintings, but he was also a master of watercolor. His watercolors of Tintern Abbey's ruins are some of his most popular, but he created many sketches and watercolors of various Wye Valley landscapes in his sketchbooks.

"Tintern Abbey from the River Wye" by J.M.W. Turner
1828
Tate Britain