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landscape & ideology - notes on Ann BERMINGHAM

The countryside as a cultural ideal [...] believed in more as it exists less, it has become one of our modern superstitions

Thomas Gainsborough - Wooded Landscape with a Seated Figure

Picturesque nature embodied the values and worldview of the wealthy landowning class

the picturesque aesthetic muted the problems caused by enclosure and the agricultural revolution and harkened back to a golden age. Such problems as appeared were seen to come, not from within the countryside, but from changes and developments existing elsewhere. The anti-industrialism implicit in the picturesque grew out of the split between agrarian and industrial capitalism, which would widen considerably after the Napoleonic wars, and the nostalgia of the picturesque anticipated and compensated for the resulting shift of power away from the countryside after Waterloo. Where power was, there beauty shall reside.

the countryside, or rather the urban vision of it, came to provide the setting for problems that were not specifically rural at all. Instead of focusing on rural experience, the representation of the countryside modeled urban culture. No longer played off against the city as its traditional opposite, the countryside seemed instead to distill and clarify urban experience. It was as though the country formed a repository of ideals through which urban experience both was perceived and found its ultimate truth. Objectified as spectacle or science, the countryside took on an ideal form and performed the ideological function of providing urban industrial culture with the myths to sustain it.

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