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The British Landscape Tradition: From Gainsborough to Nash

[ Exhibition )

View of mountains in shades of brown and blue.

John Sell Cotman, Capel Curig, 1807, watercolour on paper, Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council (1985) © Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK

A chance to encounter rarely-seen historic landscape drawings and watercolours from the Gallery’s permanent collection, spanning the 18th and 20th century.

The landscape tradition in Britain is charted through early works by Alexander Cozens, Thomas Gainsborough and John Sell Cotman through to 20th century landscapes by Paul Nash and Edward Bawden.

For Thomas Gainsborough, landscapes were a relief from painting grand portraits and he wished “to take my viola da gamba and walk off to some sweet village where I can paint landskips and enjoy the fag end of life in quietness and ease”.

Born in Russia, Alexander Cozens is thought to have been the first English artist to work entirely with landscape subjects, famous for inventing a ‘blot’ technique in the 1750s. His son John Robert Cozens was considered by John Constable to be “the greatest genius that ever touched landscape”, describing his work as “all poetry”.

Artists such as John Varley and John Sell Cotman were an important point of reference for artists in the early 20th century such as Paul Nash. Art historian John Rothenstein noted in 1957 that Nash “[assimilated] something of the spirit of Girtin, Cotman and others, and [evolved] a free contemporary version of traditional idioms”. In 1929 the critic R.H. Wilenski went so far as to call Nash “the John Sell Cotman of to-day”.

Moreover, some of Graham Sutherland’s preliminary studies in the Gallery’s collection reveal his process of ‘paraphrasing nature’, drawing on continental abstraction as a way of representing the Welsh landscape in a poetic and modern way.

Also included in the exhibition were several views of the Sussex landscape around Chichester. These include George Romney’s ink and wash view of Eartham Park and the watercolours of the South Downs by George Catt (1869-1920). Likewise, one of Ivon Hitchens’ earliest known works, Didling on the Downs (c.1920), featuring a pastoral scene before he had developed his abstract style.

What the press said

This exhibition follows that British eye for place and space from Georgian times to the 20th-century surrealist landscapes of Paul Nash.

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

This exhibition was made possible by a number of generous organisations and individuals

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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