Natural Encounters: Part 1

Exploring the many different strategies artists have used to approach, interpret or respond to nature.

Photograph of the Natural Encounters exhibition held at Leeds Art Gallery (2020) by Simon WarnerLeeds Museums & Galleries

In a technology-driven society and at a time of unprecedented climate change, this exhibition raises fundamental questions around the role of nature in art as well as its potential to help us reflect on our own psyches, current ecological issues and our relationship with nature.

Photograph of the Natural Encounters exhibition held at Leeds Art Gallery (2020) by Simon WarnerLeeds Museums & Galleries


Should art try to copy nature? This question has been in artists’ minds throughout history and responses to it have been as varied as the works displayed in this section.

Meeting of the Streams (1742/1788) by Thomas GainsboroughLeeds Museums & Galleries

By the time an English school of landscape had been established in the 1700s, there were two — supposedly opposite but often intertwined — traditions that summarised artists’ concerns. 

Italian Landscape (1758/1759) by John SkeltonLeeds Museums & Galleries

One was the classical which offered a pastoral ideal, characterised by a harmonic, stylised and orderly version of nature, strongly influenced by Italian landscapes.

Study of Trees (1793/1842) by John VarleyLeeds Museums & Galleries

The other trend was the naturalistic in which nature was rendered with varying degrees of accuracy. 

The Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo (1767/1794) by John Robert CozensLeeds Museums & Galleries

Over time, artists also sought to evoke a particular mood or atmosphere through the effects of light and colour.  

North Side of Bolton Abbey (1800/1859) by David CoxLeeds Museums & Galleries

The search for the picturesque and the sublime in the 1700s and 1800s brought with it an appreciation for rough, dramatic, frightening and wild scenes.

A Breezy Morning (1906) by Phillip Wilson SteerLeeds Museums & Galleries

In the 1900s, the influence of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, with their intense and subjective use of colour, gave way to more personal, reductive and spontaneous artistic languages, while domesticated interpretations of nature prevailed.

Photograph of the Natural Encounters exhibition held at Leeds Art Gallery (2020) by Simon WarnerLeeds Museums & Galleries


The transient properties of nature have attracted artists for centuries. The first group of artworks in this section reflects on the impermanence of the natural world. 

The Foot of Mount St. Gotthard (c.1842) by Joseph Mallord William TurnerLeeds Museums & Galleries

These intrinsic changes can be subtle or dramatic, showing nature’s fragility or power, which can also speak about the insignificance of human beings. 

Arran Hilltops (1978) by Hamish FultonLeeds Museums & Galleries

The Night Train (1849) by David CoxLeeds Museums & Galleries

During the 1700s and 1800s, artists reminded us of the human desire to conquer the landscape through their presence in the wild. 

December Water, 1976 (1976) by John HilliardLeeds Museums & Galleries

Other artworks in this section consider different types of modifications brought to nature by people. 

Roche Abbey, Yorkshire (1769) by Paul SandbyLeeds Museums & Galleries

Meanwhile, others focused on nature’s capacity to take back control by reinstating itself amidst the ruins. 

Five Stones (1974) by Richard LongLeeds Museums & Galleries

Some contemporary artists, especially within the British Land Art movement, have explored alternative and respectful ways to work with or in nature. 

Hive - Site-specific intervention in partnership with Leeds Beckett University (2020) by Howard T KentLeeds Museums & Galleries

Other contemporary practitioners look at sustainable human interventions that tackle current ecological issues and can ultimately help us protect our planet.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps