Britain’s greatest living painter turns to landscape

David Hockney in front of his painting ‘The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011’ © Getty Images

Yesterday, tickets went on sale for a huge new David Hockney exhibition. The world famous painter is revitalising landscape art. Why are we so fascinated by nature?

For as long as they have painted, artists have been fascinated with nature. From Constable‘s scenes of agricultural village life to Turner‘s dramatic seascapes, landscape painting has brought nature alive for centuries.

In modern art, however, landscape has long languished on the unfashionable sidelines. Many critics think it fine for the walls of hotels, but not galleries. Today, fields and hills are more likely to feature in the conceptual works of Richard Long, who records long walks through sculpture and poetry, rather than in painting.

This week, however, Britain’s greatest living painter is returning to the countryside. In a new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy, David Hockney is displaying a huge array of work that promises to breath new life into landscape.

In his vibrant paintings, Hockney depicts seemingly unremarkable spots of east Yorkshire, where he grew up. For the past eight years, he has obsessively followed natural changes, recording the subtle shifting in the flora and fauna of hills, woods and fields. Sometimes, he even paints the same landscape every few days, capturing the subtle changes of weather, light and season with radically different colours.

And for the modern landscape painter, watercolours and oils are just the beginning. Hockney is using technology to capture the precise, ever-changing details of the natural world.

The 72-year-old now uses his iPad to paint, speedily sketching out whatever scene catches his eye. He’s also making films that capture a scene from different angles, displaying a wide perspective of landscape in incredible detail as the seasons change.

Hockney’s new style of landscape painting could be a huge inspiration for today’s budding artists. But it also comes as a surprise. More famous for painting shimmering swimming pools than country lanes, Hockney made his name, and spent much of his life, in glamorous LA. For some, his return to Yorkshire, and to landscape, is a sign of growing older, and returning to home.

A radical shift?

For some Hockney fans, the shift will be disappointing. A painting of grazing cattle or a mossy log, they argue, doesn’t say anything interesting about the world. Art should challenge and question – looking pretty is no longer enough.

Landscape painting, others argue, is about much more than being easy on the eye. Constantly evolving with life and growth, nature’s endless variety, startling beauty and terrifying volatility has always been fascinating to humans. By depicting it, artists explore an incredible world, which will continue far beyond our short human lives. Nature may be beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it is not profound.

You Decide

  1. Is landscape painting a less interesting form of art?
  2. Should art always make a statement?


  1. Compare Hockney’s landscape work to the painting of another famous landscape artist, such as Van Gogh, Paul Nash or Constable. Write a short essay comparing the two, focusing on how they have depicted the natural world.
  2. Create your own Hockney-style landscape of a scene you are familiar with. How can you use unrealistic colours in ways that interestingly and convincingly evoke the feel of a landscape?

Some People Say...

“Landscape art is pretty, but boring”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is Hockney such an important figure?
Despite spending much of his life in Los Angeles, Hockney is widely regarded as Britain’s greatest living artist. His paintings could hugely influence our ideas about how the natural world is presented in art. For those living in Yorkshire, where the paintings are based, they could influence people’s impression of the countryside itself, creating publicity that could attract tourists to the area.
How do I get tickets for the exhibition?
The exhibition starts this Saturday, and runs until the 9th of April. Demand is high – advance sales have already topped the Royal Academy’s last blockbuster, a Van Gogh exhibition – so it’s important to book tickets beforehand on the gallery’s website. For young people aged 12-18, tickets cost £4.

Word Watch

An English landscape painter of the 19th Century, J.M.W. Turner is often known as the ‘painter of light’. His scenes are often dramatic, and seek to evoke the ‘sublime’ idea of awe-inspiring nature, which in turn evokes God.
John Constable is a 19th Century landscape painter, renowned for his paintings of the English countryside. They are often idyllic cultural scenes featuring people, farms and animals.
Richard Long
A British artist, Long has been nominated for the Turner Prize four times, finally winning it in 1989. He is interested in nature, but seeks to use natural materials and landscapes in unusual ways, using long walks through vast stretches of countryside as a focus for his work.
The Royal Academy
Also known as The Royal Academy of Arts, the Academy is a privately funded institution, run by prominent artists and architects to increase enjoyment of visual arts. They host a wide range of exhibitions, as well as sharing permanent exhibitions.


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