Ian Waites (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2012)
Recommended by Catriona Paton
Examining how artists such as Peter DeWint and John Constable depicted common land during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Waites sketches a picture of a little-known, unenclosed landscape from England’s past. While enclosures had been impacting the countryside since the fifteenth century, this book charts a period of fast-paced parliamentary enclosure activity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which transformed many remaining common field systems. Waites examines cultural artistic developments, such as the Picturesque, Naturalism and rural nostalgia, alongside socioeconomic debates surrounding parliamentary enclosures, including ideologies of improvement and the independence of the commoner. Studying the landscape art, literature and contemporary commentary of the period c.1700-1850, this book makes a strong case for the importance of common land in English landscape painting, wider culture and history.
David Cox, The Cross Roads, 1850, oil on panel, Birmingham Museums Trust
Image: public domain.
David Cox’s (1783-1859) atmospheric painting of an unspecified location is one of a number of artworks analysed by Waites in his chapter on English Naturalism. In a scene dominated by tempestuous sky and an unbounded expanse of apparently common land, figures and their animals trudge onwards into the wind guided by a time-worn signpost. As Waites highlights, Cox memorialised an open, common field landscape becoming increasingly rare with parliamentary enclosures during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.