A broad canvas

The map From Gainborough's Suffolk to British Rail's Forth Bridge, art commentator John Windsor charts British landscape painting, both ancient and modern

In centuries past, artists in oils painted a map of Britain that showed the landscape as a backdrop to man's conquest of nature - his wonders of architecture, engineering and industry or his dominion over the beasts of the field. Few, apart from Turner and a handful of visionaries such as Palmer and Smetham, evoked the sublime, superhuman forces that shake the greenery. A new generation of 20th-century landscape artists is humbler - and more romantic. The man-made landscape, as Lowry showed, is romantic no longer. Instead, the awe-inspired visions of Turner, and of the little- known Smetham, who painted lone figures lost in a vastness, have come into their own. Today's landscape artists allow themselves to be overwhelmed by craggy immensities and terrifying tempests. The natural world is no longer a backdrop, but centre-stage. Man is quivering unseen in the wings. Only the people industry - as exemplified by Cuneo's travel poster - clings to the illusion that man is in control.

1 The Highlands breaking out in colour. The acrylic "Dubh Lochain above Glen Arnisdale", is in a solo show by James Hawkins, 44, until 27 March at Davies & Tooth, The Air Gallery, 32 Dover Street, London W1 (0171-409 1516).

2 Back in 1952, the late Terence Cuneo strapped himself to a girder of the Forth Railway Bridge, 170ft above the water in a 54mph wind, to paint this British Railways poster. It will be in Christie's South Kensington's poster sale, 27 March (estimate pounds 800 to pounds 1,200). Christie's: 0171-321 3120.

3 Turner's tiny watercolour of Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire (c 1822-1825), was in January by two armed men from York City Art Gallery. The painting is better known than the ruined abbey - therefore virtually impossible to sell on.

4 Wealthy newlyweds "Mr and Mrs Andrews" (c1750), in Gainsborough's celebrated portrait, lord it over their Suffolk estate. On view at the National Gallery.

5 Suffolk-based Barrie Houghton, 56, an indefatigable innovator in mixed media, painted this impression of Sutton Hoo last year. It is in his solo show until 27 March at the John Russell Gallery, 4-6 Wherry Lane, Ipswich (01473 212051).

9 Jason Hicklin, 32, found himself at Harlech Castle on the 200th anniversary of Turner's visit there. This oil and watercolour is the result. Hicklin's current show is at the Beardsmore Gallery, 22-24 Prince of Wales Road, London NW5 (0171-485 0923).

8 The collaged plywood and acrylic paintings of the north Cornwall coast at Boscastle, by Vanessa Gardiner, 39, follow the contemporary Cornwall tradition of turning rugged rock into geometric abstraction and evoke what she calls the "awkwardness" of the landscape. "Harbour Coast No 5" was painted in 1997. Duncan Campbell Contemporary Art, 15 Thackeray Street, Kensington Square, London W8 (0171-937 8665).

7 No, not Samuel Palmer, but "Going Home" by another Sussex artist, James Smetham (1821-1889), who painted like him. The lost soul is the artist.

6 The Limehouse Series by Andrew Gifford, 28, comprises 40 oils depicting the Port of London's former warehouses. They will be shown by John Martin at the artLONDON contemporary art fair at the Duke of York's Barracks, King's Road, London SW3.From 16-20 June. John Martin: 0171-499 1314.

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