The Human Element in Landscape Paintings

When it comes to landscape paintings, many are depicted as wholly natural themes with a subject matter that is entirely natural; this is known as pure landscape art, however, there are also many that contain a human element. So, this poses a question, how does the human element in landscape art alter the aesthetic qualities or even feeling of the artwork? – why are humanistic elements included at all?

Betram Nicholls – Ponte de Pietra, Virona 1928

What Are Human Elements?

Firstly. we must determine exactly what a human element in landscape art is; well, this would be anything from a building, to a vehicle, sculpture, boat or even an actual depiction of a human figure; the above painting by Betram Nichols is a perfect example of a landscape painting with a firm human element.

Aesthetics & Composition

One of the most common reasons for including a figurative or human element in a piece of landscape art is to create interesting composition, or, a more realistic depiction of the environment especially when it comes to the size and scale. Objects certainly help to create a picture when using the rule of thirds.


Edward Wesson – Near Mathom Broad, West Somerton, Norfolk

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is generally a set of guildelines that applies to the process of composing paintings and other visual images. It basically means that the image should be divided into 9 equal parts, however with 3 main sections. Two lines which are equally spaced apart are laid horizontal across the image with two equally spaced vertical lines. Important elements found in the composition should be placed along the lines or the imagine intersections. The rule is used to draw the viewer’s eye into the painting so that they do not view just one element but the image as a whole.

Connecting With the Viewer

Terry Watts – Winter Afternoon, Lyme Regis

The humanistic element in landscape art, whether a painting, drawing or photograph allows the artist to create a more believable, or it could be argued a more interesting image. However, it does not affect just the overall aesthetic of the picture, but the emotional aspect too, as some viewers will find it easier to connect with an image with a scene that is familiar to them.

The above painting by contemporary painter, Terry Watts, depicts an interesting image of the Cobb at Lyme Regis; this painting is an intriguing example of the human element in landscape art. Several figures can be seen walking towards to house, in the distance; the yellow tones in the sky together with the stillness of the water help to create a tranquil, relaxing image. Without this, the image may have had a more lonely and solemn atmosphere.

Like all paintings and every medium of art, the human element (or lack of) in landscape will appeal more or less to a variety of people. Neither form of landscape art is considered to be better or worse than the other, both certainly have a place both in the historic art world and the post modern, contemporary world of today.

About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
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