Launceston, Cornwall. Drawn by J. M. W. Turner. 1838. Engraving. From Picturesque Views in England and Wales . Photograph by Elizabeth K. Helsinger from a copy in the Joseph Regenstein Library, the University of Chicago. [Click on image to enlarge it.] [Plate 4 in Elizabeth K. Helsinger's Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder.]

Commentary by Elizabeth K. Helsinger

Turner's two engravings, Launceston and The Fall of the Tees, capture the distinction between the two ways of viewing landscape. The figure in the landscape, in each case, has a different perspective and a different way of looking at the scene from what the artist offers us as his own. The tiny man on horseback in Launceston is moving through the scene that the artist has comprehended in one larger view; the equally small sketcher in The Fall of the Tees studies and records a portion of what the artist has given as an emotionally and visually unified version of an impressive natural phenomenon. Turner may well be depicting himself as the traveler-sketcher in the landscape; he did in fact take sketching tours to produce books of views like the England and Wales series. But in the completed pictures he has—literally—distanced himself from the traveler-sketcher to create the work we see. The distinctions Ruskin makes in Modern Painters III between the painter-poet and the beholder-critic, between Wordsworth's poetic imagination and the critical science of aspects, have their roots in this distinction between two modes of experiencing landscape.


Helsinger, Elizabeth K. Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.

11 February 2013