Botticelli to Van Gogh

Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London

Picturing the Industrial and Imperial World

Before the invention of photography, paintings and drawings were the only visual documents of the state of the world. Paintings through the ages provide evidence of large-scale social changes. If we look closely, we can find information about processes such as industrialisation and imperialism, which were the generators for the modern age.

With industrialisation and urbanisation, the natural world was changed forever. Nature was thought of as wild, untamed and exotic, especially by European nations as they moved further around the globe to colonise distant lands such as Australia, the Pacific and the Americas. The more that nature was built upon, exploited and destroyed, the more that natural landscapes were romanticised and viewed as ‘untouched’ by human activity. English and European estates became landscaped and aesthetic versions of nature, recreating a pastoral idyll.

Look closely at the paintings for clues about industrialisation, imperialism and the cultivated landscape. Discuss whether you think contemporary art similarly reflects the political and social changes happening around the world today.

Think about how seafaring, trade routes and imperialism enabled control over the raw materials for industrialisation. What evidence of this can be found in these paintings?

Create an artwork that could act as a comment on the huge environmental issues facing our world today. Collect three items from your rubbish and either make a drawing of the items or a collage with drawn elements.

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