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Alexander Cozens, 1717–1786, British

Mountainous Landscape

ca. 1780
Brown ink, black ink, gray wash, brown wash and pale brown ground on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches (24.1 x 31.8 cm)

Watermark: Fleur-de-lys

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
clouds | landscape | mountains | rocks (landforms) | trees
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In the 1770s Cozens developed a treatise on landscape painting titled “The Various Species of Landscape Composition, in Nature”. Although the text is lost, we know he intended to argue that landscape compositions could convey feelings and ideas simply through the arrangement of forms. According to this theory, ideal landscapes could carry serious moral messages of the kind traditionally reserved to history painting (Rosenthal, 1993, p. 20). Although “Mountainous Landscape” does not match any of the designs in “The Various Species”, it is a purely imaginary composition that contains various stock elements found in Cozens’s classification of landscape scenery. The ideas Cozens associated with such landscapes could be esoteric, but here the barren mountain rising suddenly from a fertile plane evokes the awesome power of the sublime. He undoubtedly appreciated Edmund Burke's “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” (1757), which had argued that viewing awesome prospects like mountains inspired a thrilling sense of terror; Cozens concurred, believing that mountain prospects inspired “surprise, terror, superstition, silence, melancholy, power, strength” (Sloan, 1986, p. 56). One of Cozens’s pupils noted in 1781 that “he has for several years exhibited to the public, pictures of landscapes; attempting to perform them in the third degree of taste, that is the sublime” (unknown author, 1781, cited in Whitley, 1928, vol. 2, p. 319). The exclusion of color from Cozens's palette further distances this drawing from imitation of nature by forcing the viewer to focus on the landscape's formal properties. Similarly it is entirely devoid of human life, giving the landscape a universal significance rather than tying it to any particular time or place. Although Cozens earned a reputation as a blotter, his technique for finished drawings was a carefully controlled blend of fluid washes and hatched strokes, an approach perhaps influenced by the work of the English-based French engraver François Vivares (Wilton, “Cozens”, 1980, p. 9).

Katharine Baetjer, Glorious nature, British landscape painting, 1750-1850 , Zwemmer publisher, London, 1993, p. 20, ND1354.4 B34 1993 (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 251, no. 22, pl. 22, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Malcolm Cormack, Oil on water, oil sketches by British watercolorists , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 25, fig. 16, ND467 C67 (YCBA)

Kim Sloan, Alexander and John Robert Cozens, the poetry of landscape , Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1986, p. 56, NJ18 C83 S56 (YCBA)

William Thomas Whitley, Artists and their friends in England, 1700-1799, Medici Society, London & Boston, 1928, p. 319 (v. 2), , N6766 W45 (YCBA)

Andrew Wilton, The Art of Alexander and John Robert Cozens, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1980, p. 9, NJ18 C83 W55 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

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