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Imperial Landscapes: Britain’s Global Visual Culture

Imperial Landscapes: Britain’s Global Visual Culture
John E. Crowley
Yale University Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 282 pp., $85.00

Canadian historian John Crowley presents his analysis of a British tradition, begun in the eighteenth century, of validating imperial conquests through topographic art. Crowley points out that “viewing imperial spaces in the media of fine arts helped both colonists and metropolitans to maintain their identity and self-respect as civilized and civilizing Britons.” To illustrate his point, he has gathered together a collection of views by landscape artists, beginning with early scenes of significant sites in Britain and Europe. This is followed by illustrations of maps of distant cities, created to satisfy the curiosity of those interested in foreign travel. The author attributes the beginnings of British global landscape art to the Scot, Paul Sandby (1731 – 1809). Crowley describes him as “an artist of conquest”; his military survey of Scotland to improve army topographic intelligence led to “the first body of Scottish genre and topographic scenes recorded firsthand by a British artist.” In the following pages, Crowley reviews the significant works of landscape artists in British colonies and concludes with illustrations of conquests by other European nations. Highly recommended, this masterful analysis by an eminent historian reveals a fascinating chapter in British political history.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden