It is difficult to establish the beginning of the history of cityscapes, but some early works date back to ancient Rome. The fresco City by the Sea by Ambrogio Lorenzetti is considered to be the first true cityscape of the history of Western Art. Even though the interest in cityscape painting did not create a continuous tradition in Italy nor other European cities, a lot of examples could be found in the paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini, Albrecht Altdorfer, Michael Wolgemut or Jan van Eyck. In the second half of the seventeenth century, the city of Delft in Holland, that caused a special admiration among painters, inspired the Delft School of cityscape painting. Johannes Vermeer, the most prominent artist of this school, painted cityscapes that are considered among the most important in art history. His painting View of Delft is described by Marcel Proust as ‘the most beautiful painting in the world’ and it anticipated the twentieth-century cityscapes.
Urban cityscapes have been a significant part of the recent art history, from impressionist works by Pissarro and Monet through the paintings of American cities by George Bellows to abstract landscapes of Willem de Kooning. Paris was one of the favorite subjects of impressionist painters, from Manet and Caillebotte to Renoir and Monet. Attracted by the innovative elements of the modern city, impressionists created impressive cityscapes that were even admired by the critics of that time. Among the most celebrated ones are Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day, Pissarro's The Boulevard Montmartre at Night and Monet’s Le gare Saint Lazare. The 19th century also brought the American cityscape painting with important figures such as Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn and George Bellows. The peak was reached with Ashcan School when American realist painters focused on painting everyday life in the New York City. The avant-garde brought the varied vision of the cityscape, from the works of cubist painters such as Fernand Leger and Robert Delaunay, through works by painters from the School of Paris such as Matisse and Chagall to the paintings on the way to abstraction by Piet Mondrian.
Even though cityscapes painting declined in popularity during the 20th century with the rise of the abstraction and conceptual art, it inspired some abstract painters like Joan Mitchell and Willem de Kooning. Still, with the revival of figurative art towards the end of the 20th century, cityscape has experienced a renaissance through the works of the painters from the Bay Area Figurative Movement, hyperrealists and street photographers. So let’s take a look at the most impressive cityscapes artworks from the world of contemporary art.
Regarded as one of the most important realist painters of twentieth-century America, Edward Hopper had a unique and selective vision when portraying empty cityscapes, landscapes and isolated figures. Imbued with interpretative rendering, his paintings captured the mood and the feel of the 20th century. The city at night was a frequent subject in Hopper’s work. The painting Night Windows portrays an anonymous woman in her apartment unaware that somebody’s watching her. The painting offers a contradiction between the easy and voyeuristic access to strangers’ lives and loneliness and isolation in a big city.
Image via edwardhopper.net
Often regarded as a realist painter, Rackstraw Downes is not very keen on this description. Born in the United Kingdom and educated at Yale School of Art, Downes has been painting panoramic scenes of the American land- and urbanscape for over thirty-five years. Painted after meticulous studies that could last from days to months, his paintings evince careful attention to details and possess a unique balance between realism and abstraction. Subjects like ventilation towers - depicted in the painting Ventilation Tower with Estivating Snow Plows - subway underpasses, barbed wire fences, constructions and landfills, prove that Downes is fascinated by what he describes as ‘the magic’ of these places.
Image via idmspring2016.blogspot.com
A leading figure in street photography, American photographer Joel Meyerowitz has paved the way for generations of street photographers and contributed to establishing this genre as worthy of the art world’s recognition. As an early advocate of colour photography, he was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of colour photography during a time when there was a significant resistance to this idea. New York City was his great inspiration, which can be seen in this photograph from 1975 simply entitled New York City.
Image via kunsthauswien.com
Paris-born painter Jules de Balincourt explores the social, political and economic landscapes of the United States, where he currently lives. With satirical analysis and exuberant reimagining, de Balincourt questions structures of power and influence. His process involves various techniques, and he often explores the shifting relationship between representation and abstraction. His key painting People Who Play and The People Who Pay portrays apparent freedoms and their human costs through the divisions of labour and skin colour.
Image via saatchigallery.com
The practice of the American painter Richard Diebenkorn has greatly defined the California School of Abstract Expressionism. Moving back and forth between figuration and abstraction, he developed a unique form of Northern California realism that is now referred to as the Bay Area Figurative School. Fundamentally a West Coast artist, he was majorly influenced by the surroundings of New Mexico and California. His painting Yellow Porch from 1961 portrays an empty space of the outdoor porch and a broken cityscape. A blue chair cropped along the bottom edge anchors the foreground plane and invites the spectator into the space of the painting.
The quintessential New York artist and enduring leader of the Photorealist movement, Richard Estes creates his paintings from photographs. With million stories embedded, his works look like stage sets. Reconstructing the reality in remarkably convincing rendering, his paintings often show reflective surfaces that enhance the viewing experience. New York City is his everlasting inspiration and he depicts it like only a New Yorker could. Depicting the city’s iconic sites, he also gives life to its anonymous inhabitants. The painting Gordon’s Gin is a part of his iconic New York City works.
Image via thedelightofseeing.blogspot.com
Best known for his colorful Pop art paintings of commonplace objects like pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries and hot dogs, Wayne Thiebaud has spent a significant part of his career painting landscapes and cityscapes. His series of landscapes and cityscapes dates from the early 1970s after he settled in San Francisco. Using his characteristic vibrant palette and meticulous painterly techniques, he portrayed unexpected views of San Francisco’s streets and buildings. The painting Valley Streets is one of his recent works and it was painted in 2003.
Image via inheloop888.blogspot.com
A noted American painter and printmaker, Yvonne Jacquette creates low-altitude aerial landscapes using Pointillist-like techniques. She became fascinated by aerial view during a flight to San Diego in the 1960s. Since then, she began flying frequently in order to sketch and study landscapes and cloud formations. Jacquette is a one more painter on our list that uses New York City as her most frequent subject. Her painting Third Avenue (With Reflection) created in 2005 shows the contrast between her quilt-like style and the gleaming modern skyscrapers and rushing traffic of Manhattan.
Image via saatchiart.com
For a Serbian-born and Brooklyn-based photographer Vladimir Milivojevic, aka Boogie, the streets of the world are his playground. Born and raised in Belgrade, Boogie first started photographing the unrest during the 1990s civil war that majorly influenced his style. Attracted to the darker side of the human existence, Boogie documents life on the streets all around the world and people living in harsh conditions. Always working from the streets, he explores the projects, the alleyways, city gangs and people living on the margins. His photographs are raw and un-staged, and often unsettling. The photograph Desierto Leones is from his Mexico City series taken between 2007 and 2009.
Image via artcoup.com