• authenticity;
  • Britain;
  • France;
  • landscape painting;
  • national identification;
  • ‘return to Nature’;
  • rural genre art;
  • The Netherlands;
  • visual artists


From the late eighteenth century onwards, increasing numbers of visual artists came to identify with their nations and with the homeland and its people. This development was strongly influenced by growing national cultural support and regulation of the arts by academies, art schools, museums and art markets in Western Europe. On a subjective level, the Rousseauan movement of a ‘return to Nature’, Herder's espousal of vernacular cultural self-expression and, above all, the widespread Romantic cult of authenticity, were potent influences on the inner self-identification of visual artists after 1800, and were manifested in the novel importance accorded to landscape and rural genre painting in Western Europe. Here I consider the role of national sentiment, the ‘return to Nature’ and the cult of authenticity, first in landscape paintings by Paul Sandby, J. M. W. Turner and John Constable in early nineteenth-century Britain, and then in the rural genre paintings of Jean-Francois Millet and Jules Breton in nineteenth-century France and Josef Israels, Anton Mauve and Vincent Van Gogh in the later nineteenth-century Netherlands. Their work reveals how nineteenth-century visual artists became inwardly identified with the ‘land and its people’, and how they in turn contributed, especially through prints and engravings, to the dissemination of national imagery and a cultural nationalism.