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  • Writer's pictureShelagh Casebourne

Favourite landscape books of the year

One of the most important things I have learned as an artist is the importance of really seeing what I'm looking at. This may sound obvious, but so often when we look at something we don't really 'see' it, or not in the way that would help us record what we are experiencing with our own unique perspective. We all see differently of course, and I'm recommending the first two books here because of the ways either the writer, or the artists written about have such different ways of recording what they see in a unique way.

The non-fiction book I have most enjoyed reading recently is Nan Shepherd's slim volume The Living Mountain, written in the 1940s, but not published until 1977. The edition here was published in 2014 by Canongate Books so has added material in the form of an Introduction by Robert Macfarlane and an Afterword by Jeanette Winterson.

It is not, strictly speaking, a book about landscape, but about a place Nan Shepherd loved, the Cairngorm mountains. I've never read such beautiful and unusual descriptions - she truly was someone who looked, and really saw - but even better, had an astonishing ability to record her experiences, visual and otherwise, in the most vivid way. My advice is to read the book backwards: Afterword, then Shepherd's own words, then the Introduction - but then I read magazines backwards, so you may disagree!

Second on my short list of favourite books of the last year is also not a new title. Unquiet Landscape by Chrisopher Neve was first published in 1990, but this paperback edition was published in 2020 by Thames & Hudson. What makes this book so enjoyable is that Neve's wonderful insights into the 20th century artists he profiles originate in large part from the fact that he knew, or met and talked with many of them or those close to them. I have re-read the section on Ivon Hitchens a few times as his working practice was so fascinating. Among the other artists covered are Paul Nash, Eric Ravilius, Graham Sutherland, Winifred Nicholson, Stanley Spencer, Ben Nicholson. Also, Neve's prose is a delight.

Finally Susan Owens's Spirit of Place presents a wide-ranging study of the British landscape as it has been presented to us by artists and writers from the 6th century (Gildas) up to the 21st. Chapter headings include 'Mystery', 'Reflection', 'Discovery', there are many notes and a long list for further reading. This book is informative and interesting, with many wonderful observations and insights from the author.

I should say that I have listed the books here in order of the enjoyment that I had in reading them.

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