A lover of modern or contemporary art would recognize how prevalent urban landscapes are, from the impressionistic views of Paris by Camille Pissarro to the realistic Madrid by Antonio Lopez to the photorealistic New York of Richard Estes. However, I would like to know when this tradition began? Among its major protagonists, who were the most prominent? The article provides a tour of the history of cityscape painting, from the ancient world to the beginning of the 21st century.

Ancient world

In the same way that there is no concrete consensus about the precise birthdate of the first city (most generally considered to be Ur or another Mesopotamian town, but the southern town of Atalhöyük may claim as much), there is no concrete date for cityscape paintings. On the island of Santorini, there is a mysterious fresco painting (the ship procession fresco” or the flotilla fresco) that depicts a boat trip between two fortified cities, though these cities are not the focus of the work. Another example can be found in City Fresco, an aerial view of a coastal city (real or imagined) found in 1997 at the Baths of Trajan in Rome (see image). A complete cityscape in the history of painting could be attributed to it as the first complete work. A Roman city on the coast nearby Pompeii can be seen in a few frescoes found in Stabiae.

The pioneers: from the Trecento to the High Renaissance.

In many medieval illuminated manuscripts, partial representations of cities can be found as the backgrounds, but they did not have a special role to play Through Duccio da Buonisegna and Cimabue, and, above all, Giotto di Bondone, Western painting begins its revival during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, breaking free from Byzantine tradition and exploring new elements and ideas.

There were Venetian painters during those times who created what has been called the first “golden age” of cityscape painting in Western Art, a short-lived but highly significant precursor to “vedute painting,” which we shall explore in the next

There was no tradition of cityscape painting in Northern Europe, either, though many of the most important painters of that time included beautiful images of cities in many of their works, such as Albrecht Altdorfer’s “Battle of Alexander at Issus”

In spite of its quality, the city is not given a leading role in the painting, just as it was hardly emphasized in Hans Memling’s “Saint Ursula Shrine”. It is not generally said that Dutch painting, with notable exceptions such as Maarten van Heemskerck (1498 – 1574), was very interested in urban landscape painting until an important turning point that is going to be discussed

The establishment of cityscape: The Delft School

Since the end of the Renaissance, the beautiful city of Delft in Western Netherlands has attracted interest from painters in works such as “Delft Vanuit het Westen” (1566-1640), painted It was not until the second half of the seventeenth century, after the enormous explosion that devastated the city in 1654 (represented in “Explosion in Delft” by painter Egbert van der Poel), when the “Delft School” began to take shape.

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is one of the most distinguished artists of this school. Despite being by no means prolific, only 35 works can be assigned more or less without doubt to him, among which are two cityscapes that can be counted among his most significant pieces of art. In the first picture, Marcel Proust considered it to be “the most beautiful picture in the world.” The precision with which the artist painted the architectural details of Delft made several critics suggest that the artist had used a camera obscura, but this hasn’t Although much less famous than the previous work, “A street in Delft” (also known as “The little street”, 1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) offers an unusual combination of compositions, such as asymmetrical placement of the elements or portrayal of everyday life.

Canaletto and the Vedutistas

A common practice among wealthy British businessmen during the early eighteenth century was to make a trip to major Italian cities, including Venice a trip known as the “Grand Tour.” Interested in cloaking their experiences in the Venetian light and architecture in a worthy souvenir, travelers were eager for local artists to paint pictures of the city of the canals for their return home, which sparked the evolution of a new genre of painting, Vedutis of the late 15th and early 16th centuries (Carpaccio, Bellini) didn’t need any excuses for including the city in their paintings (like royal and papal receptions), because they inherited the genre from their parents Throughout the composition, Venice is the one and only star, with its light, with its architecture.

An exhibition presented at the National Gallery of London in 2010 entitled “Canaletto and his rivals” demonstrates the hierarchy between the two Among the finest among the famous artists is Canaletto, who, as an art dealer said to one of his customers in the 18th century, had the power to “make the sun shine in his paintings.” The fame and fortune Canaletto gained by painting urban landscapes in London increased after he became a favorite of the businessmen in England. highlight his three major predecessors, Gaspar van Wittel (of Dutch descent who later moved to Italy), Luca Carlevarijs, and two of his best followers,

Cityscape in Asia

Until the 20th century, there hasn’t been a tradition of Chinese Landscape Painting (more concerned with natural scenes) this has largely been a natural landscape tradition. In addition, there are a number of notable Zhang Zeduan, in his moving piece, “Along the River during the Qingming Festival” (1085-1145), depicts the lives of people in a small river village in China (with a certain level of detail that is unprecedented in such an old work). In some of their later paintings, other artists also represented views of small cities surrounded by gorgeous natural landscapes.


It was during the second half of the 19th century that Paris underwent a group of reforms that affected its internal architecture, in an effort to make the French capital the most modern and powerful city in Europe. As one of Napoleon III’s most ambitious plans, he tasked Georges-Eugène Haussmann with leading the project, which he later referred to as “Haussmann’s Paris”. In response to this “modernizing boost” for Paris, impressionist artists turned to portraying Paris as one of their favorite subjects. It was the new Paris that has inspired so many modern painters, from Manet to Caillebotte, Renoir to Pissarro, as well as an “not so impressionist” painter like van Gogh.

Train stations took this role for their “iconography” of the Impressionist movement. Of these, the Saint-Lazare Railway Station (“le Gare Saint-Lazare”) is the best manifestation of the impressionist sensibility. “Le gare Saint Lazare (Saint Lazare station)” by Claude Monet (1877, Paris, Musée d’Orsay) was admired even by critics of the time, which was unusual for the Era of Impressionism. One of Gustave Caillebotte’s most famous works is called “The Bridge of Europe” (1876, Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva), which beautifully shows the effect of railroads, as can be seen in one of his most famous paintings.

Painting the American city: from Whistler to Diebenkorn

In addition to being one of the most important figures in American cityscape painting during his era, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was also a notable painter of portraits. In “Nocturne in Black and Gold A Night View of American and European Cities, at the peak of his fame were his night views of american and european cities at night. This painting by Detroit Institute of Arts is titled “The Falling Rocket” (1874). In addition to Whistler, Childe Hassam (1859-1935), one of the most prominent American Impressionists, is known for his paintings of flags (most notably “The Avenue in the Rain”, 1917), which are among the most instantly recognizable classics of American art.

The emergence of the Ashcan School, a group of American realist painters focused on depicting everyday life in New York City during the early 20th century, marks a high point in the history of cityscape painting. In this generation of artists, Robert Henri was the first to achieve fame, and he was followed by other artists like Everett Shinn and John French Sloan who created iconic works like “Snow in New York” (1902, National Gallery of Art, Washington). In spite of this, George Bellows and Edward Hopper are among the most notable artists of this generation. Among his greatest pieces are Cliff Dwellers (1913, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and New York (1911, National Gallery of Art, Washington), capturing the poverty and prejudice of the lower and middle classes of New York City at the turn of the century. In contrast, Hoppers will never be forgotten as “the painter of urban loneliness”, preferring scenes associated with cities and hotels, and author of on of the most famous works in the Staten Island Museum of Art, “Nighthawks.” (1942)

Urban landscape and avant-garde

It is impossible for an article about the state of cityscapes from the avant-garde period to summarize all of the variety of scenes from that time. The same goes for the art scene of the day. We can briefly overview the most influential avant gardes and the relation between them and cityscape art of the time. All cubist painters have devoted part of their artistic output to painting cityscapes, including Fernand Leger, whose most significant work was “The City” (1919, Museum of Art, Philadelphia). It has this distinction as one of the finest paintings of an urban landscape ever created. Robert Delaunay’s “Champ de Mars, The Red Tower” (1911, Chicago, Art Institute) has a very painterly style as well as being fairly typical of a cityscape.

A wide variety of painters from the so-called “School of Paris” also painted their unique visions of the city.

Futurists in Italy also contribute to this discussion, who were tenacious in their attempt to represent the movement of the modern city (see, for example, Umberto In 1910-11, the city rose in New York, Museum of Modern Art).

The figure of Piet Mondrian is also noticeable, who emigrated to America and created his own vision of New York City, including the famous “Broadway Boogie Woogie” (1942-43, new york, MOMA), which Robert Motherwell characterized as “The Modern City!” Is Here! From above, below, or on the side, we see the precise shapes, rectangular shapes, and square shapes bright lights and sterile life blacks on Broadway and whites on the streets. You will also find “Music of the rebellious at once resigned” the underground music of the at once rebellious and resigned.

The contemporary city: photorealism and hyperrealism

A new style of cityscape painting flourished following World War II, already appearing in the canon of abstract expressionist artists such as Joan Mitchell’s City Landscape (1955, Art Institute of Chicago) or Willem de Kooning’s audacious pictorial experiments. Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993), who had initially adopted abstract expressionism early in his career, but soon switched to figurative language (“Cityscape I”, 1963, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) as he sought to illustrate the light of the West Coast. He is also well known for his paintings of avenues and huge freeways in California, a production of which he is still active today. Wayne Thiebaud is famous for his toys and candy paintings, but he is well known for his views of avenues and freeways in California.

Despite the significant contributions made by photorealist and hyperrealist painters to cityscape painting in recent decades, they have had the greatest impact on contemporary cityscapes. The most important figure of this group is Richard Estes (born 1932), perhaps the greatest cityscape artist since George Bellows. His works range from the brilliant “Horn and Hardart Automat” (1967) to the recent “Broadway Bus Stop, Near Lincoln Center”

As well as Estes, we should mention the works of Rackstraw Downes (born 1939), who is a British-born artist living in New York, and Yvonne Jacquette (born 1934), who is known for her aerial photos of America’s We should also suggest that among hyperrealist painters, we should mention Antonio Lopez, Spanish painter whose “Gran V*a” (1974-1981) is already part of the history of Spanish painting and an icon of hyperrealism.

By Peter