Why does landscape painting matter?

Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
“Not long after Birling Gap, the path arrives at a sweeping prospect across the downs that strikes nearly everyone as familiar whether they have ever walked this way or not.
“It is a view immortalised in a World War II poster by an artist named Frank Newbould. It shows a shepherd guiding a flock of sheep across the downs. Below, in the middle distance, is an attractive farmhouse. 
“At the top of a facing hill is the iconic Belle Tout lighthouse. The sea is just visible as a line across a distant valley. The caption says: ‘Your Britain — fight for it now.’
“I have always thought it interesting that of all the possible things worth dying for in 1939, it was the countryside that was selected. I wonder how many people would feel that way now.” (Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain)
Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
Frank Newbould was born in Bradford in 1887, the son of a chemist. He studied at Bradford College of Art and then at Camberwell College of Arts in London. The earliest advertisement attributed to him was for gas mantles, done at the age of 22. His work included one WW1 recruiting poster, for the RAF. His career was built mainly during the interwar years, when he designed many posters for London Transport and the Orient Line, among other clients.
He joined the War Office in 1942 as an assistant to Abram Games, OBE RDI, who was younger, more feted, more famous and more stylish. Still, it’s Newbould’s work that continues to speak to Britons down through the years. He painted eleven posters for the war effort, including the four-part series, Your Britain, Fight for it Now.
Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
Does landscape, as Bill Bryson wondered, still have the power to move people to great acts of courage?
The majority of Americans have never been to Manhattan, any more than the majority of Britons ever hiked the South Downs. And yet, after 9/11, a simple image of the Manhattan skyline became a galvanizing motif for our nation. It was not much more than a silhouette, really: just the square, unlovely shapes of the Twin Towers. They were reproduced everywhere and on every conceivable surface, from glossy magazines to tee-shirts on the backs of Texas teenagers who’d never been east of the Mississippi.
Newbould romanticized his image of the South Downs by adding a shepherd and his flock returning to their home farm. In the same way, the post-9/11 images of the World Trade Center were romanticized, shot at night or in the reflected glow of the New Jersey sunset. (A better sense of their looming presence can be seen in this photo essay.)
Courtesy Imperial War Museums, United Kingdom
Just as Frank Newbould was the modest assistant to the more sophisticated Abram Games, realistic landscape painting is the country bumpkin of the contemporary art world. That reflects the isolation of the cognoscenti from the affairs of the common man much more than it does the value of landscape art. Whether in real life or in our aspirations, the places we love and remember touch a deep place in our hearts. This is built into us. No amount of cultural advancement can change that.