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Truth Rather Than Elegance: A Paradoxical Case of Impartiality in Alexander Cozens’s Principles of Beauty (1778)

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Chapter Summary

For more than a hundred years after its first publication in 1778, the interested reader could buy a book entitled Principles of Beauty Relative to the Human Head. Its author was Alexander Cozens, an English artist most renowned for his landscape watercolours. Modern art history is much more interested in his other important theoretical contribution to art, the New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape which was published a few years later in 1785/86. Cozens gave a detailed account of a procedure he considered to be of major help for landscape painters, the so called 'blot'-technique, in which artists had to place ink blots on the paper and use these abstract compositions as a basis and starting point for landscape painting. In twentieth and twenty-first centuries these blots with their decidedly modern impression seemed much more interesting than Cozens's search for 'absolute beauty'.

Keywords: 'absolute beauty'; 'blot'-technique; Alexander Cozens; landscape painting; modern art history



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