All Cloudy, Except One Large Opening…The Skies of Alexander Cozens (1717–1786)

Alexander Cozens, spread from A new method of assisting the invention in drawing original compositions of landscape (London: A. Cozens and J. Dodsley, 1785). Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The 18th-century English landscape painter and drawing master Alexander Cozens is known to history as the “blot man” because of his 1785 publication, A new method of assisting the invention in drawing original compositions of landscape, which demonstrates how improvised ink dabs might be transformed into convincing neoclassical topographies. But Cozens was also among the first English artists to draw skies per se.1 While the first section of A New Method consists of massed aquatint blots (which the 20th century saw as prophetic of Rorschach tests, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism), and the last section shows how those jagged lumps should be resolved into cogent trees and mountains (rather to the disappointment of the Rorschach crowd, one suspects), the middle section consists of 20 skies arranged in contrasting pairs—clear, cloudy, bright, threatening, lit from right and left—tethered only by a gossamer horizon line to empty earth. Each carries a caption to identify the distinctions.

Become a subscriber to Art in Print to continue reading.

Subscriptions start at just $38 and include instant access to our digital archive.



  1. Louis Hawes, “Constable’s Sky Sketches,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 32:349. []