English landscape painting changed dramatically during the time of Turner and Girtin -- the new style of painting was seen as more natural and expressive of the imagination and character of the artist himself. In this book, Kay Dian Kriz critically examines the emergence of the Romantic concept of the landscape genius, arguing that it was a category produced by critics, painters, and the public, in opposition to other ways of thinking about the artist in the period around 1800. She places the artistic genius of the (male) landscape painter in relation to the (female) amateur, the connoisseur, the decadent Frenchman, and the entrepreneur.
Kriz studies the way in which the application of paint was thought to represent the character of the artist and of particular forms of Englishness. She shows that the power of the landscape genius lay in his ability to negotiate the seemingly contradictory demands of a market in luxury commodities and a social ideal of a virile and virtuous Englishness. The genius's encounter with external nature provided him with an alibi that served to obscure his activities as an economic producer in a competitive market society.