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Cloud Art
The Story Of Clouds
Clouds And Culture
Cloud Classification
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Cloud Art: Clouds And Culture

In the early 1800s, clouds were not only a subject of scientific pursuit, giving birth to the new science of meteorology, but they were also the keen subjects of study of the philosophical man, of artists, poets, and playwrights. In fact John Ruskin, the most famous art critic of the British romantic period of the 19th century, wrote of modern landscape art: "If a general and characteristic name were needed for modern landscape art, none better could be invented than 'the service of clouds' ".

Notable in this romantic period were the paintings of Joseph Turner and John Constable and the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. In particular, Constable was a keen observer of meteorology and possessed an affinity to science. There is much speculation about the influence that Howard's scientific study of clouds had on the romantic pursuits of this period. It is also possible that Howard's work provided the stimulus for Constable's cloud paintings; the artist was clearly searching for a greater understanding of his subjects when he wrote "we see nothing truly 'till we understand it". Whether cloud classification influenced Shelley's famous poem, The Cloud, is also not clear. But the influence was clear on the pursuits of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an intellectual icon of the time, and a documented admirer of Howard's work. This admiration led to a series of poems, In Honour of Howard, in which Goethe set out to transform Howard's essay into a sequence of lyrical passages describing the the three major families of clouds plus the "nimbus". For Goethe, the power and simplicity of Howard's cloud scheme and his expression of the physical processes responsible for cloud shapes seemed to shed new light and provide the "missing threads" to his own studies on the shapes and forms of nature.1

Shelley's poem The Cloud is found on the Internet as well. (Here is one site at the University of Toronto.)

1 Stephens, G. L., 2003: The Useful Pursuit of Clouds, American Scientist, vol. 91, pp. 442-449.