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Eighteenth-century aesthetic theories helped tourists and artists make sense of the foreign landscapes they viewed when they traveled. The concepts of the Sublime and Beautiful were applied to the idealized and awe-inspiring sights that British visitors, familiar with paintings of these landscapes, expected to encounter when they traveled to Italy and the Alps.
Domestic tourism in Britain also flourished during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, thanks in part to William Gilpin's travel guides. Gilpin's guides to tourist routes in England, Scotland, and Wales advised readers to view the landscape through the lens of another aesthetic category—the Picturesque. The Picturesque was a distinctly non-classical, non-Italianate, and non-Sublime landscape. It was defined instead as a "rough" or "irregular" landscape, often dotted with Gothic ruins.
The Picturesque—whether applied to British or foreign landscapes—offered a visual antidote to the modern industrialization beginning to transform Britain. Rural figures, such as peasants, gypsies, and shepherds, played an important role in this aesthetic. American artists and tourists, lacking peasants in their own rapidly industrializing society, were especially attracted to images of European village life.