Petaluma in Pictures: Celebrating the new year with a look at our town


It’s more than just an 11-letter word for “beautiful,” “sublime,” “attractive” and “aesthetically appealing.” In the late 18th century, “picturesque” was a movement, a philosophy of art and culture suggesting that to look at something pleasing and see it as such was more than just a conscious rational decision to name that thing “pleasing.” It was a natural human instinct that we could no more turn on and off than we could turn on and off the ability to recognize the difference between sunshine and moonlight.

Before that, in much the same way that modern (1700s-1800s) notions of romantic love and childhood had once not existed, the notion of anything in the human-made and/or the natural world being “picturesque” had not been considered an enlightened view. The word “picturesque,” in fact, does not appear in literature until author-teacher-priest William Gilpin wrote the exhaustively titled book, “Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770.” The controversial work recommended that those traipsing about England for recreation – a relatively new concept, mainly practiced by the wealthy – interpret everything they saw through what he called, “The rules of picturesque beauty.”

He’d adopted the term several years earlier in a work he more minimally titled “Essay on Prints,” in which he defined “picturesque” as “that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture.”

Such notions became an intrinsic part of the Romantic movement embraced by musicians, composers, po-ets authors and painters across Europe.

And there you have it.

Given that the word “picturesque” is among the top 10 most commonly used descriptors when talking about Petaluma (the others include “pretty,” “rural,” “charming,” “rustic,” “old-fashioned” and “historical”), it seemed appropriate to offer a brief definition and some historical context for a word that is so routinely employed by visitors to Petaluma and residents alike.

A few years ago, at the beginning of a new year, the Argus-Courier asked local photographers to submit some of their favorite photos taken in and around Petaluma, over the previous year or so. What better what to look backward and forward, all together as Petalumans, than to literally “look” at the things, places, people and activities that define our beautiful, sublime, attractive, pretty, rural, rustic, old-fashioned, historical, aesthetically appealing and thoroughly picturesque river town?

Thanks to the many photographers who submitted their favorite pictures.

We’ve included many more online at in the Arts & Entertainment pages.

Happy New Year to all.

We hope you enjoy these shots of our special little corner of the world.

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