Last weekend, I took my girls camping at Salt Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, one of our favorite nature spots. On a 90 degree day, the swimming hole in the creek is pure heaven. I took a lot of pictures, some in an attempt to capture the beauty of the place and some to help remember how much fun we had.
During the Regency, learning to sketch was part of a typical young lady’s education and it would come in handy while traveling for pleasure, serving a similar purpose that cameras do now. Of course, if one lacked the talent or inclination to draw, prints were also often available from professional artists, just as post cards are now.
In the late 18th century Edmund Burke developed a theory of the beautiful and the sublime, the “picturesque” being a synthesis of the two, uniting conventional beauty with the “horror” of rough elements like mountain crags. William Gilpin continued along this thread, writing treatises and taking people on tours through the countryside. Those who could not take the Grand Tour, either due to limited means or current political situation, were encouraged to enjoy the more accessible pleasures of picturesque locales including the Lake District and Scotland.
An interesting tidbit I found while researching this post was that tourists often used a “Claude Glass” (named after the artist Claude Lorraine), a darkened and slightly convex pocket mirror that created a more “picturesque” version of whatever was viewed in it. Sometimes they even used this mirror when sketching. I’m not surprised, because I already knew that period sketches of places often took some romantic license. Just compare the above image of Crummock Water in the Lake District by T. Allom with a modern photo of a similar view. I enjoy this sort of romanticized landscape and collected a number of prints like this while I was in England. On the other hand, the Lake District is lovely enough without trying to make it look like the Alps!
A different reason for trying to capture images is to preserve memories of events involving family and friends.
The closest Regency equivalent to family snapshots that I’ve found is Mrs Hurst Dancing and Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823. It’s a collection of watercolor sketches by Diana Sperling, annotated by Gordon Mingay. It’s a wonderful record of everyday life of the rural gentry, their labors and their pleasures. Pictures have captions like “Papering the saloon at Tickford Park”, “The finding of the lost sheep!” and “Charles Sperling picking up his sister Isabella who had rolled off her donkey.” I can imagine the Sperlings and their friends looking through these sketches the same way we sometimes look at and laugh over old photo albums.
Do you enjoy photography or sketching? What are your favorite subjects? Do you have a preference for romanticized images or realistic?