This article on the tradition of topographical water colors states that “topographical paintings seem quaint and bland to modern tastes”. Maybe I don’t have modern taste, because I love them.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, topographical art served the purpose that cameras do now—recording what places looked like. Reason #1 I love topographical art is because I find it useful when developing settings for my stories. Many places have changed considerably since the Regency, so it helps to see buildings, roads, people and animals as they were back then.
However, some artists took topographical pictures further into the realm of art, and this is Reason #2 why I love them.
When the “picturesque” tradition met the topographical traditions, mountains became higher, crags became craggier and wilderness more wild. This is where I do check these images against modern photos, but I really I don’t care that they took liberties. It tells a lot about the culture of the times and I love those pictures anyway.
Here are just a few English topographical artists whose work I enjoy.
Paul Sandby (1731-1809) is one of my favorites. Here’s a 1794 picture of Darmouth Castle and a comparison photograph.
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), is famous for works which were impressionistic before the Impressionist movement had fully begun, but he also produced landscapes in the more traditional manner. Here’s his “Vale of Ashburnham”, 1816.
A later artist I enjoy is Thomas Allom (1804-1872). Here’s his “Eaton Hall”, published in the 1830s.
Do you enjoy topographical art? Do you have any favorite artists or pictures? Please feel free to share links!
- 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?Elena
- I’m writing this a week in advance, because on the Saturday it will post I will be returning from a week in Florida, where we are visiting family during my children’s spring break.Frankly, I must say that Florida is not my favorite vacation spot. There are fun things to do, of course, and it’s good to see relatives. But the Orlando area is Too Crowded and Too Hot. I am hardened by our upstate NY winters, I guess!I did enjoy my visit to the Florida Keys, because I went scuba diving and saw a shark, just the right kind: about four feet long and swimming the other way! Tropical vacations for me have to include some sort of snorkeling or diving.Otherwise, I prefer temperate climates, lakes and mountains. I love Maine, especially Acadia National Park, and I’ve had many wonderful vacations in Canada. I think I’d enjoy going out to the Rockies sometime.During the Regency, the trend for seeking out the picturesque was satirized in William Combe’s poem “The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque,” illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson. I wouldn’t have cared; I would have gone anyway.Here are some of my favorites among the picturesque spots I visited while on international assignment in the UK. My own pictures are buried; these are all from www.geograph.org.uk.First, the Lake District. There’s a famous incident where a visitor, after boring Beau Brummell with stories of a tour in Scotland, asked him which were his favorite lakes. To depress the bore’s pretensions, Brummell consulted with his valet before replying “Windermere, will that do for you?”My own real favorite in the Lake District is Ullswater, of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” fame. My husband and I rented a canoe there one breezy afternoon. We paddled against the wind both ways (it turned just as we did) and enjoyed the movement of the clouds and the play of light over the hillsides until a light drain drove us toward shore and a nice pub in Glenridding.The Isle of Skye: more fantastic scenery and sheep with an attitude. At one point in our travels, a ram planted his feet in the middle of the road in front of us and glared at us. I had to get out to shoo him out of the way and frankly, I was a little unnerved!The Cotswolds: pastoral countryside, churches, cottages all built of a lovely golden stone. When my husband accidentally damaged our old brick fireplace in a fit of home improvement, we decided to rebuild it with stone that reminded us of the Cotswolds.Do you enjoy the picturesque? What are some of your favorite destinations, in Britain or elsewhere?Elena