Gainsborough to Ruskin: British Landscape Drawings & Watercolors in The Morgan Library & Museum
This presentation of sixty-one images of works by thirty different artists is based on a 1994 exhibition at the Morgan.
Exploring a period in the history of British art during which the role of landscape painting underwent a profound and lasting change, this presentation shows the ways in which that change was vitally dependent upon a transformation in the conception of landscape drawings and watercolors.
In early-eighteenth-century England what we would regard as landscape drawings were essentially topographical renderings.
Their primary function was documentary, providing an accurate visual record of a specific site.
Within the hierarchy of English taste, such works occupied a lowly rung, being deemed more the product of craftsmanship than of imagination and artistry.
We begin to see a marked shift toward a more painterly and subjective approach, however, in the work of topographers from the middle of the eighteenth century.
Increasingly, many of England's most creative and visionary artists found their principal source of inspiration in nature, from the quiet climes of the British countryside to the rugged grandeur of the Alps, to the ancient sites of Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
Indeed, one of the themes developed in this presentation is the importance of travel and the search for new and exotic visual splendors.
Nearly one half of these drawings depict sites outside England.
It is possible to speak of an emerging national school of landscape artists in England by the beginning of the nineteenth century.
While some worked both in oil and the various drawing media, others chose to express themselves almost exclusively in pen, chalk, wash, and, above all, watercolor.
As this presentation so ably demonstrates, there existed among these landscape artists an extraordinary diversity of styles, subject matter, and technique.
Charles E. Pierce, Jr. Director, The Morgan Library & Museum
Edward Lear (1812–1888)
View of Palermo
Pen and brown ink, watercolor and gouache, some white heightening, over pencil
10 1/4 x 17 5/16 in. (260 x 440 mm)
Inscribed and dated at lower right, in pen and brown ink, Palermo / 15.12. july. 1847; color notes in pencil throughout
Collection of Patricia and Henry Tang
The drawing was made during Lear's 1847 trip to Sicily, where he traveled with John Proby, who had come to Italy to study painting.
Proby met Lear in Palermo at the beginning of May; the two were there again on the eve of the festival of St. Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo.
St. Rosalia's body was found and brought to Palermo on 15 July 1625, and the feast is celebrated on this date each year.
The double date inscribed on Lear's drawing (15. 12 July) may refer to both the day the drawing was executed and the date of the festival.
In this sheet, Lear went over the pencil outlines with pen and freely brushed-on watercolor and gouache.
The color notes in pencil suggest that a drawing like this would provide the artist a topographically accurate
sketch that he would use to prepare more finished drawings or oil paintings.