To travel – to journey for education and leisure – was once a privilege, a pastime only open to the wealthy. Today the world is more accessible to all of us, artists included.
For centuries, artists provided a window to the world that was only available to a few, bringing back views of the familiar and unknown through their eyes. Many of these ‘living pictures’ inspired viewers to become visitors, and turned the places they depicted into the travel destinations of the modern era. This exhibition considers the varied forms the art has taken, including works that were published in the first Encyclopédie, the birth of Romanticism, the Picturesque and the route of the Grand Tour.
The role of the ‘artist as traveller’ has changed as the world has become easier to explore. The shift in how people travel has allowed artists to interpret the world around them in new ways. Artists’ motives have changed from showing an idyllic version of a place, or being hired to ‘take the view’ of the Empire, to seeking to educate, agitate and inspire.
Sadly, very little is known about Drury. It is believed that her family were originally from East Anglia, but were settled in Dublin by 1675. We do know, however, that she was the first to accurately show the Giant’s Causeway to the rest of the world through her exquisite depictions of the site. This pair (and another pair currently owned by the National Trust) are the only paintings accredited to her still in existence. One of these pairs won the first Dublin Society Premium Prize in 1740.
However, it was not these paintings that exposed the rest of Europe to the geological phenomenon. Drury herself commissioned engravings of her paintings to be made in London by François Vivares (one of the most able landscape engravers then working in England) around three years later. In 1771, the French basalt expert Nicolas Desmarest used these engravings when stating definitively that the Causeway was a natural volcanic phenomenon, and not man-made as some had thought. Later in the 1700s they were used to illustrate the Giant’s Causeway in one of the first widely read encyclopedias, the Encyclopédie (or the Classified Dictionary of Sciences, Art and Trades), though Drury was not credited.
The Picturesque and Romanticism
Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, landscape painting was dominated by the ideals of the Picturesque and Romanticism. The principles of the Picturesque were first put forward by William Gilpin in 1782 and concerned the pleasures derived from seeing well-composed images of nature. He went on to write travel guides about the best places to capture this ‘peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture’. Romanticism, though related to the Picturesque, was concerned with shifting from classical representations of nature to more emotional and unrestrained imagery.
John Ruskin and his pupil James Duffield Harding were central to both of these visual movements. They felt that to learn to paint nature, painters should not study other artists but nature itself: they should not try to create an exact copy of the landscape, but rather their emotional impression of it, letting the viewer ‘feel’ what it was like to stand in that place.
The popularity of the Grand Tour and increased debate around these theories went hand in hand. Artists travelled throughout Europe and beyond in order to, in the words of Harding, ‘[revive] in the mind those ideas which are awakened by a contemplation of nature’.
The Art of Watercolour
The 1800s saw a change in attitudes towards watercolour painting – before then, the spectrum of what constituted ‘fine art’ only included oil painting and sculpture. The Society of Watercolour Painters, founded in 1804, was also the first to celebrate landscape painting exclusively. The innovative techniques of artists such as J. M. W. Turner, and the new conversations around Romanticism and the Picturesque, inspired many artists and amateurs alike. Watercolour was cheap, quick to produce, and easily teachable, which in turn allowed artists to make more income. Its popularity grew immensely during the 1800s as more societies were set up and larger, more ambitious, paintings were displayed in exhibitions solely dedicated to the media.
Just as landscape painting had historically been associated with Dutch and Flemish artists, and capturing views under specific light with Italians, English Romanticism became associated with watercolour paintings. Many argue that bringing this concept to the media of watercolour, and popularising it, was the first original impact the English made on artistic tradition.
Italy and the Grand Tour
Continental Europe, specifically Italy, was the perfect place to explore the new Romanticism in art. The custom of the Grand Tour, already at its height by 1760, became the mechanism through which the wealthy, and artists, took part in ‘Picturesque Tourism’. The tour was a long journey around Europe typically undertaken by young men to ‘polish’ their education. They generally started in France, or the Low Countries, then went to Italy via the Mediterranean, returning through Austria-Hungary and Germany.
The excavations of Pompeii (which began in 1748), the publication of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Vedute (views) of Rome, and the visitation of high profile English painters, including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Richard Wilson, led to Italy becoming the centre of the Grand Tour, and subsequently landscape painting.
Returning travellers brought Italy back with them, through their own artwork or from artists they had hired to ‘take the view’. As a consequence, the physical images of the main cities of the Italian tour – Florence, Rome, Venice and Naples – were able to be recognised by a wide range of travellers and readers. This established the recognition which these cities still enjoy today and is reflected in contemporary travelling habits.
The Business of Print
Before photography, engraving companies and print shops recognised that images of ‘views’ had high material and political value. The Piranesi etchings were some of the most popular ever produced and other Italian artists, including Canaletto and Panini, also created prints. During a time of political unrest in the 1700s, when travel lessened, Italian artists were encouraged to travel to England to ‘sell their views’. Sometimes, to lower costs, artists did not travel themselves but were sent sketches to work from.
Architects, or artists trained in the practice, made up a large proportion of travelling sketchers, such as Jackson, seen elsewhere in this exhibition. After the Second World War, renewed opportunities to travel coincided with a boom in etching, resulting in many prints being composed by these skilled draughtspeople. Some fully immersed themselves in the historic culture of where they visited – there are reports that Walcot dressed in togas at home and believed himself to be reincarnated from classical times.
Rosenberg, another architecturally trained artist, created beautiful ‘living pictures’ that, while showing the bustle of modern life, highlighted the details of ancient buildings that may often go unseen.
In the 1800s many European artists’ only travel beyond the continent was through trade or military activity, such as Andrew Nicholl who was invited to British-ruled Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by its Colonial Secretary.
These initial connections led to European cultural presence in the Ottoman Empire. During the 1800s, Greece, long a destination for scholars, became popular due to the British control of the Mediterranean.
Istanbul received similar attention, bolstered by the return of Paris trained local artists hoping to reshape its visual culture. It became a hub of artistic harmony, with local and visiting artists working and exhibiting together and elements of Islamic and Byzantine heritage subsequently influencing Western European imagery through Orientalism and the Aesthetic movement.
There was, of course, a darker side to Orientalism. Many of the works could be viewed as propaganda to support Western imperialism, falsely depicting the East as a place of backwardness and lawlessness that needed to be tamed.
In the 1900s, artists began to concern themselves with capturing the true essence of people and places, as seen here with Macleod’s studies of North Africa, and Burton’s studies of India, where a six-month trip to visit her sister turned into a four year residency.
A New Approach
During and after the World Wars, society changed dramatically– opportunities to travel were no longer as constrained by the activities of an elite group of people. Though it would be the end of the twentieth century before travel and education were open to a majority of people, artists from far more varied backgrounds started to emerge and chose to record the world in different ways. Years of war had isolated people, and the renewed freedom and energy to travel was something that was embraced by artists, who spent long periods of time learning from other places.
A journey abroad was a chance to explore new directions emerging in art, rather than the scenery itself, and educational opportunities began to open up, especially for women. Evelyn Gibbs received the British Council scholarship to Rome and Doris Rosenthal gained two Guggenheim awards to travel to Mexico, where she ended up spending the rest of her life.
For some, travel became a form of escape. Gibbs’ extensive studies of the Maltese Island of Gozo were a respite from her busy artistic life in London, where she was a pioneer of arts education.
Elaine Shemilt is an artist, professor and environmental activist who lives and works in Dundee, where she was head of printmaking at Duncan of Jordanstone College. Though known for her innovative approach to printmaking, performance and film, in recent years Shemilt has turned her practice towards environmental activism. She feels it is her responsibility as an artist to create awareness of environmental issues through art. Travel to remote places allows her to highlight their importance and vulnerability.
This print is from her body of work concerned with South Georgia and Antarctica. She is the Vice Chair of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, established to promote the environmental protection and habitat restoration of the Southern Atlantic. From being a site linked with the destruction of the natural environment, through its whaling stations, it has evolved into a crucial centre for environmental data recording.
Shemilt has talked of the natural progression from her early work, that concerned the hostilities of war, to looking at conditions and locations that are extreme and hostile towards mankind. “This was the culture of men at war with nature. These sites remain like strange remnants of war – scars in an otherwise exquisitely beautiful landscape”.
Glossary of terms and techniques
A print technique which allows the artist to ‘draw’ freely on a metal plate. The plate is first coated with an acid-resistant ‘ground’ through which the design is then drawn with a sharp tool, exposing the metal beneath. Acid is then applied to the plate and ‘bites’ into the exposed lines; the longer the plate is exposed to the acid, the deeper the lines and the thicker they will appear in the final image. The ground is removed before printing.
A printmaking process in which a design is drawn on a plate with a sharp, pointed needle-like instrument.
A print method involving drawing on a smooth limestone slab using a greasy crayon or ink. The prepared stone is dampened with water and then rolled with a greasy ink. This layer of ink sticks only to the drawn marks on the stone and is repelled by the water in the negative area of the design. Now ready for printing, a lithography press is then used to transfer the image from the stone surface to a sheet of paper.
A refinement of woodcut, one of the oldest methods of print making, wood-engraving was developed at the end of the 1700s. The design is cut into the end grain of a block of boxwood, or another hard wood, using a tool called a ‘graver’.
A reddish-brown colour, named after the rich brown pigment historically taken from the ink sac of the common cuttlefish.
Gouache and body colour
A water based paint that is more opaque than watercolour.
A prepared animal skin used for painting and writing. The technique of gouache on vellum is usually associated with the miniature painters, though there was a strong Dutch and Flemish tradition of landscape painting on this medium as far back as the 1500s.
An empire ruled from Turkey which included territory in Southeastern Europe, Turkey, parts of the Middle East and North Africa between 1300s and early 1900s.