Revisiting the Canon: Graphic Landscape
Conference, Lecture – Cora Gilroy-Ware, Timothy Wilcox, Timothy Wilcox, Gillian Forrester
- 9 November 2021
- 12:00 – 2:00 pm
- This event is part of the online conference programme 'Graphic Landscape: The Landscape Print Series in Britain, c.1775–1850'
12.00–12.10 Introduction by Cora Gilroy-Ware (Associate Professor, History of Art, University of Oxford)
12.10–12.30 Greg Smith (Independent Art Historian) , Engaging with the Voyage Pittoresque de la France: Thomas Girtin’s Picturesque Views in Paris and their appeal to the ‘most eminent in the Profession’.
12.30–12.50 Timothy Wilcox (Independent Scholar) , John Sell Cotman’s Architectural Antiquities of Normandy; A Catastrophic Miscalculation?
12.50–13.00 Comfort break
13.00–13.20 Gillian Forrester (Independent Art Historian, Curator and Writer) , A Glossary for the Anthropocene? Turner’s Liber Studiorum in the Era of Climate Change
13.20–14.00 Panel discussion and questions
Greg Smith, Engaging with the Voyage Pittoresque de la France: Thomas Girtin’s Picturesque Views in Paris and their appeal to the ‘most eminent in the Profession’.
This paper will consider the impact of the engraved views produced for the Voyage Pittoresque de la France (1781–1800) on the work of the British watercolourist, Thomas Girtin (1775–1802). Girtin’s studio at his death contained a number of ‘French prints … Landscapes’ and I will begin by examining the group of six watercolours that were directly based on engravings from the Voyage Pittoresque. The same publication also had a profound influence on the major outcome of Girtin’s stay in Paris in the winter of 1801–02, the twenty soft-ground etchings that were published posthumously, with the addition of aquatint, as Picturesque Views in Paris (1803). The radical playwright, Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809), noted that he conducted Girtin to locations in and around Paris ‘that were esteemed the most picturesque … among artists’ and the artist’s knowledge of the French topographical tradition was clearly mediated by Holcroft; and this certainly helps to explain the similarity of Girtin’s panoramic drawings of the river Seine and the work of artists such as Jean-Baptiste Génillion. It is perhaps not surprising that the significance for Girtin of the work of his French contemporaries has been overlooked given the obscurity of the Voyage Pittoresque in Britain but the expansion in the topographical archive on both sides of the Channel make it increasingly untenable to consider Girtin’s work in isolation.
In the second part of the paper, I will look at the way Girtin’s engagement with French prints was part of a wider strategy of targeting his publication at one sector of the market: practitioners of landscape art. The recently discovered list of purchasers of his Views in Paris indicates that Girtin was successful in attracting the support of not only the male and female amateurs amongst his regular patrons but also what the publication’s prospectus termed the ‘most eminent in the Profession’. Amongst the artist subscribers was Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) whose series of Seine views was clearly influenced by Girtin’s prints such as St Germain en Laye, from the Terrace and who built upon his engagement with the French topographical tradition.
Timothy Wilcox, John Sell Cotman’s Architectural Antiquities of Normandy; A Catastrophic Miscalculation?
Cotman’s Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, nearly 100 large-scale etchings, published by the artist between 1820 and 1822, was his most ambitious project as a printmaker. It occupied him for more than five years yet, when he had finished it, he was bankrupt, almost suicidally depressed and determined to give up printmaking and publishing for good.
This paper will present Cotman’s Normandy as a grand project broken on the back of a profound shift in attitude in post-Napoleonic Britain. Having conceived his Normandy in a spirit of disinterested enquiry worthy of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Cotman was, in effect, caught out by the patriotic fervour that gripped Britain after 1815. Cotman’s relative isolation in Norwich, a regional centre later dubbed ‘Jacobin City’ for its Revolutionary sympathies, and his involvement in the intellectual circles of Dawson Turner and Hudson Gurney, who kept up an extensive correspondence with scholars in France, must have played a part in him embarking on a project which, in a nutshell, gave Norman-French culture priority over the English.
Apart from the social and political context, there were technical and artistic reasons for Cotman’s difficulties. His large etchings looked dated, appearing at just the moment that Samuel Prout was demonstrating the powers of lithography to capture the crumbling masonry of continental domestic and ecclesiastical architecture. Having concentrated so single-mindedly on completing the visual component of his magnum opus, Cotman paid relatively scant attention to the supporting text, to gathering subscribers and to distribution. The elements which should have contributed to the project’s success were lacking and Cotman’s lack of judgement of his place in a market suddenly crowded with similar productions proved fatal.
By his third French tour in 1820, Cotman was himself in doubt about his scheme and envisaged a series of landscape prints which, if completed, did have the potential to be his crowning achievement in the medium. In the event, after the failure of the Normandy, this project was abandoned. The finished drawings that remain are, however, a testament to another series of landscape prints which deserve consideration, if only because the circumstances of their non-appearance are so fascinating.
Gillian Forrester, A Glossary for the Anthropocene? Turner’s Liber Studiorum in the Era of Climate Change
In 1807, J.M.W. Turner launched the Liber Studiorum, a self-published series of etching and mezzotint prints made by professional engravers from his designs. Turner issued the prints in parts of five at irregular intervals, intending to produce a hundred in total, but abandoned publication after he published the fourteenth part in 1819. Turner did not produce a prospectus or letterpress and his few remarks concerning the project were enigmatic. He did, however, exhibit a brief handwritten text at his gallery stating his objective to produce ‘a classification of the various styles of landscape, viz., the historic, mountainous, pastoral, marine and architectural’. An initial letter denoting one of these categories was engraved above each image. Despite the apparent simplicity of this mission statement, the Liber is not a straightforwardly didactic ‘Book of Studies’ but rather a complex and unstable amalgam of different discursive models, including a treatise on European landscape art, topographical print series, drawing manual, travelogue, nationalist polemic and personal manifesto. The engraver John Pye later noted that Turner’s objective was ‘to demonstrate’ that he could ‘delineate everything that is visible under the sun’.
Why should we devote attention to the Liber Studiorum? Although the work has received sustained scholarly attention since the 1850s and has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, I propose in this paper that Turner’s open-ended publication still offers possibilities for new readings as methodological approaches evolve. Turner’s taxonomy may also constitute a valuable model for art historians and practitioners as they develop new vocabularies to respond to the transformation of the world’s landscapes by climate change and pollution. A new lexicon of aesthetic terms is already in formation: in 2015, cultural historian Robert Macfarlane proposed the compilation of a ‘Desecration Phrasebook’ that might contain terms such as ‘trash vortices’ and physical geographer Stephen Tooth responded with his online Glossary for the Anthropocene, listing categories that included Anthroposcenic, Anthroposore, Glasstic Load, Capitolscene and Plasticene. I will discuss in relation to this evolving taxonomy the practices of Christiane Baumgartner and Emma Stibbon, two contemporary artists who make prints that explore the aesthetics of landscapes transformed by global warming and environmental degradation.
About the speakers
Cora Gilroy-Ware’s research explores continuities between historic and contemporary, ancient and modern. Her doctoral project on the surprisingly under-researched classical nude in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century British art led to her first book, The Classical Body in Romantic Britain, and a broader interest in neglected chapters in the history of visual classicism. As a scholar of BIPOC heritage, she seeks to reconcile decolonial approaches with traditional art historical areas of concern. With support from the Henry Moore Foundation, she is currently at work on a second book project on adaptations of Greco-Roman art, particularly marble sculpture, among artists of African and indigenous American descent including Mary Edmonia Lewis, Augusta Savage, Selma Burke, Carrie Mae Weems and Kara Walker. She has curated exhibitions at Tate Britain and the Huntington, and written for the London Review of Books, Apollo, The White Review and other journals.
Timothy Wilcox is an independent scholar with a particular interest in landscape painting and in watercolour. He held curatorial positions at the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and was for more than 10 years Director of Hove Museum and Art Gallery. As an independent curator, he curated exhibitions for Tate, the Lowry and Dulwich Picture Gallery. A former Associate Lecturer at the universities of Brighton and Surrey, he has been a Course Leader for the Courtauld Institute Summer School and a Special Advisor for the British Council to museums and galleries in India.
He is the author of books and articles on Constable, Francis Towne and Samuel Palmer and numerous publications on John Sell Cotman, including Cotman in Normandy, to accompany an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2012. Recently relocated to Oxfordshire, he is a regular contributor to the on-line programmes of the Ashmolean Museum.
Timothy Wilcox is an independent scholar and exhibition curator with special interests in British art, in landscape and in watercolour painting. He was a museum curator in the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings following positions at the V&A, in Liverpool and Hove. As a freelance curator and lecturer since 1997, he has organised exhibitions on John Constable, John Sell Cotman, Laura Knight and Hilda Carline, at venues including Tate, the Lowry, the Wordsworth Trust and Dulwich Picture Gallery. He is the author of Constable and Salisbury: The Soul of Landscape (2011) and a contributing author of Constable’s Clouds (2000) and The Solitude of Mountains: Constable in the Lake District (2006). He contributes regularly to the outreach programmes of the Ashmolean Museum and lectures at museums and galleries in Britain, Europe and the USA.
Gillian Forrester is an independent art historian, curator and writer. She was formerly Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center for British Art and specialises in British print culture in a transnational context. She has curated numerous exhibitions and authored and edited several books, including (with Tim Barringer and Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz) Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), which won the College Art Association's 2009 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for an especially distinguished catalogue in the history of art.
She has a particular interest in the prints of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. She was the curator of exhibitions on Turner’s Liber Studiorum at the Nottingham University Art Gallery (1986) and Tate Britain (1996), for which she wrote the catalogue now regarded as the definitive text on the topic. She curated exhibitions on The Romantic Landscape Print and The Romantic Print in the Age of Revolutions at the Yale Center for British Art (2002, 2003), and The Romantic Print in Britain at the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh (2004). She is currently working on an essay for the Yale Center for British Art on Turner’s prints, with particular reference to W.G. Rawlinson’s collection that formed the basis of YCBA’s holdings, and two book projects, one on the Romantic print and the other (in collaboration with Professor Morna O’Neill) on John Constable’s English Landscape Scenery.
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