Sunday, July 09, 2006

A View of Darwentwater &c

In his book The Pleasures of the Imagination, John Brewer traces the interest in Lakeland scenery through the growing popularity of prints in the eighteenth century:
  • In 1752 William Bellers’ Six Select Views in the North of England contains the first published images of Windermere, Derwentwater and Ullswater. 
  • In the 1760s Thomas Smith of Derby published two series of Lakeland views, following up his earlier success with prints of Derbyshire and Staffordshire landscapes.
  • In 1789 Joseph Farington published a folio of twenty prints, Views of the Lakes, which Brewer describes as the first ‘coffee table’ book of the Lake District.
  • In 1791 Peter Holland published the first series of Lakeland aquatints.

William Bellers’ print, A View of Derwent Water, Towards Borrodale (1752) appears artificial when compared to later artists’ impressions, but is much more realistic than the strange landscape depicted in Thomas Smith’s, A View of Darwentwater &c from Crow-Park (1767 - see above). As Malcolm Andrews points out in The Search for the Picturesque, ‘It has been suggested that Smith deliberately distorts shapes to satisfy contemporary tastes for chinoiserie – the mist-wreathed, conical mountains made to look like Chinese landscape forms.’ This is an intriguing alternative to the picturesque filters through which landscapes were usually seen in the eighteenth century - Salvator Rosa, Poussin, Claude. Andrews thinks it is possible that Smith may also have been inspired to exaggerate the mountains in response to a description of Derwentwater by Dr John Brown (William Gilpin’s old drawing master) published in 1767:
‘On the opposite shore you will find rocks and cliffs of stupendous height, hanging broken over the lake in horrible grandeur, some of them a thousand feet high, the woods climbing up their steep and shaggy sides, where mortals never yet approached… a variety of water-falls are seen pouring from their summits, and tumbling in vast sheets from rock to rock in rude and terrible magnificence: while on all sides of this immense amphitheatre the lofty mountains rise round piercing the clouds in shapes as spiry and fantastic as the very rocks of Dovedale.’

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