Friday, November 09, 2007

A picturesque view of Llyn Padarn

Here is one of Thomas Rowlandson’s aquatints from The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1809) showing the hapless cleric tumbling into the water while attempting to sketch a Gothic landscape:

A heap of stones the Doctor found,
Which loosely lay upon the ground,
To form a seat, where he might trace
The antique beauty of the place:
But while his eye observ’d the line
That was to limit the design,
The stones gave way, and sad to tell,
down from the bank he headlong fell.
This first tour, written by William Combe and published in Rudolph Ackermann's Poetical Magazine (great title!) also included scenes of Dr Syntax sketching a 'sepulchral ground', a rustic group of animals, and a lake (he inevitably ends up getting wet). However, most of it as an opportunity for picaresque adventures rather than picturesque satire - the basic framework of a tour in the manner of William Gilpin provides plentiful opportunity for bathos and comic misadventures.

Rowlandson's Dr Syntax was not his only satire on the art of landscape. In his book The Search for the Picturesque Malcolm Andrews reproduces his earlier painting An Artist Travelling in Wales, in which the 'wretched, determined artist' is weighed down by a large sketch book, a tripod easel, a palette, a water-flask and a palette knife. 'Such is his dedication to the Picturesque that the rest of his luggage for sustaining himself on the tour is proportionately insignificant.'

Rowlandson knew what he was painting because he had himself gone out in search of picturesque landscapes. The National Library of Wales has a selection of Rowlandson's sketches here. they say 'Perhaps the finest composition in the series is the large watercolour of Dolbadarn where Rowlandson contrasts the genteel tourists embarked upon Picturesque discoveries on Llyn Padarn with the peasants who, to a man, can only gaze across at the visitors in wonder.' There is perhaps a subtle element of satire in this contrast.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Satirical landscape painting is a genre/point of view I've never thought about before - thanks. I especially like the part about his belongings being 'proportionally insignificant' compared to his art supplies. I've come to that realization every time I move.