England, United Kingdom
4 x 6.5, 7.25 x 9.5 (in frame)
Long-term Loan from the Estate of Boris Blick, 2015
Francis Fitzgerald, British, active late 18th century. Charles Taylor. British, born in Shenfield, Essex. 1756-1823.
This set of engravings is from the Artist’s Repository and Drawing Magazine which served as a style guide for artists and amateurs alike. The 18th century journal hoped to “unite both instruction and entertainment, in a compendious system of elegant amusement.” Not only did this journal serve as an “encyclopedia on the fine and polite arts” but it primed its subscribers to an artistic ideal. Short essays on the “history of art” recall a nostalgia for past styles and are introduced with a gravitas that evokes a sentiment for what the author outlined as “fine and polite.” Additionally, the Artist’s Repository coincided with the recent establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts. The Academy was in charge of the judgement and arrangement of contemporary works. In the Artist’s Repository’s case, the publication propagated what was artistically celebrated in the Royal Academy at the time.
Although the magazine was illustrated for drawing, its pages consist of printed engravings. The efficiency and increased popularity for engravings commercialized the art form and made the fine arts more accessible. The engravings themselves are refined and removed from their contextual surroundings providing the individual with an uninhibited study of what the academy considered the essential “principles of landscape.” The engraving on the far left depicts two humble structures swallowed by dense foliage. They are diagonally positioned on the page with a soft engraved vignette to delineate the scenes. The central image is a closer study of a Birch tree. The rough contours of its papery bark and twisting trunk are emphasized by contrasting light and shade. Perhaps this engraving was accompanied by text that focused on the principles of drawing Birch trees. The final engraving is of dense brush on a rocky shore. The outer engravings balance the simple elegance of the central tree and the audience is first encouraged to study the tree and then work outwards into the sophisticated scenes on either side. However, these illustrations were separated by text and were not meant to be studied side by side.
At the time of this publication, England was becoming more industrialized and the modernization of their changing environment produced a fragile sense of anxiety. Precious landscapes such as these were beginning to dwindle and many artists were beginning to reflect their yearning for the old English countryside. The tutorials and essays in the Artist’s Repository gave regular folks an opportunity to draw what they felt as meaningful and familiar but in a structured format. A magazine such as this enables the individual to render idealized copies of an unattainable past that was customized to their unique consciousness. It is a representation of our deeply human need to perfect and preserve a nostalgic memory. Whether it be a tree or flower grove, this drawing magazine is an exemplar of nature that is cursory.
-Claire Koelling ('19)