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In the early nineteenth century political events and literary interest combined to lend Greece a special appeal for the European visitor. The blockade of the Continent during the Napoleonic Wars was in part responsible for more British tourists visiting Greece than ever before; the secession of the Ionian Islands to the French in 1797 by the Treaty of Campo Formio and, after 1815, their status as a British protectorate popularised the Greek tour even further. Moreover, the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 brought the country increasingly into the mainstream of European affairs. After Byron's death at Messolonghi in 1824, the memory of his contribution to the Greek cause proved an additional attraction to European tourists.
Yet these later travellers were more varied in both class and interests than the followers of the Grand Tour of the eighteenth century. The travellers of the early nineteenth century included not only learned or leisured aristocrats but also the new wealthy middle classes eager to take their families on a fashionable tour. Their interests are reflected in the numerous travel-books which were produced during the period. Written for the most part by antiquarians, artists or architects — but also occasionally by diplomats or military officers — they embraced destinations far more exotic than those favoured in the previous century, notably Rome and the Alps. Such venues — and indeed the most picturesque sites in Italy, Switzerland, France and Germany — had become all too familiar through the watercolours and 'Landscape Annuals' of the flourishing English topographical school. "How times are altered since the tour of Europe, the grand tour, was the ne plus ultra of gentlemen travellers!", one contemporary writer commented in the Eclectic Review. "No one can now pretend to have seen the world who has not made one of a party of pleasure up the Nile or ... across the Syrian desert. As for France and Flanders and Switzerland, our next-door neighbours, they may serve John Bull very well for a country-house, but to have seen those countries is no longer worth speaking of"' (306-7)
Greece was now a favoured Mediterranean destination — especially for the British. "No man is now accounted a traveller who has not bathed in the Eurotas and tasted the olives of Attica", declared the Quarterly Review, ""while, on the other hand, it is an introduction to the best company, and a passport to literary distinction to be a member of the 'Athenian Club" and to have scratched one's name upon a fragment of the Parthenon" (p. 458). For most travellers, Athens informed of "the great progress that had been made under the administration of Great Britain" and would leave confident that "the eyes of Greece were turned upon England . ,. imploring her pity and protection" (Hughes, I, 170).
The variety of pictorial conventions employed in those works with Greek subjects produced by British artists during the first half of the nineteenth century may be seen as indicative of the changing attitudes towards Greece of the British. Above all, it suggests a gradual development from a basically archaeological interest in the sites of ancient Greece to a romantic evocation of the past and, finally, to an attempt to come to terms with the contemporary appearance of the country, which reached its culmination in the work of Edward Lear (see cat. nos. 121-58) Apart from Lord Elgin, whose agents were installed on the Acropolis under the supervision of the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri in 1800, at the beginning of the nineteenth century a great many architects, artists and amateurs were in Greece measuring its monuments, investigating its topography and recording the customs and costumes of the people.
English interest in depicting Greek sites had started with the delineation of ancient buildings. Publications such as James Stuart and Nicholas Revett's Antiquities of Athene (see cat. nos. 178-81) were an outcome of the neo-classical interest in the revival of ancient Greek architecture. In the summer of 1803, the architect Robert Smirke was touring in Attica and the Morea. "I could with pleasure spend a much larger time there", he wrote in his diary of Athens and its ancient buildings, "those in Rome (with a few exceptions) not only grow in some degree uninteresting but have now entirely sunk into disregard and contempt in my mind" (qu0oted by Crook, p. 53).
During 1811-12 Charles Robert Cockerell was also in Greece, as a member of an 'international archaeological expedition' which discovered the sculptures of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina (then known as the Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius) and the frieze of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae. (The other members of the 'expedition' were:the German architect K. Haller von Hallerstein, the Swabian painter Jacob Linkh of Constatt, the Danish archaeologist Peter Oluf Bronstedt and the Livonian painter and antiquarian Baron Otto Magnus von Stackelberg.) In 1814 Thomas Allason travelled in Greece as draughtsman to John and Edward Spencer Stanhope for their publications on Plataea and Olympia. (see bibliography)
Publication of books and sets of engravings made the appearance of Greece readily available to admirers and collectors of views. William Gell's series of works, published between 1817 and 1823, provided important material for Greek topography. Edward Dodwell's Views in Greece, published in 1821, included genre scenes, picturesque views and records of contemporary costume. Joseph Cartwright, the Paymaster General to the garrison at Corfu, also illustrated some of the everyday aspects of life in Greece in Views in the Ionian Islands (1821).
To visit the Greek peninsula in the early nineteenth century — Greece was only established as an independent nation-state in 1830 and its frontiers varied considerably in the course of the century — was to visit an ideal. This sense of nostalgia, even of déjà-vu, is captured perfectly by William Haygarth in his account of his travels in Greece, in 1814: "There is nothing in our visit resembling the introduction to a new circle of acquaintances: it is the revived delight of the society of long absent and beloved friends" (170). This ideal Greece possessed a particular fascination for western Europeans. The influence of tradition, history and literature was such that the pleasure of a visit to Athens, Delphi, Marathon or Sparta was more intellectual than visual, it was to be transported back in imagination to events that had once taken place there. It was the past, not the present that was the attraction of Greece.
Artists made an effort to satisfy the curiosity of those who had not travelled in Greece and to remind those who had of their experiences there. For both, nothing was more likely to awaken a train of reflections connected with what he had seen or read about Athens than the image of the Acropolis. It mattered little whether it was depicted by the seashore or surrounded by mountain scenery; what was important was whether the picture accorded with the impressions that the tourist associated with Athens. The view was admired both for its own sake and for the emotions it aroused in the spectator. (Again and again one sees 'Greek' landscapes bathed in a haze of golden light — a visual cliche evocative of a Golden Age.) In the introduction to his illustrated account of his travels, 'Grecian' Williams writes:
The scenery in Athens demands . . . our most careful study . . . When nature presents her endless effects of beauty and of grandeur, the judgement may hesitate. . . Unless we are familiar with what has been discovered by her favourite sons, she will not present those electrifying truths which flash upon the mind in studying her not only as she is, but as seen through the medium of works of genius . . . The works of Niccolo Poussin, Domenichino and Sebastian Bourdon agree with the character of Athens, as viewed at no great distance from the ancient buildings. The simple dignity of form and colour, perceptible in the works of these great men, enter into the spirit of its story, and call forth corresponding sentiments. The distant views of Athens claim the style of Claude: his unbroken lines, that continuity and taking up of parts, sweetly transferring them to each other, and conveying to the mind the sentiment of beauty, well express what Athens is in her robes of silvery gray. The colouring, too, of Claude is just and accurate, as referable to Greece in her remote and lovely scene. [II, 338]
Williams's Greek works were exhibited in Edinburgh in 1822 and were greatly admired by the society of the 'Athens of the North'.
A similar sense of nostalgia for the Greece of the past is revealed in the work of William Page; but the artist who excelled in the rendering of the country "our dreams have dwelt upon" was William Linton. In the preface to his book The Scenery of Greece and its Islands, published in 1855, the artist gave as his reason for his selection of the illustrations that "those subjects have been preferred which appeared to unite the greatest amount of picturesque grandeur or beauty, with the most stirring or pleasing associations". Linton's Greek works appeal primarily to the literary imagination. His grandiose compositions escape into a literary realm without any reference to the present.
Other British artists during this period was, understandably, the most attractive locality. This was not only for its inherent qualities but also because it provided a convenient centre from which tours of the rest of the country could be made. The British, on the other hand, preferred to take a steamer almost immediately to the Ionian Islands. Here, especially in Corfu, English society and every English comfort were to be had. There would be no trouble with luggage or passports, and English periodicals could be obtained from the garrison library. Furthermore, the scenery was exquisite and the local inhabitants appropriately picturesque. The visitor would be pleased to be showed an equally effective yet less fanciful approach to Greek landscape. John Frederick Lewis, for example, paid a brief visit to Greece in 1839 while on his way to Constantinople. The few Greek works of his that survive are brilliantly coloured and convey a sensitive treatment of local atmosphere. The works of Edward Lear have a particular importance as documentary records of nineteenth-century Greece, for he spent far more time in the country and travelled far more extensively than any other artist in that period. Lear visited Greece in 1848-49 and spent almost every winter from 1856 to 1863 in Corfu. Moreover, Lear's interest in the country, its contemporary history and its customs led him to break away from the classical conventions that had formerly been used to describe Greek landscapes. "What do you think of a huge work (if I can do all Greece)?", he had written to his friend Chichester Fortescue in 1848 (quoted in Tsigakou, 66). Although his plan was never realised, Lear's published travel accounts together with his Greek views constitute today the most complete pictorial record of midnineteenth century Greece, including places which no traveller had depicted before. Lear was not only moved by the classical associations of particular localities but also by the beauty and variety of the scenery and the clear atmosphere in Greece. "The beauty of the temples I well know from endless drawings", he wrote when he first saw Athens, "but the immense sweep of plain with exquisitely formed mountains down to the sea — & the manner that huge mass of rock — the Acropolis — stands above the modern town ... is quite beyond my expectation" (quoted in Tsigakou, 13).
It is in the ingenuity with which the intimate association between geography and history are evoked that the appeal of Lear's views of classical sites lies. If the majority of artist-travellers did not give the specificity of detail that would relegate their Greek views to the mere portrayal of a particular site, Lear is perhaps exceptional in realising a landscape which is evocative but, nevertheless, recognisable by its topographical features. "It appears to me more and more that my painter's reputation will be that of a painter of Greek scenery principally", Lear wrote to his sister from Corfu in 1857 (quoted in Tsigakou, 14). Undoubtedly, he made Greece the subject of some of his finest works.
Cartwright, Joseph. Views in the Ionian Islands. London, 1821.
Crook, J. Mordaunt. The Greek Revival. London, 1973.
Eclectic Review N.S. XXI (April 1824): 306-7.
Gell, William. The Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca. London, 1807.
Gell, William. Itinerary of the Morea, London, 1817.
Gell, William. The Itinerary of Greece, containing onehundred routes in Attica, Boetia etc, London, 1819.
Gell, William. Narrative of a journey in the Morea, London,1823.
Haygarth, William, Greece, a poem in three parts, with notes, classical illustrations and sketches of the scenery. London, 1814.
Hughes, T. S. Travels in Albania, Greece and Sicily. 2 vols. London: 1820.
Quarterly Review XI (July 1814): 458.
Stuart, James, and Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens measured and delineated. 4 vols. London, 1762-1816.
Spencer Stanhope, John, and Edward Spencer Stanhope. The Battle of Plataea. London, 1817.
Spencer Stanhope, John, and Edward Spencer Stanhope. Olympia, or Topography illustrative of the Actual State of the Plain of Olympia and the Ruins of the City of Elis . London, 1824.
Tsigakou, F. M. 'Edward Lear in Greece.' unpublished M. Phil. thesis. University College, London, 1977.
Williams, H. W. Travels in Italy, Greece and the Ionian Islands in a series of letters. 2 vols, Edinburgh, 1820.
Last modified 6 June 2007