Contributor: Asker Pelgrom
Location: Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art, Luxembourg
Description: In 1845 the Dutch King William II (1840-1849) commissioned a series of canvasses from the famous Dutch landscape painter Barend Cornelis Koekkoek (1803-1862). The artist had finished eight of the nine paintings originally planned when production was interrupted by the king’s unexpected death in March 1849. The series depicts Luxembourg landscapes, showing green hills, farmhouses and forests and, at the centre of each scene, a castle – in some cases in ruins. The existing canvasses depict Beaufort (3), Schoenfels, Berg, Hollenfels and Larochette (2); the last painting should have depicted a ‘View of the town of Mersch or of the Mersch valley’. Koekkoek’s choice of Luxembourgish themes was quite exceptional. Romantic landscape artists in the Low Countries rather sought the picturesque in the Belgian Ardennes or the valleys of the Rhine, Moselle or Ahr and Koekkoek typically followed this practice. His series of Luxembourg landscapes is also stylistically distinct from the rest of his oeuvre. His compositions usually show ‘pleasant lies’: ‘a selection of various pretty elements […] constituting a whole that does not correspond to any existing reality’, but in this case they are striking for their topographical accuracy. This painting, and the series as a whole, can therefore only be explained taking into consideration the political and private needs of Koekkoek’s patron, which turn out to be surprisingly international in contour.
Continue reading “Romantic ruins in a Luxembourg landscape: William II and B.C. Koekkoek’s View of the Castle of Larochette (1848)”
Contributor: Jean-Marie Fournier
Location: Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Description: Now an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Sultan Tippoo’s « Man-Tiger organ » is simultaneously an automaton, a sculpture in the Gothic taste, a musical instrument, an instance of popular craftsmanship in the spirit of the Enlightenment, and an elaborate practical joke. The object enjoyed great popularity in its day, celebrated in penny broadsides, chapbooks and newspapers, so that its fame was well-established long before it reached England. When it did arrive in Britain in 1800, it was exhibited first in the Tower of London, and then in East India House, Leadenhall Street. There it was seen by both William Blake and John Keats.
Continue reading “Tippoo’s Tiger”
Contributor: Tim Fulford
Location: The Wye Valley/The Royal Institution
Description: In 1800 a man inspired by Wordsworth’s visionary poetry made a trip to Tintern Abbey. Based in Bristol, he was a friend of Coleridge and Southey and was in the midst of editing Lyrical Ballads for the press; he also wrote nature verse in his own right. He was employed, however, not as a poet but as a scientific enquirer, and on his excursion to the river Wye he was armed with an improved eudiometer—the best instrument for measuring the proportion of oxygen, the gas first isolated by Joseph Priestley, in the atmosphere. ‘The Eudiometer’, he wrote, ‘that I have lately used is a very simple & commodious one – It consists of a tube about 5 inches long containing 200 grains of water – The space between the 140 & 180 grains is graduated. – This tube is emptied of water in an atmosphere when you wish to know its composition & plunged into a solution of muriate or sulphate of iron impregnated with Nitrous gas.’(1) He was Humphry Davy…
Continue reading “The Eudiometer at Tintern”
Contributor: Clare Brant
Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London
Description: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: the first line (and proper title) of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils (pub.1807) has epitomised Romantic poetry for generations of English schoolchildren (and for some, created resistance to it.) What made clouds Romantic? Why did poets and artists across Europe follow William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and John Constable (1776-1837) in making them subjects of Romantic poems and paintings?
Continue reading “A Cloud”
Contributor: Jean-Marc Hovasse
Location: Maison de Victor Hugo, 6, place des Vosges, 75004 Paris.
Description: Mme Victor Hugo organisait régulièrement sous la monarchie de Juillet des loteries ou des ventes de charité au profit de bonnes œuvres. Elle continua en exil. On raconte qu’ayant croisé au marché une fillette de cinq ans qui gardait non sans périls sa petite sœur de six mois, elle eut l’idée de fonder une crèche à Guernesey, où les mères pourraient déposer leurs enfants pendant qu’elles travaillaient, au lieu de les abandonner dans la rue. Telle est l’origine du grand « Bazar » organisé pendant la dernière semaine du mois de juin 1860 à Saint-Pierre-Port. Il avait été préparé très en amont, comme en témoigne ce passage d’une lettre de Mme Victor Hugo à George Sand datée du 25 mars 1860 : « Afin que ma récolte soit bonne il me faut beaucoup d’objets, et de précieux. M. de Lamartine m’a donné un de ses encriers. Vous voyez que je suis riche déjà. Cette richesse je voudrais l’augmenter d’un encrier qui vous ait servi. Je le mettrai en pendant avec celui de l’illustre poëte. Que l’encrier soit de verre ou de cristal, de sapin ou d’érable, qu’importe, pourvu que vous y ayez trempé votre plume et que vous certifiiez par un mot qu’il vous a appartenu. »
Était-ce vraiment un encrier, ce petit vase de verre rose translucide parcouru d’arabesques d’or donné par Lamartine, avec en guise d’autographe cet alexandrin blanc étalé sur deux lignes : « Offert par Lamartine au maître de la plume » ?
Continue reading “The Table of Inkwells / La table aux encriers”
Contributor: Robert Rix
Location: Library of Congress, Washington DC
Description: The poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) printed his Illuminated Books, combining text and picture, from copper plates. The technique he used was unique and is still subject to debate. We know that he wrote directly on the copper with an acid-resistant liquid; he then proceeded to cover the plate in corrosive acid that etched away the uncovered areas of the plate, leaving text and design in relief, which was finally inked and placed in a rolling press. The exhibit shows how Blake painted text in mirror writing so that the plate, when pressed against the paper, prints in normal script. Legend has it that Blake was instructed in this peculiar printing technique in 1788, when his dead brother, Robert, appeared to him in a vision. However, Blake never gave any detailed account of how his etchings were made. The exhibit is the only surviving fragment on which Blake’s etching technique is visible. It has therefore been of great interest to critics who have tried to reconstruct how Blake made his Illuminated Books.
Continue reading “Fragment of a cancelled copper plate from William Blake’s America”
Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Location: The Princes Czartoryski Museum, Kraców, Poland.
Description: This chair is part of the original collections of the Princes Czartoryski Museum (as of December 2016 part of the Polish National Museum). It is clearly an eighteenth-century chair. It has lion claws for feet, metal snakes for arms and is ornamented idiosyncratically and expensively on the seat back with a golden lyre. Above this, an inscription in Latin reads ‘William Shakespeare’s Chair.’ At first glance, this seems entirely unlikely; however, the back of the chair conceals a surprise. Open up a hinged door and within, reverently entombed in this outer shell, you find the remains of a much older chair. This is what is left of one of ‘Shakespeare’s chairs’. The story of how it travelled from Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to Kraców describes in little Shakespeare’s import in the Europe of the 1790s as an exemplar both of Enlightenment ideals and Romantic habits of mind.
Continue reading “Shakespeare’s Chair and the Polish Princess”
Contributor: Zsuzsanna Zeke
Location: Petőfi Literary Museum, Károlyi Street 16, 1053-Budapest, Hungary
Description: This leather wallet was given to her husband, the poet Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849), by Júlia Szendrey for a keepsake. It is held in Budapest in the Petőfi Literary Museum, which also houses some of the Hungarian National Poet’s manuscripts, books and relics. A typical Biedermeier souvenir, made of goatskin, lined with silk and decorated with pearl embroidery (Holbein stitch/gobelin), it measures 30 x 15 cm (when open) and contains coins and a pencil with a metal top. On one side there is a chubby, naked putto ’Amor’ flying with a bunch of flowers and the iconographic lettering Petőfi Sándornak Pest 1848 (for Sándor Petőfi [Buda]Pest 1848). On the other side are embroidered laurel branches and the Hungarian national colours, together with a line from Petőfi’s poem Talpra Magyar versért (‘Rise up, Magyar’). There is a clear tension between the two sides of the object.
Continue reading “Sándor Petőfi’s Wallet”
Contributor: Matthew Sangster
Location: British Library, London
Description: Richard Horwood’s vast PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE, a project commenced in 1790 and finally completed in 1799, touches upon many suggestive contradictions between Romantic ideologues and the print culture of the period in which these were theorised. The Plan is deeply Romantic in terms of its reach and ambition: a house-by-house map of the largest city in Europe surveyed and engraved by one man over a period of nearly a decade. Horwood himself was keen to stress the novelty and grandeur of his endeavour: his prospectus described the Plan as an undertaking ‘ON A PRINCIPLE NEVER BEFORE ATTEMPTED’ and when writing to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce in an attempt to secure a premium for his work, he played up the physical and mental effort it had required:
The execution of it has cost me nine years severe labour and indefatigable perseverance; and these years formed the most valuable part of my life. I took every angle; measured almost every line; and after that, plotted and compared the whole work. The engraving, considering the immense mass of work, is, I flatter myself, well done.
Continue reading “Every House of the Ant-Hill on the Plain: Richard Horwood’s London”
Contributor: Cameron Morin
Location: Alloway, Ayrshire (Scotland)
Description: This beautiful, good-as-new instrument, made of pine and sporting a flower-like red, green and black design on the back, is displayed in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway, as ‘the fiddle of William Gregg’. Born in 1766 in Ayr, Gregg learned to play the vioin at a very young age, eventually becoming what was called a “Dance Tutor” or a “Master of Manners”, based in Tarbolton, Ayrshire. In 1779, he accepted a most peculiar pupil: Robert Burns.
Continue reading “The Fiddle that taught Robert Burns his manners”