Coastal Sketchbooks and the Picturesque Gaze
Isaac Land (Indiana State University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines how three British artists on coastal itineraries in Britain and Australia deployed the picturesque gaze to approach natural history as well as human or moral history, resulting in a revealing yet incomplete portrait of the coast.
Paper long abstract:
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, spurred in part by new concepts in the sciences and also by innovations in publishing technology, artists undertook what Claudio Greppi has called "the Iconographic Inventory of the World." This paper examines three of these artists, almost exact contemporaries, who undertook long coastal itineraries in the 1810s. William Daniell walked the entire coastline of Britain, while William Westall and Charles Alexandre Lesueur circumnavigated the entire coast of Australia with the Flinders and Baudin expeditions respectively. The premise was to assemble a complete visual record of the coastline. In practice, these artists were highly selective and drew on the picturesque ideal which held that an interesting object is one that has complex contours and textures; it may be irregular, broken, or even in a state of decay. This aesthetic concept sometimes enhanced but sometimes conflicted with other imperatives, such as ideas associated with natural history, and Enlightenment theories about progress and human development. In Daniell's illustrated books, he devoted much space to his antiquarian interests and supposedly timeless scenery, but grew increasingly aware that economic and industrial change, and even environmental degradation, was changing the British landscape at a rapid pace. Westall and Lesueur sketched in radically different ways; the British expedition divided the artistic labor and produced Australian natural history as a series of isolated specimens with no sense of context, while the French artist drew humans, animals, plants, and landscape together, showing how Aborigines made use of their coastal setting.
The appraising eye: skilled vision, professionalization, and the sensory history of the coast