Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill
SublimeSites.co has been silent for the past few months, but I have not been idle, nor laid low. Some readers even emailed to enquire after my possible demise. I cannot overstate how grateful I am for your concern.
The less dramatic truth is that SublimeSites activities have been pushed to one side by my ongoing research on the Cotman drawings at Leeds Art Gallery. This recently became pressing when we were told that the Art Gallery (closed whilst major work takes place on the roof) will reopen in October 2017, and that an exhibition of the Cotman drawings will be one of the headline re-inaugural events.
The good news is that I have now completed about three-quarters of the cataloguing – more than 600 items so far, and am working on the final 250. Theodore Wilkins and I have drawn up a list of the potential exhibits, and besides the masterpieces in the collection, we are planning to show a veritable blizzard of his sketches. Theodore has been working on the hi-res images of everything, and is designing a superb web environment to deliver those together with the new cataloguing information. A paper conservator is looking after the works themselves and an archivist is helping sort out the mass of documentation that relates to the collection, including Sydney Kitson’s notebooks, card indexes, correspondence and personal cataloguing data.
I spent the whole month of September in Normandy exploring in Cotman’s footsteps. Cotman made three tours there in 1817, 1818 and 1820, and published a major book, Architectural Antiquities of Normandy in 1822 containing 100 plates drawn and etched by himself. Leeds has a mass of drawings from those tours. The vast majority of them are figures studies, all of them deft, some wonderfully characterful, others poignant and full of human sympathy. There are also numerous carriages, carts and wagons, donkeys, horses and diligences. And there are studies of landscape and architecture, and several of the published etchings. I concentrated on visiting all the identifiable sites in the Leeds collection, and found that a very great deal remains to be recognised, and that being on site often offered numerous insights into his practice.
It taught me how hard Cotman worked on his tours – he was up at 6 am most days to start sketching, and what a huge task he took on. As it happens, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the first of those tours, so in working my way through the material that I have accumulated, I have started with a few 1817 subjects represented in the Leeds collection. In the days and weeks to come I will post a few articles to SublimeSites to explore some of those sites in sequence. I hope they prove enjoyable in themselves, and whet the appetite for a full treatment of the Leeds material, and perhaps, sometime, a detailed treatment of the full range of sites and material.