Sublime Sites

Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill

In Cotman’s Footsteps through Normandy: #3 Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe

This is the third article in an occasional series exploring Normandy subjects in the Cotman collection at Leeds Art Gallery. In September 2016 I spent the month travelling through Normandy and visited all the sites represented at Leeds. Cotman’s port of landing on his first visit to Normandy in 1817 was Dieppe. In the first article I explored Cotman’s depictions of the Church of St Jacques, the second of Dieppe castle and harbour and here I follow him to the nearby Castle of Arques-la-Bataille, albeit in mostly torrential rain.

At Arques la Bataille.  Photography by Olivia Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.49 GMT

At Arques la Bataille.
Photography by Olivia Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.49 GMT

Cotman landed at Dieppe on 20 June 1817 and put up at the Hotel de Londres on the harbour front. His letters record that the weather was very hot and on the 21st he made Arques-la-Bataille, an hour to an hour and a half’s walk and of his very first sketching objective in France.

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Google Earth map of Dieppe and Arques la Bataille area.

Google Earth map of Dieppe and Arques la Bataille area.

Google Earth map of Arques la Bataille area

Google Earth map of Arques la Bataille area

Cotman’s letters of 1817 give a splendidly vivid account of his activities. A local official, Monsieur Gaillon, put himself at Cotman’s service, and at six a.m. on Friday 21st June – his first day proper on French soil – ‘did me the favour of accompanying me to the Chateau d’Arques, a very fine ruin of immense size, & not totally unlike Conway or Harlech, but four times their size & Thickness, – many of the Towers going to a great depth below y outward base of the vaults – which are of frightful depth, and are seen in various places open on the hill – ‘

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Castle of Arques la Bataille, the east range from the north-east corner Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 13.04 GMT

Castle of Arques la Bataille, the east range from the north-east corner
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 13.04 GMT

‘I have several sketches of it. We breakfasted in y bourg at a small Inn – upon Wine, Eggs & Tea, – accompanied with smiles, no beauty, two pocket knives that wd not open or shut, two four-pronged pewter forks, – no tea-spoons, bad bread, good butter, – a very clean table cloth, a napkin for each – y latter certainly an extra from the orders of M. Gallion – all this was at 10 o’clock & I ate most heartily – the room had but one chair, which was placed for me but I am now a Frenchman, therefore took a stool from y many about. Mr G’s attentions were delicate in every point. Two large folding windows that opened from top to bottom; a Table, mess stools, one chair & three barometers, made up y furniture of the room. – Our return was dreadful; we made the circuit of y valley, saw the most elegant church of d’Arques, which I shall return to sketch, – and arrived at my Hotel at 3 o’clock perfectly exhausted from Heat, having been obliged to lay down several times on y road, – refreshed myself with wine, eggs &c, & took to my couch – & slept till six o’clock.’ It seems plain that Cotman travelled the road of many first time visitors to France. It does not seem to have occurred to him that there might have been a connection between him drinking wine for breakfast and lying in the road in the middle of the afternoon.

Arriving at the castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.28 GMT

Arriving at the castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.28 GMT

The main objective of the expedition was to sketch the huge castle mouldering along the ridge above the modern village. Given its impressive bulk from close up, the castle does not present itself that prominently from most of the contemporary routes of arrival. Its access looks most unlikely up a narrow, winding, and badly surfaced road signposted from the main square in the town but perseverance will be rewarded once the goal is attained. The castle was built by the uncle of William the Conqueror, but was captured by the nephew in 1053. It reached its full size during the early sixteenth century, when the massive walls moat, bank and bastions that form the present subject were built.

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Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.32 GMT

Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.32 GMT

Cotman recorded his first impression of the castle gateway flanked by massive round towers, with the rest of the building seen in sharply receding perspective, surrounded by a moat and bank. His original sketch of the subject is lost, but he developed a fine sepia watercolour of the subject dated 1818 now at the British Museum (1902,0514.51).

John Sell Cotman Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1818 Graphite and sepia wash on paper, 218 x 264 mm British Museum, London (1902,0514.51) Image by courtesy of the British Museum. To see this subject on the British Museum’s own online catalogue click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=745572&partId=1&searchText=cotman+arques&page=1

John Sell Cotman
Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1818
Graphite and sepia wash on paper, 218 x 264 mm
British Museum, London (1902,0514.51)
Image by courtesy of the British Museum.
To see this subject on the British Museum’s own online catalogue click on the following link, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return to this page:
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=745572&partId=1&searchText=cotman+arques&page=1

The principal purpose of his tour of Normandy was to collect subjects to turn into etchings to be included in a fine folio set to be published under the title of ‘Architectural Antiquities of Normandy’. The complete series of one hundred etchings was published at intervals up to its completion in 1822. The gateway to the Castle of Arques was not only one of the first subjects that Cotman sketched in Normandy, but it also took its place as the first plate and point of entry into the published series.

John Sell Cotman Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1819 Etching, printed in brown/black ink on thick, off-white, wove paper, image 216 x 297 mm, on plate 250 x 316 mm. Leeds example on sheet 277 x 395 mm, trimmed to plate margin at bottom; as published folio, 354 x 496 mm Drawn, etched and editioned 1 October 1819 by John Sell Cotman as plate 1 of his Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, published 1822 Leeds Art Gallery (1949.744) Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery. To be included in the forthcoming catalogue of the Leeds Cotman collection, October 2017.

John Sell Cotman
Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1819
Etching, printed in brown/black ink on thick, off-white, wove paper, image 216 x 297 mm, on plate 250 x 316 mm. Leeds example on sheet 277 x 395 mm, trimmed to plate margin at bottom; as published folio, 354 x 496 mm
Drawn, etched and editioned 1 October 1819 by John Sell Cotman as plate 1 of his Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, published 1822
Leeds Art Gallery (1949.744)
Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery. To be included in the forthcoming catalogue of the Leeds Cotman collection, October 2017.

Leeds has an impression of the published etching. The impression is lettered in upper plate margin, right ‘Pl.1’, and in the lower plate margin, left; ‘Drawn & Etched by J S Cotman’ and right, ‘London, Published 1st Oct. 1819 by J & A Arch, Cornhill’ and titled in centre ‘Castle of Arques/ principal entrance’. The plate was drawn and etched by John Sell Cotman and editioned by J & A Arch in London on 1 October 1819 as the first plate of his ‘Architectural Antiquities of Normandy’, published in 1822. The remains are somewhat dilapidated and in the foreground are the crumbling piers of a former drawbridge, dwarfing a figure working in the moat. There are glimpses of a wooded landscape beyond the banks on either side. Cotman exactly captures the mouldering character of the ruins, and the fascinating variegation of its surfaces. The latter called for some his finest hieroglyphics and the etching is worth examining with a magnifying glass to appreciate the inventiveness and originality of his drawing with the burin.

John Sell Cotman Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1819 Etching, detail of Cotman’s hieroglyphics

John Sell Cotman
Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1819
Etching, detail of Cotman’s hieroglyphics

It is remarkable how unchanged are the ruins from Cotman’s time, despite various attempts at depredation (see http://www.normandythenandnow.com/on-being-a-normandy-castle-at-arques-la-bataille/). Cotman’s composition does not quite do justice to the extent of the ruins, which take a good fifteen to twenty minutes to walk around along the top of the bank. It may be noted that the drawbridge piers have disappeared under a modern ramp at the entrance, and that the entrance itself appears to have acquired an outer wall masking the semi-circular-headed opening shown by Cotman. It was pleasing to note, however, on a rainy visit to the site in September 2016, that the glimpses of trees over the banks at either side are perfectly observed. The castle gate, however, was firmly locked, for despite several hundred thousand Euros recently being spent on shoring up walls, the interior is too unstable to permit public entry. It was some compensation to see a small figure working his way along the bottom of the moat – initially in exactly the same spot as Cotman’s. On investigation he turned out to be collecting snails.

Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.35 GMT

Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.35 GMT

Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe Detail: collecting snails Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.35 GMT

Gateway to the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe
Detail: collecting snails
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.35 GMT

None of Cotman’s on-the spot sketches at Arques la Bataille are now known. Miklos Rajnai in his catalogue of Cotman’s Normandy subjects at the Castle Museum, Norwich published in 1975, under no.6 gives a comprehensive account of the known subjects. Besides the present subject Cotman also drew an oblique view of the towers in the east curtain – to the left of the present subject (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford), which was not used in ‘Architectural Antiquities’ but supplied the idea of the small figure that appears in the present etching.

Mary Ann Turner after John Sell Cotman Tower on the East side of the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1820 Etching, printed in brown/black ink on india paper bonded to thick, off-white, wove paper, image 131 x 100 mm, on plate 170 x 142 mm. on sheet as published octavo, 242 x 150 mm Etched by Mary Ann Turner after the drawing at Bedford  by John Sell Cotman and published in Dawson Turner’s ‘A Tour in Normandy’, 1820, Volume 1, opposite p.37. Collection: The Author Photograph by David Hill

Mary Ann Turner after John Sell Cotman
Tower on the East side of the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, 1820
Etching, printed in brown/black ink on india paper bonded to thick, off-white, wove paper, image 131 x 100 mm, on plate 170 x 142 mm. on sheet as published octavo, 242 x 150 mm
Etched by Mary Ann Turner after the drawing at Bedford by John Sell Cotman and published in Dawson Turner’s ‘A Tour in Normandy’, 1820, Volume 1, opposite p.37.
Collection: The Author
Photograph by David Hill

There are also drawings of part of the keep (Horne Collection, Florence), the inner gateway (untraced, but known through a copy by Elizabeth Turner), and treatments in pencil and sepia of the panoramic view from the east (Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 1967.624 and NWHCM : 1951.235.169; Rajnai 1975 nos.7, 6). The latter are interesting for being landscape subjects more than architectural and antiquarian, and offer evidence, as with his drawing of ‘Dieppe from the Heights’ discussed in part 2 of this series, that on his first trip to Normandy in 1817, Cotman had still not settled on an exclusively architectural focus for his Normandy work. Once again he let the Turner’s etch his drawing and publish it in their ‘Tour of Normandy’. One can at least say that when Cotman himself got round to etching such prospects himself, the results were somewhat superior.

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Castle of Arques la Bataille from the East Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 14.08 GMT The exact viewpoint of Cotman’s drawings is today a little hemmed in by buildings, but there are open views of the castle over the nearby lake as here.

Castle of Arques la Bataille from the East
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 14.08 GMT
The exact viewpoint of Cotman’s drawings is today a little hemmed in by buildings, but there are open views of the castle over the nearby lake as here.

John Sell Cotman Castle of Arques la Bataille from the East, 1819 Graphite on wove paper, 195 mm x 391 mm Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM : 1967.624 Image from Miklos Rajnai and Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, ‘John Sell Cotman : Drawings of Normandy in Norwich Castle Museum’ [Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service, 1975] no.7, repr.

John Sell Cotman
Castle of Arques la Bataille from the East, 1819
Graphite on wove paper, 195 mm x 391 mm
Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM : 1967.624
Image from Miklos Rajnai and Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, ‘John Sell Cotman : Drawings of Normandy in Norwich Castle Museum’ [Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service, 1975] no.7, repr.

John Sell Cotman Castle of Arques la Bataille from the East, 1819 Graphite and sepia wash on wove paper, 187 x 391 mm Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM : 1951.235.169 Image from Miklos Rajnai and Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, ‘John Sell Cotman : Drawings of Normandy in Norwich Castle Museum’ [Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service, 1975] no.6, repr.

John Sell Cotman
Castle of Arques la Bataille from the East, 1819
Graphite and sepia wash on wove paper, 187 x 391 mm
Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM : 1951.235.169
Image from Miklos Rajnai and Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, ‘John Sell Cotman : Drawings of Normandy in Norwich Castle Museum’ [Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service, 1975] no.6, repr.

Mary Ann Turner after John Sell Cotman Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, from the East, 1820 Etching, printed in brown/black ink on india paper bonded to thick, off-white, wove paper, image 99 x 200 mm, on plate 136 x 226 mm. on sheet as published octavo, 150 x 242 mm Etched by Mary Ann Turner after the drawing by John Sell Cotman and published in Dawson Turner’s ‘A Tour in Normandy’, 1820, Volume 1, opposite p.33. Collection: The Author Photograph by David Hill

Mary Ann Turner after John Sell Cotman
Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, from the East, 1820
Etching, printed in brown/black ink on india paper bonded to thick, off-white, wove paper, image 99 x 200 mm, on plate 136 x 226 mm. on sheet as published octavo, 150 x 242 mm
Etched by Mary Ann Turner after the drawing by John Sell Cotman and published in Dawson Turner’s ‘A Tour in Normandy’, 1820, Volume 1, opposite p.33.
Collection: The Author
Photograph by David Hill

Having done what he could in the heat of the 21st, and resting up on the road on his way home, he spent the next couple of days sketching in Dieppe before returning on the 24th to Arques la Bataille to sketch the church. Cotman’s drawing of the church is now lost, but once more (four full-page plates in the first forty pages of Volume 1) Cotman allowed his work to be etched and published by the Turners in their ‘Tour of Normandy’.

Church of Arques la Bataille from near the Castle Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.27 GMT

Church of Arques la Bataille from near the Castle
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 12.27 GMT

Church of Arques la Bataille Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 14.25 GMT

Church of Arques la Bataille
Photograph by David Hill, taken 5 September 2016, 14.25 GMT

Mary Ann Turner after John Sell Cotman Church of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, West Front, 1820 Etching, printed in brown/black ink on india paper bonded to thick, off-white, wove paper, image 146 x 121 mm, on plate 183 x 138 mm. on sheet as published octavo, 242 x 150 mm Etched by Mary Ann Turner after the drawing by John Sell Cotman and published in Dawson Turner’s ‘A Tour in Normandy’, 1820, Volume 1, opposite p.40. Collection: The Author Photograph by David Hill

Mary Ann Turner after John Sell Cotman
Church of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe, West Front, 1820
Etching, printed in brown/black ink on india paper bonded to thick, off-white, wove paper, image 146 x 121 mm, on plate 183 x 138 mm. on sheet as published octavo, 242 x 150 mm
Etched by Mary Ann Turner after the drawing by John Sell Cotman and published in Dawson Turner’s ‘A Tour in Normandy’, 1820, Volume 1, opposite p.40.
Collection: The Author
Photograph by David Hill

In addition the Norwich Castle Museum has two later drawings, probably made by Miles Edmund Cotman for the series of drawings used by Cotman for teaching when he was Master of Drawing at King’s College School, London, from 1834 onwards (NWHCM : 1996.153.1.11/14). These testify to the importance that the site retained for him right up to the end of his career. The castle of Arques la Bataille was his first subject in France, and the first plate of his great work of the ‘Architectural Antiquities of Normandy’. It is plain that he invested especial care and graphic expressiveness into the etching. It is doubly appropriate in the context that the subject is an entrance and it seems plain too, that like the diminutive figure in the moat, he sensed that he had an imposing work before him.

etching-detail-of-figure

One comment on “In Cotman’s Footsteps through Normandy: #3 Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe

  1. rANG bIRANGE
    December 30, 2016

    Both church n castle r beautiful! In a breathtaking setting

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