Sublime slumbers

At the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe Photograph by Olivia Hill, 5 September 2016, 12.48 GMT (Rain)
At the Castle of Arques la Bataille, near Dieppe
Photograph by Olivia Hill, 5 September 2016, 12.48 GMT (Rain) 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.

Church of St Pierre, Vatierville. Photograph by David Hill, 5 September 2016, 10.50 GMT
Church of St Pierre, Vatierville.
Photograph by David Hill, 5 September 2016, 10.50 GMT


Sponsorship from the Pilkington Anglo Japanese Cultural Foundation

I am delighted to announce that SublimeSites is now sponsored by the Pilkington Anglo-Japanese Cultural Foundation.


Their mission is the Promotion of UK culture in Japan and promotion of Japanese culture in the UK through publications, exchange exhibitions and research projects. Please visit their website at:

The Foundation has made a grant to SublimeSites to support its topographic research; specifically (in the first instance) into the topography of Turner’s painting of Rome from Mount Aventine (see article of 22 January). I am planning a research trip in April to visit the site and take some photographs from Turner’s exact viewpoint. Watch this space!



DH photo #250Welcome to Sublime Sites, the web journal of Professor Emeritus David Hill of the University of Leeds, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

The site was launched in October 2013 and is now enjoying its first facelift. Having published one hundred and eleven articles, I have now given it a makeover. Previous visitors will notice a new look. I should say that this will almost certainly require further attention to resolve any glitches. All the original material is still here; it’s just that the display might want some tweaking, here and there.

I will continue to post articles exploring places associated with Turner, Ruskin and Cotman, and many others. Some pieces will respond to current exhibitions and publications, others will report from ongoing research projects and others will draw material out of an extensive archive of unpublished material that I have accumulated over the years.

Please explore the material here.  If there’s anything here worth quoting then a citation is always best practice. In this case ‘David Hill:’ together with the article title and date of posting would enable an interested reader to find the original. Please let me know what you think about the site or the material on it through the comments, and add further information where you think it would be helpful.

If you would like to be alerted when new articles appear, do please click ‘Follow me’, and I hope that material will be forthcoming on a reasonably regular basis.  I should say however, that if you are are addicted to 24hr newsfeeds, this will not be the place for you! And I’m not making any promises beyond that..

I wrote that last paragraph in 2013. I’ll let it stand. Anyone that has followed for any length of time will know how faithfully I have followed my promise to be irregular.