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Roberts, David, 1796–1864

Record books.

England, 1829-1864.
Physical Description:
2 volumes (171, 60 leaves) : ill. ; 24 cm.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
ND497.R63 R43 1829
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Archives & Manuscripts
David Roberts (1796-1864) was a prolific painter of architectural and topographical subjects, in oil and watercolor. He was born in Edinburgh, the son of a shoemaker, and began his career as a house painter and scene painter, establishing his reputation in the latter field after a move to Drury Lane Theatre, in London. Much of his later work ensued from sketches Roberts made during tours of France, Spain, and the Middle East.
The volumes include descriptions of three paintings by Roberts now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art: Entry no. 131 (v. 1, fol.124): Edinburgh from the Castle, B1981.25.533 -- Entry no. 143 (v. 1, fol. 135): The Hypostyle Hall of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel, Egypt, B1981.25.534 -- Entry no. 164 (v. 2, fol. 9): The Giudecca, Venice, B1973.1.51
A complete list of the sketches is available upon request.
The volumes were passed by Roberts to his daughter Christine and her husband Henry Bicknell, and thereafter by family descent.
Volume 1 bound in contemporary parchment; v. 2 bound in contemporary half roan and marbled boards, rebacked. Both volumes have the armorial bookplate of Henry Bicknell.
Selected exhibitions: "David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield" (Guildhall Art Gallery, 1967); "David Roberts, Artist Adventurer" (Scottish Arts Council, 1980-1981); "David Roberts" (Barbican Art Gallery, 1986-1987); "Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art" (Yale Center for British Art, 18 April-29 July, 2007).
Manuscript notebooks by the painter David Roberts recording nearly all of his oil painting work. The manuscript is in Roberts' hand throughout, in pen and black or brown ink. Roberts reproduces each of his paintings in small pen and ink sketches, and annotates them with notes on the paintings' production, exhibition, and purchase. Also present are numerous press clippings referring to the works, and occasional added notes by James Ballantine, Roberts' first biographer. Volume 1 includes Roberts' reminiscences of his early career, travels, and colleagues, interspersed with the record of his painting. The record books have served as an important source in biographical works by Ballantine, Jane Quigley, Katharine Sim, and Helen Guiterman.
The journal portion of the manuscript falls entirely within the first volume. The author's inscription, "David Roberts, 8 Abingdon Street, Westminster, London, October 24, 1829, aged 33 years this day," prefaces the description of his early life, which takes up the first 30 pages of the manuscript. These notes, written from memory, include Roberts' activity after 1817 as a house painter and theatrical scene painter in York, Perth, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and at Drury Lane in London with Clarkson Stanfield. It also describes his election to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1823 and gives a summary of the Society's objectives. The remaining journal entries are interspersed among the record of his painted work, though not always synchronous with the record of his painting, especially in the early years. The narrative recounts his early efforts as a painter in oils, his work with panorama painting in London, and his visit to France with John Wilson in 1824. A passage in his entry for March 16, 1847 (v. I, fol. 123) provides an interesting comment on his activity with panoramas: "This winter I disposed of the copyright of a panoramic drawing of Grand Cairo to Robert Burford for fifty pounds ... This was a mistake for had I charged £200 he would most probably have taken pains with it, as it was, he took none."
There is an account of the move from Drury Lane in 1826 and of the public reaction to his scenes for the Mozart's Il Seraglio in August, 1826, together with his work on the Diorama in Oxford Street (with Stanfield) and his work on a new drop curtain for Covent Garden. There follows his account of his journey to Spain, 1832-1837, and the history of the publication of the Spanish sketches, on which his popular reputation was based. There is also a briefer account of his visit to the Middle East and the more troubled publication history of his oriental watercolors. Near the end of the first volume, Roberts records extended biographical sketches of three fellow artists, Clarkson Stanfield, John Wilson, and William Leighton Leitch.
The 251 vignette sketches are divided between the first volume (156 sketches, through 1852) and the second (95 sketches, from 1853 to 1864). All sketches are in pen and brown ink (or occasinally blue ink), with up to four sketches to a page, varying in size from 2 x 2.5 cm to 15 x 9 cm. In the early years, he made many of the sketches on separate sheets of paper and affixed them to pages into the notebook; in later years, Roberts more frequently draws his record of a particular painting directly into the notebooks. Roberts' preface, written in 1858 for his daughter, describes this section of the work as "a journal, or inventory, of the works that I have at various times produced and by which I lay claim to my title as a Painter ... [it] comprises 200 pictures in oil--these may not be all, but nearly all of consequence." Roberts numbers and titles each sketch and offers descriptions of the works, with notes on their sizes, purchasers, prices, and exhibition. The notes are accompanied by frequent clippings from exhibition reviews describing the pictures. Also present are occasional notes in graphite by James Ballantine, indicating occasional ommissions and the subsequent history of the paintings in the marketplace.
A typical entry may be quoted as follows: "1827, No. 21, Antwerp Cathedral, 4 feet 8 x 3 feet 4. Exhibited at Suffolk St, 1827. Being larger than any picture I had at this time painted. Lord Northwick on coming to town requested to see it previous to the openings of the gallery. The price I had to set upon it was one hundred and twenty guineas. His Lordship became the purchaser and generously presented me with a check for one hundred and fifty. It may be as well to mention that not only in this instance but in almost every other the frame was included in the price." Ballantine adds, "In 1878, Mr. R.D. Newsheim has this picture". There are also short clippings from the English gentlemen, the New times, and the Literary gazette describing the picture as it hung in the Suffolk Street exhibition that year.
Subject Terms:
Art -- Exhibitions -- Great Britain.
Artists -- Great Britain -- Diaries.
Artists -- Great Britain -- Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
Bicknell, Henry -- Bookplate.
Bicknell, Henry and Christine -- Provenance.
Diorama -- Great Britain.
Leitch, William Leighton, 1804-1883.
Painting -- Great Britain -- Marketing.
Painting -- Great Britain.
Panoramas -- England.
Roberts, David, 1796-1864 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Roberts, David, 1796-1864 -- Diaries.
Roberts, David, 1796-1864 -- Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
Roberts, David, 1796-1864 -- Travel -- France.
Roberts, David, 1796-1864 -- Travel -- Middle East.
Roberts, David, 1796-1864 -- Travel -- Spain.
Royal Society of British Artists.
Scene painting -- Great Britain.
Stanfield, Clarkson, 1793-1867.
Wilson, John, 1774-1855.
Topographical views.
Ink drawings.
IIIF Manifest:

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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