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Creator:
John Warwick Smith, 1749–1831, British
Title:

Lake Windermere from Calgarth with Belle Isle

Date:
ca. 1790
Medium:
Watercolor over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper in contemporary line mount
Dimensions:
13 5/8 × 20 1/8 inches (34.6 × 51.1 cm)
Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering:

Inscribed in graphite, upper center: "From"; in brown ink, upper center: "Calgarth"; in graphite, upper center: "looking down The Lake No. 30"; in graphite, lower right: "27420 | 123"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1975.3.269
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
cattle | cows | hills | lake | landscape | sunset
Associated Places:
Belle Isle | Cumbria | England | Europe | Lake District | United Kingdom | Windermere
Access:
View by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:8180
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Around 1790 Smith was commissioned by John Christian Curwen to produce a suite of watercolors depicting his family estates in Cumberland. Belle Isle, in the middle of the lake, was one of Curwen’s favorite residences, the elegant little round house there being just discernible on the central island. Smith has painted the landscape as benign and harmonious, an enchanted place where even the cows seem civilized, pausing to admire the spectacular sunset.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
Once back in England, Smith exchanged the Italian lakes for the English Lake district, close to his Irthington birthplace. In this view, Lake Windermere from Calgarth, it is Belle Isle, the largest of the islands, that forms the central focus. Since 1774 the island had been graced with a miniature replica of the Pantheon, which can be glimpsed in silhouette to the right-hand side of the island. This elegant rotunda was designed by John Plaw as a summer house for Thomas English, but in 1781 the island sold to the sixteen-year-old heiress Isabella Curwen for £1,720. The following year, she married her cousin, John Christian, and the pair called in Thomas White to design an informal garden to complement their house. The result was a secluded Italianate retreat, which left one spellbound visitor longing for nothing but "six hundred pounds a year and Curwen's house on Windermere." Around 1790 John Christian assumed the name of Curwen and commissioned a series of watercolors from Smith depicting the family estates and the local environs of which this is a particularly fine example. Like the watercolors made for Lord Warwick, they were presumably kept in a portfolio at the Curwens' principal seat, Workington Hall. As is his depiction of Lago Maggiore, Smith's concern was to capture atmospheric conditions as much as the actual topography of Windermere. We see the lake in the evening as the setting sun turns the sky a glowing pink, and the fading light renders forms indistinct. The lake is perfectly still, its glassy surface reflecting the surrounding hills and the rose-tinted sky. Smith painted a landscape that is benign and harmonious, an enchanted place where even the cows seem to be civilized, as if pausing to admire the view. No doubt this echoed Curwen's own opinion of his land ownership. A Whig MP for Carlisle from 1786, he fought against electoral corruptionm, promoted agricultural improvement, supported the French revolutionaries, and earned a reputation as a benevolent landlord. His ibographer described him as "ever homely and approachable, so that no wonder he gained the good opinion of all classes of men -- the plebian, not less than the patrician." Smith once again exploited the full translucency of watercolor, dispensing the gray underwashes to paint directly with color and to allow the white paper to glow through the pigment with maximum intensity. For these developments he was revered in his own day as a pioneer of the medium and elected as president of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1814, 1817, and 1818. By the end of his career, however, Smith's luminous coloring had been superseded by the innovations of Thomas Girtin (cat. nos. 39-42) and J. M. W. Turner (cat. nos. 43-49), which made the aged artist's work look outmoded and led some critics to question, unfairly, why he had ever enjhoyed so high a reputation.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2008, p. 44, no. 16

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (The State Hermitage Museum, 2007-10-23 - 2008-01-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007-07-11 - 2007-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Fairest Isle - The Appreciation of British Scenery 1750-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1989-04-12 - 1989-06-25) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Megan Cullen, Fairest isle : the appreciation of British scenery, 1750-1850 : [exhibition] label copy. Yale Center for British Art, April 12-June 25, 1989., , Yale Center for British Art, [New Haven, 1989, p. 18, no. 37, ND1354.4 F351 1989 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 44-45, no. 16, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]


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