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George Arthur Fripp, 1813–1896, British

Old British Camp in Bulstrode Park

Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and gum with scraping out on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
13 7/8 × 24 1/4 inches (35.2 × 61.6 cm)

Signed and dated in brush and brown ink, lower left: "George Ar Fripp 1860"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
animal art | park (grounds) | pasture | pond | sheep | shepherd | trees
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IIIF Manifest:

George Arthur Fripp was born in Bristol at a time when that prosperous city was enjoying an artistic surge. His first teacher was the watercolorist Samuel Jackson (cat. no. 70), and he joined his sketching circle, which included the likes of watercolorist William Müller (1812-1845). Nevertheless, Fripp's early years were spent as an oil painter until he moved to London in 1841, returned to watercolor, and was elected to the Society of Painters in Water-Colours. A lingering sense of malaise had crept into the world of watercolor by the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the great names in the development of English watercolor were now dead: J. M. W. Turner (cat. nos. 43-49), John Varley (cat. nos. 53-55). Peter DeWint (cat. nos. 59-60), and Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (cat. nos. 62-63) had all expired in the last few years. The modern watercolor school lived on, but it was dominated by such stellar figures as John Frederick Lewis (cat. nos. 75-77), who seemed to have brought the medium to its furthest extent, beyond which no artist could advance. Lewis's influence did not please everyone. His detractors were particularly uneasy about his predilection for using gouache and other alluring or minute effects. For these critics, Lewis's use of gouache was not watercolor's logical conclusion but watercolor's Trojan horse, a meretricious innovation that had derailed the great tradition of English watercolor. The highly finished exhibition watercolor perfected by George Fennel Robson (cat. no. 64) was also coming under fire. One weary critic, reviewing the Society's 1851 show, noted that "satisfied with the eminence they have reached by working in a limited department, the members show little disposition to go beyond the boundaries they themselves have set, and the exhibition of one year looks as similar as possible to that of another." Exhibiting sketches in a second winter exhibition from 1862 was one method artists used to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of the exhibition watercolor, but these shows quickly descended into being mere re-runs of those in the summer. Over time, however, Fripp's work was seen as an antidote to all the troubling developments in watercolor practice. His fondness for using transparent washes of color harked back to an earlier age of watercolor, making him seem a bastion of time-honored values over the supposedly deviant technical innovations of recent times. There is an elegiac mood to Fripp's view in Bulstrode Park. Its fluid washes of pure, transparent watercolor suggest a hankering for the work of artists a generation earlier. The subject matter also hints at a critical attitude to the present. The "Old British Camp" stood in the grounds of Bulstrode Park, a house in Buckinghamshire on the fringes of London. The camp itself was of Iron Age origin, but in Fripp's day knowledge of the site's history was paltry. One concerned party wrote to Notes and Queries in 1850, wondering: "Is there any published account of this camp having been opened? It is well worth the examination of a competent antiquary." Bernard Burke, that inveterate chronicler of England's elite families, rose to the challenge. His account of the camp's creation was published in 1861. According to Burke, the camp was constructed by the Shobington family at the time of the Norman Conquest. Rather than see their estate handed to a Norman baron, the doughty Anglo-Saxons built the camp to defend the ancient Shobington territory and won the admiration of William the Conqueror, who allowed them to keep their estate. For Burke, the landscape of Bulstrode Park provided an unbroken link to the very origins of England: "Bulstrode... was a park in the Saxon era, and now, in 1861, it is the same park still - aye, and one of the most beautiful in the Kingdom." Fripp's imagery, however, hints that England's sense of its own past might be coming to an end. The figure of the melancholy shepherd leaning on a staff was traditionally associated with the elegy, and the fact he stands before a blasted oak further points to the sense of an ending. While his sheep mingle in the sunshine and gambol around on the old ramparts, dark rain clouds begin to gather over the "Old British" camp.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2008, pp. 192-193, no. 85

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]

Victorian Landscape Watercolors (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 1993-02-11 - 1993-04-12) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Victorian Landscape Watercolors (The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992-11-18 - 1993-01-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Victorian Landscape Watercolors (Yale Center for British Art, 1992-09-09 - 1992-11-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Scott Wilcox, Victorian landscape watercolors, Hudson Hill Press, New York, 1992, p. 107, no. 43, ND2243 .G7 W55 1992 + Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 192-93, no. 85, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

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