Gallery 5 – Ruins.

Gallery 5A: Ancient Ruins in Art.

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As mentioned in chapter 8 of the main essay, artists’ fascination with ruins – particularly those of Rome – has a long history. Sticking with only the more famous names, and with Rome, in the 17th century, Claude Lorrain produced several such paintings (Fig.1 & Fig.2), followed, in the 18th century, by the paintings of Giovanni Paolo Panini (Fig.3, Fig.4 & Fig.5) and the engravings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Fig.6, Fig.7, Fig.8 & Fig.9.) These works are what might be called “factual pictures” – that is, depicting the ancient ruins as they really are, though, in some cases, with the occasional piece of poetic license to produce a “capriccio” – a painting which brought together on a single canvas ruins which could not possibly be seen together in reality, but made “a good picture” when artificially regrouped. Such paintings were fantasies, painted for romantic effect, and usually as souvenirs for visiting tourists in the days before the camera. But they depicted real ruins. (For relevant books, see note 38i of the main essay.)

The fascination with the ruins of ancient Rome continued on into the 19th century, with paintings by artists like J.M.W.Turner (Fig.10 & Fig.11), Samuel Palmer (Fig.12, Fig.13 & Fig.14), David Roberts (Fig.15 & Fig.16) and, unlikely as it sounds, Edward Lear (Fig.17), whose book Views in Rome and its Environs was published in 1841. (For relevant books, see note 38j of the main essay. The image of Fig.17 is courtesy of Arader Galleries, New York.)

Also included in Gallery 5A is another picture of ruins mentioned in chapter 8 of the main essay – that by Joseph Severn of his friend, the poet Shelley, sitting amid the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, composing his “Prometheus Unbound”. (Fig.18) (Interestingly, Goethe too had himself painted among the ruins of Rome –  J.H.W Tischbein’s “Goethe in the Roman Campagna”(1786-8) (Fig.19)

The ruins of Egypt and the Holy Land were, of course, another source of fascination for artists (David Roberts is again a key name here – see David Roberts: from an Antique Land – Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land, edited by Barbara Culliford (1989).) For British artists, the ruins created in the aftermath of the dissolution of the monasteries were another source. Constable painted “Netley Abbey by Moonlight” (c.1833), for example, and Turner painted “The Dormitory and Transept of Fountains Abbey – Evening” (1798). Perhaps the most curious painting of this type is de Loutherbourg’s “Philosopher in a Moonlit Churchyard” (1790), which has the ruins of Tintern Abbey in the background (Fig.20). See, for example, Ruins in British Romantic Art from Wilson to Turner, a little book produced on the occasion of an exhibition held at Nottingham Castle Museum in 1988, with an Introduction by Louis Hawes and a Commentary by Haidee Jackson.

Gallery 5B: Ruins of the Future.

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But it was in the late 18th and 19th centuries that another type of “ruins” picture emerged. These were paintings which imagined present day places as the ruins of the future, and they were born out of the realisation that what had happened to Rome or Babylon in the past, could happen to London or Paris in the future. This realisation was fuelled partly by the increased knowledge of ancient civilisations, and an awareness of their decline and fall, gleaned through exploration or archaeology, and eagerly read about in the publications of the day. But it was largely fuelled, too, by the appalling events of the French Revolution in last years of the 18th century. It was the latter that, in 1796, prompted Hubert Robert to paint his Vue Imaginaire de la Grande Galerie en Ruines (Imaginary View of the Grand Gallery (of the Louvre) in Ruins) (Fig.1), in contrast to his Projet d’Aménagement de la Grande Galerie (Plan for the layout of the Grand Gallery (not in ruins!)) painted in the same year (not illustrated here.) Again, in England, in 1798, Joseph Gandy painted his View of the Rotunda of the Bank of England in Ruins (Fig.2).  This latter was apparently done by Gandy as a present for Sir John Soane, the architect of the Rotunda, who had commissioned him to paint a picture of it, intact, on its completion.

But undoubtedly the most famous work of this type was Gustave Doré’s engraving The New Zealander (Fig.3), first published in London: a Pilgrimage by Doré and his collaborator Blanchard Jerrold in 1872, the background to which is given in note 40. The widespread popular knowledge of this image is an indicator of just how unsettled people were by the French Revolution and by the political and social upheavals of the 19th century, including the Industrial Revolution, seen by many as a step in the wrong direction. Also included in Gallery 5B is the engraving from Volney’s book, mentioned in note 40, which bears comparison to Doré’s engraving (Fig.4).

Another engraving which comes under the present heading is an illustration by E.J.Sullivan for H.G.Wells’ futuristic tale, set in the twenty-second century, A Story of the Days to Come. Sullivan illustrated the story when it first appeared, in serial form, in The Pall Mall Magazine, between June and October of 1899. The illustration in question (Fig.5) relates to chapter 2, “A Vacant Country”, and appeared in the July issue (vol.18, issue 75, p.310.) The key part of the story – with its ruined railways of a bygone age – is contained in the following passage

“By the year 2000 railways and roads had vanished together. The railways, robbed of their rails, had become weedy ridges and ditches upon the face of the world; the old roads, strange barbaric tracks of flint and soil, hammered by hand or rolled by rough iron rollers, strewn with miscellaneous filth, and cut by iron hoofs and wheels into ruts and puddles often many inches deep, had been replaced by patent tracks made of a substance called Eadhamite. This Eadhamite – it was named after its patentee – ranks with the invention of printing and steam as one of the epoch-making discoveries of the world's history.” (p.311)

Though the opening sentence of this passage has proved wildly inaccurate, Wells’ Eadhamite is interesting: tarmac was patented in 1902, though it wasn’t named after its inventor (Edgar Purnell Hooley.) Other things correctly foreseen by Wells in this story were: electric clocks and calendars, electric fires and smokeless fuels, wind turbines, sky-scrapers, audio books, cinemas, intercontinental holiday flights, multi-lane highways (with a fast-lane for speeds of upwards of 100 miles per hour), and – rather the odd one out – relaxed divorce laws! Fortunately, his vision of “a heap of mounds and ruins” which “was once a town called Epsom,” has not yet come to pass! (This also occurs in chapter 2.)

Wells’ story subsequently appeared in book form, in a collection of short stories entitled Tales of Space and Time, published in 1900. So far as I know Sullivan’s illustrations were never used in this or any other book edition of the story.

For Sullivan’s illustrations of The Rubaiyat, Sartor Resartus, The French Revolution, and other works, see Gallery 2A.

Gallery 5C: Thomas Cole.

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Also worthy of mention here is a sort of pictorial companion to Volney’s Ruins of Empires, a series of five paintings by the American artist Thomas Cole, produced under the general heading “The Course of Empire”. The five paintings, completed between 1833 and 1836, bore the titles:

  1. The Savage State. (Fig.1)
  2. The Arcadian or Pastoral State. (Fig.2)
  3. The Consummation of Empire. (Fig.3)
  4. Destruction. (Fig.4)
  5. Desolation. (Fig.5)

The paintings trace the same imaginary city, recognisable via the pointed rocky outcrop in the background of each, from its humble beginnings, through Empire to destruction and decay. For Cole’s own account of the paintings, see Louis Legrand Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole (1964), p.129-130. Cole had actually been to Rome in 1832, and had been deeply impressed by the ruins there. “None but those who can see the remains can form an idea of what Ancient Rome was,” he wrote, “All these things fill the mind with wonder, and we cannot but contrast the energy of the ancient Romans with the effeminacy of the modern” (Noble, p.114.) His painting “Aqueduct near Rome” (1832) (Fig.6) is an example of a painting that resulted from this visit. In 1840 Cole also produced an allegorical series of four paintings under the general heading “The Voyage of Life”, the four canvases bearing the titles, “Childhood”, “Youth”, “Manhood” and “Old Age”. See Noble p.209 & p.214-217 for details.