Produced towards the end of the age of colour plate, overlapping with the new age of photography, these fifty-five plates are highly accomplished and provide a stunning record of probably the greatest of all Great Exhibitions, an event that summed up all the Victorians held dear –industry, material objects and high achievement.
Julian Mackenzie takes us through his top 10 British Colour Plate Books in Travel and Topography. In the second part of this series we present images from books 5 through 1: Ackermann, George Angas, William Pyne, William Daniell. In first place stands Thomas and William Daniell’s Oriental Scenery, 1795-1808, which Mackenzie says is a 'no-brainer'.
Ackermann produced three books on Colleges (the others, Public Schools and Oxford) but Cambridge is the superior by far, its sweeping views of the colleges capturing the privileged beauty of the city. The inclusion of King’s College Chapel, in my opinion the most beautiful building in England, makes it all the better.
The Victorians were intrepid travellers and Newcastle-born Angas travelled farther than most, visiting South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and making a fine pictorial record of all his ventures along the way. I particularly like The Kaffirs for its portraits of Zulu warriors - the subjects seem to leap off the page. These striking visuals must have been quite electrifying for contemporary readers.
3: William Pyne's History of the Royal Residences, 1819
The interest in this book is the number of vanished or altered interiors of which the reader is given a glimpse, as well as of the furnishings and objects of art since dispersed. The change can be seen particularly in the rendering of the Buckingham Palace apartments prior to Nash’s alterations of 1825 and of Carlton House before its demolition in 1827-8. At a time when the emphasis of illustration was largely on the exterior fabric of buildings, this book really stands out.
Published over an eleven year period from 1814 to 1825, this was the largest and most ambitious topographical project of its time. Overall, Daniell produced three hundred and eight aquatint plates, collectively recording the resorts and coastal scenery of Great Britain. The subdued palate used, perfectly captures the slightly gloomy seaside light that we in England know only too well!
1: Thomas and William Daniell’s Oriental Scenery, 1795-1808
So, here we are, in first place. Some things are no brainers – Lionel Messi is the world’s greatest footballer, Usain Bolt is the world’s fastest man. And so it is that Oriental Scenery is the greatest topographical colour plate book. The size, boldness of venture, and above all, artistic achievement combine to make the hundred and forty-four plates that comprise the complete work, stand head and shoulders above all others. It costs as much as a small house and is becoming so scarce that it almost doesn’t qualify for this list. However, its rightful place as the Number 1 british colour plate book concerning travel and topography just can't be ignored.