This collection of relatively large scale drawings comprise rural landscape studies in the beautiful mountainous region of the Abruzzo, specifically in the province of l’Aquila, south of the eponymous city and due east of Rome. Apart from numerous named sites, including Monte Celano, Trasacco, Lago Fucino, Roveto and Capistrello, there are also a number of detailed studies of trees, suggesting this to be a particular interest of the artist’s. Amongst the many captions is a reference to the Emperor Claudius having a residence at Trasacco. He was responsible for early efforts to reduce Lago Fucino, the ancient Fucine Lake, once the third largest in Italy, which was eventually drained in the 1870s by Prince Alessandro Torlonia.
The frequently inscribed date of 1795, and the fact that the captions are in English, as the only clues to the identity of this travelling artist. The paper upon which these counterproofs have been impressed is also clearly late 18th century, though the binding and certainly the bookplates are rather later. Sir John Stuart Hepburn Forbes, 8th Baronet, (1804-1866), whose bookplate we see, married Lady Harriett Louisa Anne Kerr (d.1884), the daughter of William Kerr, the 6th Marquess of Lothian. Either family line’s patronage could lie behind their production by one of the growing number of English and Scottish artists developing an interest in the ‘picturesque’ naturalistic landscape, that so inspired the likes of Turner, Constable, Hugh William Williams, Alexander Nasmyth and others. This burgeoning tradition stemmed directly from the increasing desire to travel to such exotic or romantic locations, that in turn inspired the literary creativity of the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Sir John’s mother was Williamina Belsches Stuart (1776-1810), herself a competent amateur artist, and coincidentally Scott’s first true love and unwitting muse. As we know from other albums in this collection, the Kerr family of Lothian generated several competent amateurs, assisted in the manner of wealthy families by engaging the services of a drawing master, such as Henry William Burgess, who was inspired by his own detailed interest in the nature of trees to publish A Sketchbook of Trees in the Royal Collection, in the 1830s.
Counterproof or offset drawings are impressions taken from the original in black chalk, or charcoal, or red chalk. The sheet of the original drawing and a blank sheet are both moistened before being passed through a press together, thereby transferring a mirror image from one to the other. Hence the captions to the images in this pair of albums all being in reverse. The purpose in this case is not known, but may well have been simply to create a duplicate record for wider enjoyment.
2 vol, folio, titled Brochures, Vol I and Vol II, containing counterproof drawings printed onto heavy laid paper, most cream but some buff, bearing rampant lion in shield Bracciano watermarks in both cases, comprising over 100 double-page landscapes, c.54.5 x 75 cm., 20 larger fold-out drawings printed back to back on 10 sheets, each c.54.5 x 77 cm., and additional single-page compositions, some also printed on verso of others, many bearing reversed English inscriptions of locations, some dated 1795, uniformly bound in half-calf over moiréed silk boards, worn, each bearing the armorial bookplate of Sir John Stuart Forbes Bar.t of Pitsligo & Fettercairn on front pastedown.
Sotheby’s sale: Two Great Scottish Collections: Property from the Forbeses of Pitsligo and the Marquesses of Lothian, London, 2017.
Stock ID: 97211