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David RobertsSketches in the Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia.
David Roberts was born in Edinburgh in 1796. After showing early promise as a painter, his father apprenticed him for seven years to a house painter. He then took a post as scene painter at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh. Whilst there, he began painting architectural pieces for exhibition, before moving to London to work at Drury Lane Theatre and Covent Garden, where his sets for Mozart's Il Seraglio met with international success.
Shortly afterwards, Roberts paid his first visit abroad to sketch gothic churches and buildings in Normandy. In the same year, he became member of the Society of British Artists and exhibitor at Suffolk Street Galleries.
He first contributed to the Royal Academy in 1826 with a picture of Rouen Cathedral, but for many years afterwards, he exhibited only at Suffolk Street. He gave up his work as a set designer in 1830 to concentrate in his painting, and after the success of his Picturesque Sketches in Spain he was in a position to plan the travels to Egypt and the Holy Land, which brought him lasting fame.
In August l838 he arrived in Alexandra. It is claimed that he was the first European to have unlimited access to the mosques in Cairo with the proviso that he did not commit desecration by using brushes made from hog's bristle. Leaving Cairo, he sailed up the Nile as far as Wadi Halfa and the Second Cataract to record the monuments represented in the Egypt & Nubia division of the work. At the time of publication it was these views that excited the most widespread enthusiasm.
On his return to Cairo, Roberts formed a party which set out for Petra in Arab dress with over twenty camels and a native bodyguard. Their route took them via Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery and Akaba. Petra was for Roberts one of the high spots of the entire trip but trouble with local tribes forced him to move on to Hebron. From here, rumours of plague in Jerusalem forced a detour to Gaza, Askalon and Jaffa, before it was safe to enter the Holy City. He also visited Jericho, Lake Tiberias and other biblical sites. Finally, Roberts made his way to the Mediterranean via Nablus and Nazareth and then visited the coastal cities of Tyro, Sidon and Acre, Baalbek was the last objective achieved before a combination of fever and the worsening political situation forced him to abandon hopes of reaching Damascus and Palmyra. Roberts instead went to Beirut.
On his return to England, Roberts was offered £3000 by Francis Graham Moon to publish the work. Roberts enlisted the help of a brilliant young Belgian engraver, Louis Haghe to produce the lithographs from his drawings.
Exhibitions of the original drawings were opened in London in 1840. The sensation they created considerably helping to attract the subscribers who enabled the eventual publication of his work.
The 247 lithographs were eventually published in six volumes between 1842 and 1849.
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