A selection of outstanding architectural drawings and watercolours by the famous Edinburgh-born artist David Roberts (1796-1864), most of them previously unseen, will go on show at the Scottish National Gallery this week.
David Roberts: Drawings from the Helen Guiterman Bequest will showcase Roberts’ sketches and elegant watercolours of Scottish scenery, including views of well-loved Edinburgh landmarks such as a stunning panoramic view from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle and a dramatic watercolour of the interior of Rosslyn Chapel. Most of the 30 works on show, from the Gallery’s prints and drawings collection, have recently been conserved, revealing the vibrancy of Roberts’ fresh and vivid colours.
David Roberts was one of the most adventurous, prolific and successful British artists of the first half of the nineteenth century. Best known for his intrepid travels, he was among the first British artists to make extensive tours of the Near and Middle East. He was born in Edinburgh and first found success as a painter of theatrical scenery in Edinburgh and Glasgow, before settling in London in 1823, where his social circle included Charles Dickens, the painters David Wilkie and J M W Turner, and great critic John Ruskin. From London Roberts began to travel extensively to France, the Netherlands and Spain, followed in 1838 by the Middle Eastern adventure on which his popular reputation is still founded.
Both an easel painter and a draughtsman, Roberts is particularly celebrated for his treatment of architectural subjects; his sketches and watercolours exhibit great verve and accuracy, and his interiors are infused with spectacular, dramatic light effects. His early experience as a painter of theatrical scenery informed his skill in conveying the vast proportions and intricate detail of cathedrals, churches and panoramic landscapes, as seen in The Interior of Seville Cathedral (1837) and Dunfermline Abbey (1848).
Roberts returned often to Scotland, retaining strong links with friends and colleagues in Edinburgh. He was made a Freeman of the City of Edinburgh in 1858. His interest in architecture and particularly the buildings of his native city extended to campaigning for the preservation of John Knox’s house and Rosslyn Chapel and to submitting design proposals for the Scott monument.
Additional works in the display will include a calotype photograph of Roberts by the Scottish pioneers of photography David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, and the celebrated portrait of Roberts by Robert Scott Lauder (1803-1869) from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which shows the artist as the ultimate Oriental adventurer, wearing a flamboyant costume he had bought in Cairo.
Michael Clarke, Director of the Scottish National Gallery, said: “We are delighted to be celebrating one of the great Scottish artists with this exhibition of Roberts's work. Like Sir Henry Raeburn, he was born in Stockbridge, so it is very fitting that both men's achievements can be viewed here in our National Gallery.”