Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The earliest landscape watercolour painting in England?

Today I saw what is thought to be one of the earliest landscape paintings in watercolour which survives in England.

I was visiting the Renaissance Watercolours display - in place of the Renaissance Watercolours exhibition that never was - at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Mainly I was there to see the album of wtercolours by the 16th century botanical artist Jacques Le Moynes de Morgues - but there were several other interesting watercolour paintings which caught my eye.

One of these was the painting of Nonsuch Palace by Joris Hoefnagel - which was a grand hunting lodge which used to exist in Surrey in the area now known as Nonsuch Park.
"Among the earliest surviving English landscape watercolours, it brings to life one of the greatest monuments of the English Renaissance, now lost to us." Rare painting of Henry VIII's 'lost palace' saved from export | BBC News
Nonsuch Palace from the South (1568) by Joris Hoefnagel
Black chalk, pen and ink, with watercolour, heightened with white and gold

Estimated height: 24.2cm / Estimate width: 26.3cm
Interestingly Hofnagel only visited England in 1568 - and was only here for  few months. One wonders how he came to get access which enabled him to paint the palace.
Nonsuch Palace from the South by the Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel is one of the earliest surviving visual records of Henry VIII’s opulent hunting lodge designed to celebrate Tudor supremacy. The artist successfully captured a blend of traditional English architecture and classically-inspired elements such as the spiral columns. Hoefnagel meticulously reproduced the framed stucco panels that lined the palace walls. With fine lines of black pen heightened with white, the artist illustrated the moulded high-relief panels depicting Roman emperors, gods and goddesses as well as the Labours of Hercules. Hoefnagel then balanced the exquisite detail of Nonsuch Palace with the sweeping countryside in muted hues of green and brown. Hoefnagel utilised this drawing for an engraving in the fifth volume of Civitates Orbis Terarum, an atlas of towns, in which Nonsuch Palace received a dedicated plate, a credit to its fame.
The painting shows the south facade of the Palace - including the towers and the lavish stucco relief at the top of the walls. Plus the hunting grounds which surrounded the building.
Detail of the stucco relief at the top of the walls on the south elevation
In 1959, Hoefnagel's incredibly detailed painting was shown to be surprisingly accurate. Archaeological excavations unearthed pieces of a stucco figure leaning on a shield, directly beneath the point where a similar relief is shown in the painting.

Landscape painting in watercolour

There are, of course, very few watercolour paintings from the 16th century that survive - because most were made on paper and paper has a tendency to deteriorate over time unless kept in a manner which helps preserve it.

This is what the V&A has to say about the development of landscape painting in watercolour

Landscape showcases how watercolour landscapes initially flourished in the backgrounds of scenes in illuminated manuscripts, and how, during the Renaissance they achieved greater prominence, thanks to watercolour's capacity to faithfully record the world from life and out of doors.

The painting is very faint but it's possible to see some of the detail - helped by the painting's page within the V&A Virtual Collection

Interestingly it was only acquired in 2016 - but was saved from export. The museum bought it with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the Art Fund.

Nonsuch Palace

Nonsuch Palace in Surry was Henry VIII's most magnificent palace. 

  • Begun in 1538 to celebrate the 30th year of his reign and to project the glory of the Tudor dynasty. 
  • The elaborate decoration introduced important elements of Renaissance design to England. 
  • In 1670 Charles II gave it to one of his mistresses, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine. 
  • In the 1680s Barbara Villiers had the palace demolished; she used the building materials to pay her gambling debts. 


Visiting the V&A museum, particularly in the morning felt very safe. 

HOWEVER, the underground on the way home was anything but!

LOTS of very selfish young people who don't give a fig about safeguarding others have decided that the mandatory wearing of masks on public transport does not apply to them! Plus London Transport is all words and no actions if the behaviour of their maskless staff is anything to go by. Wearing them around their neck seems to be favoured.

I don't think I'm going to be making any more journeys on the tube until London Transport gets its act together and/or covid constraints are reintroduced - as is almost certainly going to happen in August. IMO hefty "on the spot" fines should do the trick!

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