- Museum number
Rydal falls, Westmorland; landscape with falls and pool with two herons in foreground, rocks and trees to sides, bridge in the middle distance, foliage blocking views of the sky. 1865
Watercolour with bodycolour and gum arabic
- Production date
Height: 450 millimetres
Width: 665 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Arthur Croft is best known for his drawings of the Swiss Alps; he became a member of the Alpine Club in 1873 and exhibited works such as 'In the Forest near the Riffel Alp, Zermatt' at the Royal Academy 1887. He is also known to have produced works from his tours in Algeria, the USA, New Zealand and Wales, where he painted the 'Valley of the Lledr'. This was described as ‘an ambitious, but not altogether successful, attempt to rival the solidity and depth of oil painting’ [‘The Exhibition of the Royal Academy’, The Art Journal, August 1882]. Although earlier, Rydal Falls similarly simulates an effect close to that of oils (through the use of bodycolour and gum-arabic). This emerging nineteenth-century practice allowed the burgeoning upper-middle classes to purchase works that had the same visual impact as an oil painting without the prohibitive prices.
As a subject, Rydal Falls had a history stretching back to the 18th Century, when the spot was held up as a perfect example of picturesque light by William Gilpin in his Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1772). Gilpin wrote that: ‘The dark colour of the stone, taking still a deeper tinge from the wood, which hangs over it, sets off to wonderful advantage the sparkling lustre of the stream; and produces an uncommon effect of light. It is in this effect indeed, from which the chief beauty of this little exhibition arises. In every representation truly picturesque, the shade should greatly overbalance the light … Here we have an admirable idea of the magical effect of light picturesquely distributed.’ [Gilpin, 3rd edition, 1792, pp. 169-70.] With the rise of internal tourism during the French Wars (1792-1815), the Falls swiftly became a favourite halting point on tours through the Lake District. They were described by Wordsworth in his poem An Evening Walk (1793), and painted or drawn by artists as various as Constable, Joseph Wright of Derby, Joseph Farington, Francis Towne and John Warwick Smith [a print of the latter can be found in the British Museum collections, 1872,0713.581]. It is noticeable that Croft’s depiction, in comparison to these earlier examples, places much more emphasis on the detailing of the plant and animal life drawn; note the individual fern fronds and the distinct white bells of the foxgloves growing around the pool. This approach reflects the mid-nineteenth century vogue for close observation of nature and its faithful reproduction, principles preached by Ruskin in his 1857 work Elements of Drawing.
In all other ways, the scene depicted here by Croft matches Gilpin’s description of the place and the compositions of his predecessors almost exactly. This is because they were all viewing the Falls from the widow of summer-house or ‘grot’ designed in 1668 for this express purpose. This view closed off the wider horizon to the viewer, the effect of which often caused the Falls to appear much bigger and more impressive in drawings than they were in reality. Croft further enhances this distortion of scale through the inclusion of the two herons in the lower right quarter of the image; their small size making the Falls seem greater in comparison. The restriction on the artist’s vantage point with respect to his or her subject also resulted in works that all corresponded to travel guide descriptions of the Falls. For instance, the following comment of 1805: ‘the light, which is denied admittance through the trees, is ushered in at the arch of a small wooden bridge above the falls and reflected from the surface of the water’ (‘Tour to the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland, The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1805.) Connections with such publications would have made the subject popular with a public looking to acquire either souvenirs of their own travels or depictions of fashionable places they themselves did not have the time or money to visit.
This curatorial comment was written by Olivia Ghosh, Anne Christopherson Fellow in the Dept. of Prints and Drawings, April 2017
The following label was written by Kim Sloan for Places of the Mind, 2017:
Croft specialized in mountain scenery and travelled widely, not only to the Alps and around England and Wales, but also exhibited views of Algeria, America and New Zealand at the Royal Academy from 1868 to 1893. In 1883 he exhibited a watercolour that was among the largest ever shown there (over 8 feet or 2.5 m high). Between 1868 and 1873 he tried and failed to be elected to the Society of Painters in Watercolour. But his works were popular – after his death, they were sold by auction from his estate, South Park near Wadhurst, Sussex, fetching prices from 50 to nearly 200 guineas.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017 23 Feb-27 Aug, London, BM, G90, Places of the Mind: British Landscape watercolours 1850-1950
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number