Susanna Drury was from a Dublin family of Anglo-Irish ancestry that can be traced back to Elizabethan times. Little is known about her life and artistic training, although it is thought that her brother was Franklin Drury, a Dublin miniature painter; similarities to the French miniaturist Joseph Goupy, who taught in London during the 1720s and 1730s have been observed, and it is possible that he taught her at some stage.
Described as a 'young gentlewoman' (T.C. Barnard, Making the Grand Figure, Lives and Possessions in Ireland 1641-1770, Newhaven and London, 2004, p. 164), Drury was one of the first amateur women artists who 'strove to avoid social derogation by turning her skills with pencil and brush to profit' (Barnard, loc. cit.). She appears to have enjoyed considerable success as an artist, notably winning a premium 'for the encouragement of the arts' from the board of the Dublin Society Drawing Schools in 1740 for the present views. The Society required entries to have been produced within the year previous to being submitted so it is likely that they were executed in 1739.
From contemporary correspondence, it appears that Drury was meticulous in her approach and understanding of the geological formations, and 'lived three months near [Giants Causeway], and went [there] almost every day' (Barnard, loc. cit.). She also executed another pair of views of the Causeway that can be found at the Ulster museum. The watercolours became very popular throughout Europe, as they were engraved by one of the most accomplished engravers of the day, François Vivares. The West Prospect was dedicated to the owner of the Causeway, Alexander MacDonnell, 5th Earl of Antrim, and the East Prospect to John Boyle, 5th Earl of Orrery (1707-1762), who both supported the production costs. It has not been possible to establish if it was the present pair of views that were exhibited at the Dublin School, or the pair at the Ulster museum.
Despite Dr Johnson's remark that the Causeway was 'worth seeing, but not worth going to see', the figures in Drury's work illustrate how popular the location had become as a tourist destination by the end of the 1730s. Dominating the centre of the East Prospect is the 'Giants Loom', which Drury has depicted with highly detailed accuracy. Elegant figures can be seen picnicking at its base, while gentlemen anglers head out to the edge of the composition. The figures on the lower horizon appear to be pointing, as if studying the structure, which perhaps acknowledges the growing scientific importance of the site. Similarly, the West Prospect features elegant figures angling, with vessels beyond, while gentry climb among the stacks, gesturing to and examining the geological formations. Two figures are in the foreground, one resting - perhaps contemplating - on a rock, the other appearing to have had his attention captured by activity in a rock-pool. Both sitters, contrasted with the figures on the lower central horizon, provide the picture with perspective, and the viewer with an appreciation of scale.
The Giant's Causeway came into existence around sixty million years ago, through extreme volcanic activity forcing lava up through fissures in the chalk landscape, creating an extensive plateau; as the lava cooled, it contracted, resulting in the distinctive structures known today. No reference to the Causeway is known before the last decade of the 17th Century, but during the 18th Century the site became a source of great interest amongst natural scientists owing to the debate over the origin of crystalline rocks. The 'Neptunists' believed that they were the chemical precipitates from the sea, the 'Vulcanists' thought them to be effusive lavas, while the 'Plutonists' argued that they were part extrusive and intrusive igneous rocks. Drury's views played an important role in the debate, providing the first useful and detailed depictions of the basalt structure which geologists could use for research and discussion.