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The Collection of Mr. & Mme. Gérald Bauer
The Enchantment of the Eye
by Gérald Bauer
My fascination with British watercolours, which has developed into a real passion, goes back some forty years. It all began in the early sixties when I was walking along Old Bond Street and noticed Agnew's were holding their annual exhibition of watercolours. Curiosity drew me into their gallery - what a revelation! I was enraptured, and deeply moved by the number and fine quality of the drawings that hung on the walls of their great galleries.
It was then that I discovered the magic of the most subtle colour combinations and extraordinary powers of expression characteristic of British watercolours of the Golden Age.
I had inherited a love of painting through my family, but this art of watercolour was completely new to me. At that Agnew's exhibition I particularly remember a stunning watercolour by Thomas Girtin (I had yet to learn of his reputation) of a river an estuary. It was so calm and serene and conveyed an incredible sense of space. I was very tempted to buy it immediately but this being a novel experience, my wife suggested that it might be advisable to think about it overnight, which I did. Alas, I found out the next day that it had been sold. It was a great disappointment. I shall always remember a warning given to me by a well-known gallery owner when I started to collect watercolours seriously, 'mark my words, Gérald, your road will be paved with regrets.' How absolutely right he was - I experienced many times this feeling of frustration at missed opportunities.
Gradually I learnt more by reading, attending lectures, by visiting exhibitions, and the Great Rooms of Christie's and Sotheby's, and by discussing the watercolours with the various specialists to whom I must pay tribute for their helpfulness, kindness and attentiveness. Henry Wemyss of Sotheby's always gave me invaluable support and encouragement, while Gillian Forrester, Michael Ingram, Evelyn Joll, Reyahn King, Olivier Meslay of the Louvre, Charles Nugent, David Scrase, Bill Thomson and Ian Warrell, all played an important role in my quest for knowledge. They all helped to form and improve my judgement, but I have to admit that my best guide was my emotional response to a particular watercolour and the message it conveyed to me. John Keats' words 'a thing of beauty is a joy forever' are very apt in this context as this is exactly how I feel when I look at watercolours. The attraction of watercolours for me is manifold, it is a combination of their freshness, boldness of handling, spontaneity, and evanescence, which allows one to sink into a reverie; the limpidity and subtle nuances of the colours are almost magical, then there is the emotional response to the motif itself. What I feel about watercolours has been very well expressed by Ruskin:
'The whole technical power of painting depends on our recovery of what may be called the innocence of the eye; that is to say, of a sort of childish perception of those flat stains of colour, merely as such, without consciousness of what they signify, - as a blind man would see them if suddenly gifted with sight' (J. Ruskin, Elements of Drawing, London, 1892, p.5).
I was also fascinated by what I saw as a link between British watercolours and Impressionism. My personal experience of examples that exemplify this abounds, and in my opinion, several artists of the Golden Age might well have acted unwittingly as precursors of that great European movement.
The work of David Cox particularly appealed to me and I set about finding the specialist who would be most able to advise me on his oeuvre. Thanks to the kind advice of John Mitchell I was introduced to Anthony Reed who, with great kindness and patience, shared his immense knowledge and enthusiasm for the artist.
Twenty years ago, in January 1983, this led me to buy my first two drawings by Cox, 'A landscape at dusk' (lot 25), an early work, and 'Early morning on the French coast' (lot 30), a watercolour that glows in the morning sunlight. I developed a great friendship with Anthony and he always gave me excellent advice, a role that Andrew Wyld later took on with much sensitivity and patience. He became not only a great friend, but also my major counsellor. I also found another kindred spirit in Scott Wilcox, the Curator of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. No wonder, then, that Cox has such an important place in my collection, and in my heart.
In March 1988, I came to London expressly to view the pre-sale exhibition of watercolours at Sotheby's. I was spellbound by Turner's 'Hasbro sands' [sic](lot 20) for it had an almost magical attraction, a combination of the luminous blues, the charming details on the beach in the foreground, and its overall freshness and spontaneity. Despite my eagerness to own it I was outbid. I was devastated, yet remained hopeful of seeing this little jewel again.
One day in 1997 I walked into Lowell Libson's office for the sheer pleasure of sharing our mutual enthusiasm for watercolours. At one point in the conversation I mentioned my 'vanished' Turner. With a sparkle in his eye, Lowell disappeared for a moment and shortly thereafter stood in front of me and said 'here is ''Hasbro Sands''[sic]'. It is yours if you still want it.' I could hardly believe my eyes and was overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of seeing it and owning it. As Lowell later remarked: 'it was one of those rare moments that I will always remember, when I can offer the perfect picture under extraordinary circumstances - it gave me as much pleasure as I hope it will give you and your wife.' It was a wonderful moment.
In 1985 the Tate Gallery organised a special exhibition of William James Müller's Lycian drawings. I could not resist going to London, as I had always been told the Lycian watercolours represented a highlight of Müller's oeuvre. I was amazed by their beauty and my immediate response was to arrange a trip to Lycia myself and visit the sites that Müller had painted so beautifully. Back in Basle, I told my wife that we should definitely go to Lycia before tourism ruined this relatively unknown region.
Thus in 1986, accompanied by a historian, we started our trip at Constantinople. 'The Grand Bazaar' (lot 64) is a fine example of the kind of place described by Sir Charles Fellows in his book Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, '... in fact there are no other public edifices, unless the bazaars may be so called. These are delightful places of amusement, through which you may walk, perhaps for miles, generally under cover of arched vaults. The bazaars for spices, scents, drugs and dried fruit have each their particular and often pleasing perfume...'. I also had in my pocket Sybille Hayes's book Land of the Chimaera (London, 1974), with many illustrations of Müller's Lycian watercolours, some of which I had seen at the Tate exhibition. I was stunned. The rugged beauty of the landscape was the same - Tlos, Xanthus, Pinara, Patar, Telmessos, nothing had changed since 1843/44. I had always wanted to own a Lycian drawing in perfect condition but I had to be patient for many years until finally, thanks to the sale of Bill Thomson's collection, I came across Müller's 'A Turk smoking a pipe beneath an awning, Lycia' (lot 65) which may well have been done at Fethiye ancient Telemessos, near the Bay of Macry, it shows the same landscape that Sir Charles Fellows had described in his book and which I had seen in the watercolour at the British Museum 'Watertomb, Telemessos', depicting the very same bay and surrounding mountains, as well as being a similar technique.
Over the years, I realised that the knowledge of British watercolours on the Continent was negligible and they were poorly represented in Continental museums. After my retirement from banking, this led me to write my first book Le Siècle d'Or de L'Aquarelle Anglaise 1750-1850 - Guide d'un amateur passionné. When I heard of the proposed exhibition at the famous Fondation de l'Hermitage in Lausanne, The Golden Age of Watercolours 1770-1900, I enthusiastically agreed to lend fifty of my watercolours, approximately a third of those exhibited. The exhibition itself attracted a vast number of visitors and I was informed that it was one of the most popular exhibitions ever held there.
Later, encouraged by the reception of this first book, I wrote a monograph on David Cox for whom I had developed a special passion, both as an undeniably great artist who still awaits full recognition, and as a man of high moral integrity. I should add that I wrote this book due to the kind encouragement of William Hauptman, an independent art historian who curated the above Golden Age exhibition, as well as of the exhibition presently on show in Lausanne: American Impressionism.
of British watercolour art, led me to write a third book with the title L'Eloquence de la couleur - Regards sur les émules de Bonington en France. The aim of this book is to highlight the merit of such gifted watercolourists from the circle of Bonington as François Louis Thomas Francia, Thomas Shotter Boys, William Callow, John Scarlett Davis, James Holland and William Wyld, who are so little known and appreciated both on the Continent and in France in particular, where Bonigtonmania has overshadowed these artists. (This is a working project about which I am still in discussion with my publishers).
As a closing remark, let me quote William Wordsworth who so aptly said 'nature never betrayed the heart that loved her' - I strongly feel that this can be said of so many of the great English landscapists. Henri Lemaître wrote ... 'la vision de la nature est toujours un ébranlement du coeur et de l'espirit' (the vision of nature is always a meeting of the heart and mind) - how wonderfully he expresses the spirit of watercolour.
At my advanced age, both my wife, who has always been closely associated with my 'pêche mignon', and I feel that the time has now come to part with these watercolours as they should rejoice the heart of other future owners and give them as much pleasure as they have given us. However, let me conclude that my 'love affair' with the British watercolour will certainly not end here.
Finally, I would like to express my special thanks to Noël Annesley for his kind words …withinthese pagess and to Harriet Drummond for her wonderful and enthusiastic support in realising this catalogue.
Masters from the Golden Age
By Andrew Wilton
In his famous attempt to define 'the Englishness of English Art' in the 1955 Reith Lectures, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner drew attention to the idea of small size as a characteristic attribute of the national aesthetic. The British (as we would now say) were always ill at ease with painting on the scale of the Italians, but excelled in the creation of exquisite works for a more modest and domestic context than that of the Renaissance palazzo or the baroque church: they were famous for ecclesiastical embroidery, finely carved roof-bosses and small alabaster panels in the middle ages, and later for the miniature portrait and the watercolour.
In the field of watercolour the British developed the idea of multum in parvo, 'much in little', to a degree that revolutionised the medium, and effectively created a new art form. Since its origins in the seventeenth century the traditional washed or 'stained' drawing had not been regarded as a vehicle for profound expression, but towards the end of the eighteenth it was reborn as one of the supreme channels through which the Romantic imagination could develop.
Symptomatic of this radical change was the technical innovation of the 'exhibition watercolour', in which pigments conventionally light and transparent were endowed with a new depth and strength, and the work of art itself was often conceived on the scale, and given the dimensions, of a good-sized oil painting. There were sound commercial reasons for this development: the competitive conditions of Royal Academy exhibitions in London, where artists had to get themselves noticed in a crowd of closely-hung and often grandly framed pictures, demanded that all entries should be as attention-grabbing as possible.
But the heightened relationship between artist and nature that had been growing through most of the eighteenth century had deeper impulses, which gave the new aesthetic a convincing justification as the 'right' language in which to convey ideas about the grandeur of the world. The luminous limitlessness of the sky and its constant climatic changes; the endless variety of the sea; the consoling familiarity of pastoral scenery and the haunting, sometimes threatening magnificence of mountains and waterfalls - all these phenomena, instead of taking their place as the unsung backdrop against which life is lived, became participants in a natural drama with which the activities of man are intimately bound up.
There was a strongly national dimension to this perception of the interrelationship between human life and its natural setting. Many landscape artists travelled abroad, and, especially after the close of the Napoleonic Wars, sought out subjects that would bring the wider world into people's homes. But their view of nature was centred in a sense of the uniqueness of every place, and of the inalienable connection between a country, a district, a city or a village and its own denizens. That feeling was in turn founded, in these artists' minds, on a patriotic love of their own country and its local and national character, as revealed in its geography and its history. Wordsworth expressed in vivid poetry many of the ideas about nature current in the period. Standing on a mountain in Cumberland in 1813, he was inspired to write these lines:
Yon azure ridge,
Is it a perishable cloud? Or there
Do we behold the line of Erin's coast?
Land sometimes by the roving shepherd-swain
(Like the bright confines of another world)
Not doubtfully perceived. - Look homeward now!
In depth, in height, in circuit, how serene
The spectacle, how pure! Of Nature's works,
In earth, and air, and earth-embracing sea,
A revelation infinite it seems;
Display august of man's inheritance,
Of Britain's calm felicity and power!
(View from the Top of Black Comb ll.23-34)
Here Wordsworth voices that sense of the deep personal and national significance of our experience of nature which lies at the heart of the Romantic landscape, and which can be seen as a profound application of the principle of topography - the description of particular places as collections of unique geographical and cultural information. And it is in topography that British landscape-painting, and especially watercolour painting, has its deepest roots. The Bauer collection illustrates these points, concentrating as it does on small works that exemplify the English principle of multum in parvo while spanning 'earth, and air, and earth-embracing sea' in a wide
range of subject matter and mood.
The capacity of topography, as an art, to encompass both the depiction of specific places and the evocation of a personal mood is apparent in Paul Sandby's sparkling view of 'Woolwich from the Conduit Hill' (lot 4). Although painted in the 1790s this is not a work of the revolutionary generation that began to flourish in that decade: Sandby had pioneered a new vigour and humanity in the practice of topography as long ago as the 1750s, and his lengthy career saw no diminuation in his ability to paint familiar landscapes with love and humour. This example demonstrates his infallible sense of balance in an easy, unforced composition which seems almost arbitrary but which is, in fact, finely calculated in its opposition of masses and voids. Its clear, fresh colour conveys the artist's sheer pleasure in contemplating a scene with which he was very familiar: the town of Woolwich, where he had taught for many years as drawing master to the cadets at the Military Academy. The town sits between the Kentish Hills and the River Thames, dominated by its church and with the masts of shipping visible in the distance. In the foreground a military traveller asks directions of a cowherd: the place and its salient activities bathed in equable English sunlight are economically yet comprehensively suggested.
Sandby's undemonstrative mastery of composition is interestingly pointed up in another drawing in the collection: the 'View down a valley towards distant buildings' (lot 6). Here, although we are again presented with a broad view seen beyond foreground trees, there is no suggestion that we are being told precise facts about a particular place. This is, very evidently, a landscape composition, a picture that is more concerned with the ways in which artists paint landscapes than with specific subject matter. Trees, plain and distant hills are generalised: whereas the trees that screen the view in the Woolwich drawing are recognisably oaks, these trees are generic, placed in the design for the value of their tonal masses and the patterns they make.
We encounter here a very different aspect of eighteenth-century landscape, which functions alongside the topographical and descriptive. It is the abstract landscape, in which formal qualities are paramount. They even dominate the artist's feeling for colour: this drawing is, unusually for Sandby, almost in monochrome. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he had been looking at, and no doubt admiring, the landscape drawings of Thomas Gainsborough, the supreme master of this kind of composition. Lot 3 illustrated here, Gainsborough's 'Wooded landscape with a flock of sheep', is a good example. It is typical of many hundreds of such drawings that Gainsborough made in the course of his life. Again, the formal balance of the component elements in the design is effectively the subject of the work, and again, too, colour is banished as irrelevant to the essentially intellectual exercise in which the artist is engaged. But it is Gainsborough's genius to invest even such a formulaic exercise with emotional power: his free use of black and white chalks, and subtle deployment of light and shade, makes for a subject that conveys some of our core feelings about nature without being in any way specific.
Another master of the contrived or 'ideal' landscape was the Welshman Richard Wilson. It was he more than any other painter who imported into British art the classic approach to landscape embodied in the works of the seventeenth-century French master Claude Lorrain. Claude spent most of his life in Rome, and his landscapes are a distillation of the scenery of the Campagna, the countryside surrounding that city. They combine passionate, and accurate observation of nature with an intuition of the historical and mythical past of those famous places. Claude incorporated recognisable features of the Campagna landscape - temples, bridges - into what were essentially invented views which appealed hugely to the Grand Tourists who flocked to Rome from England. Wilson, child of an age given to more rigorous theorising, took Claude's idealisations a stage further, investing them with a monumentality that answered the demands for seriousness in every branch of the arts of his time. He was quite capable of applying the same principles to features taken from the scenery of his native Wales. The Italian landscape here (lot 2), with its round tower reminiscent of Dolbadern in North Wales, may well be just such an amalgamation of the British and the Italianate. It perfectly illustrates his fastidious clarification of the principles of landscape composition.
Landscape painters were not the only ones interested in the power of the visual idea expressed in monochrome. It seems entirely appropriate that one of the boldest and most 'conceptual' of portrait painters, George Romney, should have mulled over many of his ideas in ink drawings like the statuesque composition of 'A mother holding her child' here (lot 11). Among the small group of figure studies in the collection Maclise's rather later 'The writing lesson' (lot 13) is also an essentially monochrome work, and balances refined draughtsmanship with a monumentality that seems to continue Romney's argument.
Perhaps the most thoroughgoing of the theorisers is another landscapist, Alexander Cozens, represented here by a succinct exercise in pure 'abstract' composition (lot 1). It follows his idea that, as Wilson and Gainsborough also showed, the purpose of the most profound landscape art is to enunciate general principles about our apprehension of the natural world, rather than to relay actual details concerning it. But this was a doctrine too pure for most people. In the later part of the century, and in the ensuing decades, we find artists consciously combining both sets of ideas, investing their topographical work with an aesthetic seriousness over and above its descriptive value by presenting recognisable views in carefully constructed compositions that possess an expressive weight of their own. An outstanding exponent of this is Francis Towne, whose refined drawings were rediscovered in the 1920s and have appealed to modern sensibilities ever since. His 'View of Civita Castellana' (lot 8), while clearly topographical, takes from Wilson the notion of broad, consolidated masses that are allowed to play one against another in a subtle interchange of tones and forms. In his view 'Looking towards Castello Madamo' (lot 7, illustrated) Towne makes plain his allegiance to the 'abstractionists' by working in monochrome, and allowing a scene of minimal topographical interest to impress us with its sequence of receding planes and unexpected juxtapositions of form.
Towne was on the Continent only briefly, in 1780-81, yet his experiences there transformed his output. He was companion to a number of other watercolourists who had made their home temporarily in Rome; among these was John 'Warwick' Smith, his sobriquet earned on account of the Earl of Warwick, his principal patron. Smith was a key figure in the transformation of watercolour technique, abandoning the preliminary tonal lay-in of grey washes, and working directly on to the paper in full colour. The effectiveness of his experiments can be gauged here from an unusually atmospheric example, his moonlight view of Tintern Abbey (lot 14).
The formal rigour of these works is continued into the nineteenth century by one of the greatest of all watercolourists, John Sell Cotman. In Cotman's work we are made vividly aware of the contemporary taste for all things classical. He did not often incorporate ancient Greek or Roman motifs into his work - indeed his art is primarily concerned with landscape, with vernacular buildings, and with examples of Gothic architecture. But every line he drew, every wash he laid, betrays Cotman's truly classical sensibility: his feeling for balance, his refinement of line and colour, his economy and delicacy of touch. The view of a windmill on Blackheath here (lot 15) exemplifies all these qualities in its restraint and controlled yet tender simplicity; and the monochrome drawing of St Michael's church at Beccles (lot 16) is a reminder of his unerring touch as a topographical draughtsman.
Several drawings in the Bauer collection reinforce the idea that the Romantic watercolourists were capable of extraordinary control in the accomplishment of powerful effects: examples are Turner of Oxford's sparse view of Old Sarum (lot 18), an unadorned evocation of hushed exhilaration in the presence of a windswept expanse; and John Varley's surprising study of 'The Plains of Marathon' (lot 19), taken from another artist's drawing, but full of romantic excitement at the contemplation of one of the most famous battle-sites of the ancient world.
Varley is one of three important figures of the high romantic moment in whose work the Bauer collection is exceptionally strong: the other two are Peter de Wint and David Cox. In their very distinctive ways, both of these artists show their ability to work within extreme compositional constraints. An early Cox, clearly painted under the influence of Varley, is lot 25, 'A landscape at dusk', in which all incident has been pared away in the interest of a single atmospheric statement. Cox's stylistic development in the course of a long career is one of the most remarkable of the nineteenth century. He spent only brief periods in France, but his work came to be much sought after in Paris, and it is easy to see why. He is a prophet of many of the developments in later French painting, while some of the extraordinarily free, broadly handled studies he made in North Wales in the 1850s (lots 33 and 34) count among the great achievements of Romantic watercolour.
There are two examples here of the inspiration of French scenery on Cox's work (lots 30 and 61), and the collection contains a number of watercolours that chart the importance of foreign subject matter for a school of painters so firmly rooted in their island culture. Relations with Europe have always been a vital stimulus to British art, and watercolour, despite its character as a local and national medium, was no exception. We have already noticed the way in which a long-standing continental tradition of landscape painting, discovered and admired by the Grand Tourists of the eighteenth century, provided the foundations for the art of Wilson and Towne. Once the battle of Waterloo had brought the Napoleonic Wars to a decisive end, Europe was once again opened up to British travellers. Tourists and artists alike collected souvenirs of far-flung places, and watercolour became the most popular medium for topographical views, which were often engraved for an increasing number of elegant 'Annuals' and books of topographical tours, to grace the drawing-rooms of a thriving new middle class.
The Rev. George Newenham Wright was a typical, and prolific, exponent of this new class of literature. Throughout the early nineteenth century he produced texts to accompany engraved landscapes depicting the scenery of countries from his native Ireland to Greece. Thomas Allom's two Parisian views, of the Tuileries and the Luxembourg (lot 50) were drawn for Wright's France Illustrated, exhibiting its landscape, scenery, antiquities, military and ecclesiastical architecture, etc., which appeared in four volumes between 1845 and 1847. The monochrome wash here is explained by the destiny of these designs as line-engravings, though many artists, Allom included, were often happy to work in colour and leave the 'translation' into black and white to the skilled engravers. The charm of Allom's crisp draughtsmanship and lively figures ensured that he was in great demand as an illustrator: he matched as an artist Wright's prolific output as an author.
Another glimpse of Paris is John Scarlett Davis's exhilaratingly bold view of the banks of the Seine in the Cité (lot 60); and a galaxy of famous recorders of the picturesque beauties of Europe are to be found in the Bauer collection in characteristic examples. Thomas Shotter Boys's splendid view in Regensburg (lot 54) is one of several drawings representing this artist. James Holland's Venetian scene (lot 55) is a monumental composition depicting one of his favourite cities. William Wyld is present in a subtly atmospheric twilight scene on the Elbe at Dresden (lot 57). Further afield, David Roberts evokes the intricate strangeness of Cairo with his unmistakable blend of technical precision and virtuoso breadth (lot 60); and there are two more Egyptian views by Edward Lear: the splendidly bold study at Edfu (lot 70) and, in strong technical contrast, the tiny but operatic 'Moonlight: Dhows on the Nile (lot 69)'. Another Levantine traveller, William Müller, suggests with characteristic economy and power the Bazaar at Constantinople (lot 64).
For the collector of watercolours, it is always a challenge to find and acquire a specimen of the work of J.M.W. Turner, prolific and enormously various as he was. Which of his works - of those available - is the most appropriate to the context of this particular collection? The Bauer example is well chosen: in perfect condition, it represents the master at his most intimate, as an illustrator, and as a designer of vignettes. This was a form he loved because it challenged him to display his skill in creating atmosphere, even grandeur, on a miniature scale. The little vignette of 'Happisburgh Sands' (lot 20), nicely inscribed by Turner with the name as it is always pronounced, 'Hasboro Sands', was done for an unrealised project, probably in connection with a topographical survey of the East Coast of England. It shows him working, not in pure watercolour on his usual support of white Whatman paper, but in bodycolour (gouache) on blue paper. This was a medium he seems to have particularly favoured in the years around 1830; he used it for his famous sequence of views at Petworth, and for the compositions he designed for The Rivers of France.
In Turner the British watercolour school found its master and its perennial inspiration; most of the painters who lived in his time or afterward were to some degree influenced by his protean skill and imagination. Yet their work shows that they were independent of him in the most important sense: they evolved their own distinctive approaches to the world around them, and created, between them, a record of Britain, and of Europe, as it was in their time that seems to reflect a kind of golden age. But neither England nor Europe, of course, was going through any such period: it was the art of landscape painting, and, in particular, the art of watercolour that was experiencing its legendary apogee in the hands of these masters.
by Noël Annesley
Two hundred years ago Thomas Girtin died, aged only 27. Two hundred years ago, on 3 September 1802, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy rose early and witnessed the sunrise from Westminster Bridge. The sonnet he composed to express his feelings of awe as the light gradually illumined the sleeping city has become one of the best loved poems in the English language. Its bicentennary is being marked by the commissioning of thirty-seven sonnets on the same subject, and a move to inscribe the fourteen lines of the original on a plinth on the (replacement) bridge itself. It seems scarcely an accident that Wordsworth is a favourite poet of Gérald Bauer, the remarkable French-Swiss collector whose passion for English watercolours this sale catalogue commemorates. For the atmosphere and the subject matter evoked by Wordsworth's poetry often find a counterpart in the delicacy and grace of the paintings which brought the art of watercolour to a pinnacle of achievement in the latter part of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries.
It is a great pleasure for us at Christie's to welcome back to these shores the seventy watercolours and drawings which Mr Bauer has assembled with discernment and dedication over some forty years. In an accompanying essay he describes the impact made on him by the first watercolours he saw on a chance visit to Agnew's, and that initial enthusiasm, far from ebbing, has prompted an almost missionary zeal to introduce his fellow countrymen in Switzerland and further afield to the magic of an artform that seems largely to have appealed to, and been practised by the British. He contributed around fifty works to the distinguished exhibition L'Age d'Or de l'Aquarelle Anglaise at the Fondation de L'Hermitage, Lausanne in 1999, and published a beautifully illustrated book with a similar title in 1998. He has always been especially responsive to David Cox, and has explored this artist's wide expressive range in a recent monograph. Cox's mastery both of the rapid sketch and the highly finished exhibition piece, and intermediate stages between the two, is tellingly displayed in Gérald Bauer's choices. The eleven works form the core of the collection.
The story begins much earlier, of course, and the Bauer collection provides a rare opportunity in today's market to trace the development of English watercolour painting and drawing from Thomas Gainsborough and Paul Sandby to David Roberts and Edward Lear. Landscapes, whether topographically precise or more fanciful, figure subjects and shore and shipping scenes are all richly represented. Yet there is no sense that the collector has set out to form what might be considered a traditional collection embracing all the famous names. Where no chance presented itself to acquire a John Robert Cozens or a Bonington of appropriate quality he preferred, for instance to acquire a second complimentary Italian landscape by Francis Towne, or to add another exquisite study by Thomas Shotter Boys and thereby indulge his affection for the gifted followers of Bonington. John Varley is sometimes guilty of routine; yet the four examples selected here show the artist at his various best.
Gérald Bauer found no place for Copley Fielding, an artist whose name used to be mentioned in the same breath as Cox and Peter de Wint, but whose mostly muddy (through fading) and stereotyped productions failed to attract. Like Cox, however, de Wint can be studies here in a series of small masterpieces in admirable condition where control of rich washes and paper left blank for white highlights can be enjoyed as the artist intended.
While Girtin is a notable absentee (again, a suitable example was only fleetingly available) an extraordinarily ambitious moonlit evocation of Tintern by the normally reticent John 'Warwick' Smith, is some compensation for no work by the short-lived genius so triumphantly celebrated at 'Tate Britain' in the summer of 2002. This study of Tintern in its unexpected power could be said to symbolize the highly personal flair which Gérald Bauer has brought to his collecting. So could the exquisite Turner vignette of Hasborough Sands which transcends its small scale to express that artist's unique response to sea and coastline with a combination of glowing colour and dashing detail.
This promises to be an auction of the widest appeal, and we are particularly looking forward to the impact of the pre-sale exhibition where Mr Bauer's achievement will be fully savoured.
The 18th Century and British Topography
Until the second half of the 18th century, watercolour painting was linked to survey and topography. 'Alexander Cozens and Thomas Gainsborough, in different ways, helped to liberate landscape from 'map-work' by rearranging the ingredients of landscape as they chose.' (J. Egerton, British Watercolours, Tate, 1986, p. 7). Both artists, as seen here, (lots 1 and 3) preferred generalized landscapes, Cozens concentrating on light and shade in his rapid, non-representational brushstrokes, in what Kim Sloan describes as 'a landscape of the mind' and Gainsborough producing drawings after landscapes composed in his studio using coal, sand, moss, twigs and even broccoli, or simply drawn from his imagination.
Richard Wilson's reinterpretation of Claude Lorrain's ideal landscapes of the 17th century (see lot 2) introduced a new sense of poetry and balance to contemporary painting. He was the first important British artist to tour Italy and returned with a whole new outlook on landscape that was enormously influential upon a number of artists including J.M.W. Turner and John Varley.
Paul Sandby (lot 4 and 6), often hailed as the father of British landscape watercolour, was a prolific topographer, but also achieved a great deal more than a reputation for topographical views. He held a pivotal position in the art world of the late 18th century, as one of the artists fighting for the foundation of a public exhibiting body to raise the status and prospects of watercolour painting. He was both founder of the Society of Artists in 1760 and founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768, indicating the gradual increase in recognition of watercolour artists. His interpretative genius and technical invention elevated the accurate depiction of landscape to a new level.
The writings of Edward Burke and his notion of the 'sublime' became increasingly influential towards the end of the century and artists such as Francis Towne were among the first to cross the Alps and paint what they saw en route as well as what they found in Italy. Towne's interpretation of the medium with his powerful linear work washed with flat planes of watercolour stands out among his contemporaries and justifies his reputation as an innovator (lots 7-8).
John 'Warwick' Smith's most interesting drawings are probably those executed under the influence of Towne with whom he travelled in Italy in 1780, although Smith's work is generally softer and more natural in approach. Smith rejected the topographical tradition of grey underpainting and his colouring, as in the example here, shows a prediliction for muted blues and greens, something he shared with J.R. Cozens, the most poetic of British landscape painters, whose melancholic and romantic mood is reflected in Smith's view of 'Tintern Abbey by moonlight' (lot 14).
Like J.'Warwick' Smith, Thomas Hearne (lot 10) was a topographical artist and both were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries. His early work shows the influence of Paul Sandby but he in turn was an enormous influence on the younger artists, Thomas Girtin and J.M.W. Turner, who both copied his drawings at Dr Monro's Academy. Like a number of artists of the period, Sandby being one of them, Hearne became involved in the expanding print market of the 1780s, many of his drawings being executed for The Antiquities of Great Britain, a project he undertook with William Byrne.
The growth in interest in the topographical watercolour was given an additional impetus by the development of the concept of the Picturesque 'that particular quality which makes objects chiefly pleasing in painting' put forward by the Rev. William Gilpin in a series of illustrated guide books that made the Wye Valley and the Lake District such a popular destination for the tourist and the artist from the late 1780s.
In the hands of this generation of watercolour artists the medium became more complex and capable of greater subtlety in its depiction of variations of light and shade. Artists put greater emphasis on the human figures depicted in their views so generally a far greater sense of place was given than the straight forward recording of topographical views in earlier works.