LONDON.- The Discovery of Paris, few exhibitions could have a more appealing theme. Focusing on the period c.1802-40 and featuring sixty watercolours, plus a dozen preparatory drawings and associated prints, this exhibition includes outstanding works by Turner, Girtin and Bonington, and other artists who are now less familiar, such as Thomas Shotter Boys, Francis Danby and William Callow. The beautiful Parisian views they chose are often the same as those painted by the artists we can see today selling their pictures in Montmartre or on the banks of the Seine. The Discovery of Paris charts the remarkable contribution of the British to the iconography of Paris, depicting the French capital as it became the major destination for mass middle-class tourism that it has remained ever since.
With the ending of many years of war, first with the Peace of Amiens of 1802-3 and then after the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, Paris became an irresistible attraction for thousands of British tourists, among whom were many painters. Before the French wars, the city had been an important early stop on the Grand Tour, and it quickly reassumed its key position. As steam-powered transport became available, the Grand Tour, and Paris, in particular, became increasingly popular for the middle classes, as well as the aristocracy. British artists lived in the city and both fuelled and responded to this demand. There was an unprecedented interest in views of Paris, and artists, from the obscure, such as Robert Batty and John Gendall, to the eminent, such as Turner and David Cox, responded to this excitement with an extraordinary range of works, from simple pencil views to the most elaborate watercolours, some for sale and exhibition, but many also for engraving as illustrations in guides and souvenir publications.
Paris had been painted many times before, but never more beautifully than by nineteenth-century British artists, and very rarely by artists of such high standing in their own countries. There are many similarities between some of their views and those painted later by the Impressionists. Their styles also varied widely, from the crystalline precision of Thomas Shotter Boys, whose superb watercolours will be some of the stars of the show, to the incomparable verve of Turner at his most intense.
Rarely seen works will be lent by great museums including Tate, the V&A, the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, as well as several private collectors. Although the Wallace Collection owns a fine group of early nineteenth-century British and French watercolours by many of the artists featured in the exhibition, we do not have any views of Paris. This, in fact, is not surprising, because most collectors do not buy views of the cities in which they live there are, for example, only a handful of Canalettos in Venice. So, although the 4th Marquess of Hertford and his son Richard Wallace spent much of their lives in Paris, they were far from unusual in their lack of enthusiasm for buying views of the city. The Discovery of Paris will both complement our great collection of nineteenth-century British and French paintings,which includes works by Lawrence, Delacroix, Delaroche and Meissonier, and beautifully illustrate the Paris that our Founders knew so well, offering a pictorial perspective on their lives.
As visitors enjoy familiar scenes of Notre Dame, the Boulevard des Italiens, the Pont Neuf and the Ile de la Cité we hope that they can partake in their own rediscovery of Paris, and appreciate the role that these great British artists played in popularising it for posterity.