image history of a waterfall

By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
In 1786 Pillippe de Loutherbourg visited the site and made this very professional study, a fast pencil composition picked out in pen and ink. One of several, probably worked up indoors, for a fashionable set of prints of Picturesque Views of England and Wales. Though this view of Furnace was not published.

De Loutherbourg was an urbane cosmopolitain of great versatility. His entrepreneur's approach to painting - famously designing sets for David Garrick's Drury Lane theatre - makes it no surprise that he published travel prints for a new tourist industry.

The broken lines of the study were part of a sophisticated aesthetic of natural roughness that contrasted with the smooth surfaces of contemporary urban neo-classical building. Interest in 'visual roughness' was popularised by the Revd. William Gilpin: a broken execution enabled amateur artists to demonstrate a tasteful "picturesque" eye and "naturalness" at the same time. 

Thus the oldest image of the falls I could find shows no interest in natural detail. It's aim was to show the then new industrial site, set in a fashionably generalised landscape. It was a place in principle accessible to tourists, but far from the city. 

The idea that the falls are distant appears in various ways throughout the image history.


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