By Harry Mottram: They painted Bath as they saw it and what they saw was not the colour photos in the tourist sites and brochures of sunlit Georgian crescents but of more a workaday city with its drizzle and over cast skies.
Artists have been depicting the city for centuries and to see how they interpreted the place you only have to pop into the Victorian Art Gallery to experience their visions of Bath.
Take for instance JW Turner’s watercolour of the West Front of Bath Abbey in 1793.
Next to the Abbey are buildings that have long since disappeared a less cluttered scene is shown in Peter Brown’s modern and very atmospheric painting some two hundred years later.
Incidentally there is exhibition of his work running from October 22 at the Victorian which will feature around 100 of his works.
Artists have always been drawn to Bath – some for the pursuit of work and others to capture the city’s streets. In 1759 Thomas Gainsborough moved to Abbey street so as to paint the portraits of the well heeled. For him it was purely a business move as that was where the money was.
While Thérèse Lessore visited the city during the war concentrating more on those streets and vistas. And by chance in a painting of a tired looking horse pulling a cart she captured bomb damage being repaired in Stall Street in the background.
John Nash’s painting of Sydney Gardens in 1927 shows the canal bridge has an autumnal feel with the pastel shades of the trees on the turn.
A more everyday depiction of the city is of Milsom Street, caught in full busy mode by Robert Woodroffe in 1828, as part of the museum’s collections of prints which portray life in the city from the 18th century to the Victorian age in all its vitality.
The Gallery’s permanent collection,features a wealth of art history and famous names from Turner to Sickert covering many subjects beyond the city limits.
For me though the paintings, prints and drawings I find the most fascinating are those of Bath.
When you emerge from the gallery it gives you a chance to look again at the streets and the people and step back in time to when the likes of Nash, Turner and Lessore set up their easels – often on rather damp and drizzly days.
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