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The Discovery of Paris by Stephen Duffy - Book Review

By Edited Apr 17, 2016 0 0

Parisian Scenes Recorded for Posterity

Written by Stephen Duffy, Senior Curator at the Wallace Collection, the publication outlines the extraordinary contribution of British artists who recorded Parisian life and cityscapes in the early nineteenth-century. The book includes works by some of the most highly regarded British watercolourists including Thomas Girtin, J. M. W. Turner, Robert Smirke, Richard Redgrave, John Frederick Lewis, Richard Parkes Bonington, Thomas Shotter Boys and many others.

The Discovery of Paris Watercolours by Early Nineteenth-Century British Artists

The Discovery of Paris by Stephen Duffy
Credit: The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 2013

The Discovery of Paris - Layout of the Publication

The publication is arranged to two sections. In the first Stephen Duffy outlines the rising popularity of watercolour painting between 1800 and 1851. The medium was slowly gaining recognition, with many of its major proponents, such as Turner, Smirke, Redgrave and Lewis, becoming leading members of the Royal Academy of Arts. Duffy pays tribute to the major contribution of British artists to the iconography of Paris.

According to Duffy, Paris was a new discovery for the British. Years of war and unrest had made it virtually impossible for foreigners to visit France so when peace did finally come it brought many British artists together with large numbers of middle-class and aristocratic tourists. The new tourists, including about 13,800 British visitors in 1815, were keen collectors of Parisian cityscapes by British artists.

The second part of the book presents the works shown in the exhibition. The author provides a brief biography of each artist. He describes the artist's interpretation of particular scenes and their subsequent history. It's these little details that Duffy gives us that make this book so interesting.


British Watercolors: 1750-1950
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Stephen Duffy Discusses Working Practises of 19th-Century Watercolour Painters

Stephen Duffy tells us it was normal for artists to make preparatory drawings and then develop the theme in a subsequent painting or paintings. Writing about the artist David Cox (1783-1859), Duffy describes three versions of the same scene, the Pont des Arts with the Louvre and Tuileries from the Quai Conti, two of which are shown below.

The first version is a preparatory graphite drawing. Versions two and three develop the scene further. If you look closely at the the drawing and watercolour you can see how Cox developed the scene and the subtle, and not so subtle, differences between them. He added pencil annotations to the drawing - below the Pont des Arts he wrote ″9 arches″, but in the watercolour the bridge has ten. He also moved the Louvre and the right bank of the Seine a little further into the distance, perhaps the make the scene more imposing. The existence of an intermediate painting hints at the difficulty Cox had in getting the scene exactly how he wanted it.


D Cox, The Pont des Arts with the Louvre and Tuileries from the Quai Conti

Graphite Drawing

D. Cox, The Pont des Arts with the Louvre and Tuileries from the Quai Conti, 1829
Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Pont des Arts with the Louvre and Tuileries from the Quai Conti


D. Cox, The Pont des Arts with the Louvre and Tuileries from the Quai Conti, circa 1837-38
Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

A Good Read

This 144-page publication provides an absolutely fascinating glimpse into the life and working practises of British artists working in Paris during the first half of the 19th century. Duffy's commentary is extremely interesting and the photography is first class. The book is available from the Wallace Collection and all good book stores, priced at £25 (ISBN: 9 780900 785429).

The exhibition is described in this article: Views of 19th-Century Paris by British Artists - Wallace Collection.


See The Discovery of Paris at Wallace Collection

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  1. Stephen Duffy The Discovery of Paris: Watercolours by Early Nineteenth-century British Artists. London: The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 2013.

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