Art In History Art Blog
by art_in_history , December 22, 2007—12:00 AM
In England at the end of the 18th century, a new kind of patronage emerged which was to have an enormous effect on the careers of artists lucky enough to fall under its favor. This was the practice of English gentlemen, taking the grand tour to the mediterranean, to bring along with them an artist to document their trip, much as today we might bring a camera.
In some cases, if the gentleman had a passion for antiquity, the trip would feature Greek and Roman sites; from such expeditions we have exquisite detailed drawings of temples and sculpture. In other cases, where the patron had a romantic passion for landscape, there would be a detour into the Alps and a concentration on the scenic beauties of the Italian landscape.
William Beckwith was of the latter frame of mind. He is known for developing his estate into one of the most memorable romantic landscaped parks, complete with grottoes and ruined towers. When we took his tour to Italy in 1882, he took with him the English watercolor artist, John Robert Cozens, who in his turn had an enormous influence on the emerging English watercolor landscape school.
Beckwith was a lover of art, and had himself studied under Alexander Cozens, John Cozens' father. When he planned his trip, Alexander suggested to him that he take his son along, and Beckwith, who already had some of the son's drawings in his collection, readily agreed.
This was Cozens' second trip to Italy, the first being to Switzerland and Italy with the collector Payne Knight some ten years earlier. In the course of these two trips, Cozens developed a new approach to the handling of the watercolor medium, transforming it from the tinted drawings of his father's generation to a loose and mood-filled direct application. The old practice had been a laborious sequence of pencil drawing, inking the lines, toning in monochrome, followed only at the end be washes of color. John Cozens developed his washes directly over a light pencil underdrawing, so that the result was clearly a painting, not a drawing. John Constable called him "the greatest genius who ever touched landscape", and his influence on William Turner was equally profound.
Without the patronage of men like Beckwith, travelling would have been out of the question for young artists like Cozens. This kind of patronage not only supported the artist financially, but influenced profoundly the range of their experiences. If Cozens was crucial to the development of the Enlish watercolor school, then so were Knight and Beckwith.
Incidentally, Cozens' current high regard comes in great part through the offices of an American collector, Paul Mellon, son of the great American collector Andrew Mellon. Paul was a lover of Enligh art, particularly landscape painting, and brought together the greatest collection of Cozens' work in this country.