“Shall we suppose it a greater pleasure to the sportsman to pursue a trivial animal, than it is to the man of taste to pursue the beauties of nature?”
The idea of scenic pleasure touring in this country rather than abroad began in the mid C18th and with it came a new aesthetic approach which disregarded symmetry to focus more on accidental irregularity and the charm of the “rustic”. A leading thinker of this new approach was Cumbrian born, Gilpin. His writings were a direct challenge to the ideology of the Grand Tour and he showed how an exploration of rural Britain could compete with the Continent.
Gilpin was born in Scaleby, just north of Carlisle, on 4 June 1724. From an early age, he was a sketcher and collector of prints, but while his brother became a painter, William went into the church and subsequently became a headmaster. His interest in prints produced instructional writing and, in his Essay on Prints (1768), Gilpin defined picturesque as “that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture”.
Picturesque-hunters began visiting the Lakes hunting out suitable scenes to sketch using Claude Glasses – tinted mirrors to frame and darken the view, and named after the 17th century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. Of course, the Picturesque fashion was ripe for mockery and Gilpin was satirised in a comic poem, The Three Tours of Dr. Syntax, which was illustrated by Rowlandson. Here he is: “Tumbling in the Water”.
I wonder how many chasers of the Picturesque get into scrapes nowadays from concentrating on capturing that special view rather than where they are putting their feet?