James Grant and the artist’s imagination

From last September, one of our postgraduate interns from the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Massey, has been working with a large and unwieldy item from Central Library’s Special Collections. This is the sketchbook of the 19th century Scotsman James Grant, filled to the brim with paintings of historic Scottish buildings and some unexpected surprises. Having gone through each of the 383 artworks inside, recording their content and condition, Joseph has now arranged two separate exhibitions with Grant’s beautiful images at their heart. ‘Edinburgh’s Church on the Run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day’ is on display from 4 – 27 April in the Central Library’s Music Library, and explores the history of a forgotten architectural gem. ‘James Grant: the artist’s imagination’ is our new Capital Collections exhibition, focusing on Grant’s artistic development and creativity.

Few people could claim to have had as prolific and wide-ranging a career as the Edinburgh-born artist, novelist, historian and architect James Grant (1822-1887). Grant’s output was immense, but it all had a common purpose – to celebrate Scotland’s historic architectural achievements and to drive the country forward to create new masterpieces.

However, Grant’s early experiences in Scotland were not positive. Grant was only a child when his mother Mary Anne Watson died in 1833 and his father, Captain John Grant of the Gordon Highlanders, immediately took James and his two brothers to live with him in his Canadian barracks. Mary Anne had been a capable artist herself, and Grant kept two of his mother’s paintings for the rest of his life, putting them inside his own sketchbook. One of her paintings is of Craigmillar Castle, showing a mother and her child walking in the foreground. Perhaps Mary Anne took her son James to see the castle. Grant later produced a number of beautiful paintings of Craigmillar Castle, perhaps with distant memories of his mother in mind.

Craigmillar Castle by Mary Anne Watson

It was while living in Canada that Grant’s own artistic talent began to emerge. And, fittingly, he started with a painting of the fort’s architecture. Fort Townsend, based on the east coast island of Newfoundland, was the headquarters of the British Newfoundland garrison and the Grant family lived there at Barrack Square. In 1836, when Grant was thirteen or fourteen years old, he stood on the balcony of the east building and painted a picture of the barracks opposite. As an adult Grant painted more pictures of the place that had been his home for six years.

Fort Townsend, St John’s, Newfoundland

Grant’s family returned to Britain in 1839 and he soon joined an architect’s office in Edinburgh. He spent his twenties travelling around Scotland to see as many of its historic castles, palaces, houses and churches as possible – and it is these beautiful pictures that fill most of his sketchbook. Grant’s artistic imagination extended to drawing historic ruins as they would have looked in their heyday, and the most impressive of these is a series of paintings made in 1848 of Craigmillar Castle, where he has imagined how the castle would look with all of its roofs restored. Craigmillar had a number of dramatic connections to members of the Stuart royal family, including Mary Queen of Scots, which was probably why Grant found it so interesting.

Craigmillar Castle – ‘restored’

Grant also wanted to construct buildings of his own design, and the sketchbook contains his designs for two churches, a cathedral and a cemetery gateway – though unfortunately none of them were constructed. They all show his love of medieval gothic architecture, with an abundance of elaborate carved stonework, beautiful window tracery and pinnacles. Grant was also inspired by the work of his contemporaries in both Scotland and continental Europe, where the gothic style was experiencing a revival. Grant’s 1846 design for the west front of a cathedral is one of the largest and most detailed works in his sketchbook. Scotland had no medieval cathedrals as elaborate as this – Grant wanted to bring something new and exciting to his native country.

Cathedral design

It was this love of gothic architecture which drove Grant to make a number of images of Trinity College Church, built in the 1460s and originally located below Calton Hill. In the 1840s the North British Railway company purchased the site of the church so that they could demolish it and make room for Waverley Station. Grant immediately set to work, creating numerous images of the exterior and sculptural details inside, which included monkeys on the pillar capitals! Many other prominent Scotsmen, such as David Bryce, also painting the church and making suggestions for where it could be rebuilt. Some of the earliest photographs taken in Scotland show Trinity College Church before its demolition. Unfortunately the church was not rebuilt in its entirety – after leaving the stones sitting on Calton Hill for 20 years, there was only enough material left to rebuilt part of it, which can still be seen down Chalmers Close, off the Royal Mile.

Trinity College Church

Today Grant is best known for his three-volume series Old and New Edinburgh (1880-83), which traces the history of Edinburgh through its buildings. It is a fitting legacy for a man who devoted his life to Scotland’s architecture.

Joseph’s exhibitions expertly shine a light on the history of Trinity College Church and the work of James Grant:

Church on the run! The journey of Trinity College Church, 1460 to present day
4 – 27 April, Mezzanine, Central Library

James Grant: the artist’s imagination is available to view on Capital Collections.

 

The art of chromolithography!

The Central Library often takes interns or student placements who use our special collections as a focus for their studies. One such student is Becky Sparagowski who completed a project with us as part of her Masters coursework at the Centre for the History of the Book, Edinburgh University.

Becky’s area of interest was “The chromolithographed decorative design books of the Art & Design Library” and in this blog post she explains exactly what chromolithography is!

Becky selecting her research material

Have you ever thought about colour printing? It’s something that’s fairly commonplace now, but when it was first introduced it was revolutionary.

One of the first people to get colour printing – or chromolithography – right was Owen Jones, who is most famous for his design book The Grammar of Ornament (1856). This book set a high bar for chromolithography, and all the books that were published after it tried to meet that standard. While Jones did much work in ornamental design (he was an architect by profession), he is best remembered for his work in chromolithography and the dedication with which he improved the colour printing process.

After Jones’s work, though, colour printing took off, and artists all across

Chromolithograph “Cacatoës et magnolia, bordure. Souris blanches” from L’animal dans la decoration (The animal in decoration) by Maurice Pillard Verneuil & E. Lévy, 1897.

Europe used the medium to produce artistic prints, posters, and, of course, art and design books. The late 19th and early 20th centuries produced a huge number of books with chromolithographic prints, many of which are very intricate and complicated. The work done in these books is even more impressive when you know that in chromolithography, the colours are printed one at a time, making the detailed work in these books incredibly difficult to do!

Chromolithograph “Moresque no.1” from Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, 1856

I recently sat down with the Art and Design Library’s wonderful collection of books with chromolithographic printing while working on a research project my MSc course in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh. This collection of books – including The Grammar of Ornament – embodies everything that is noteworthy about chromolithography, from the detailed craftsmanship that goes into creating chromolithographic prints to the realisation of Victorian cultural values in the works themselves. They truly are an important – and beautiful – part of the history of the book.

The books can be consulted by contacting the Art & Design Library and you can explore some of Owen Jones’ beautiful prints in our online exhibition, Travel to Perfection: Owen Jones and The Alhambra on Capital Collections.

March’s Art Exhibition

For an artistic treat why not come along to this month’s exhibition in our Art and Design Library from the 4-30 March and see art works by Rosie Nimmo.

Rosie graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1997 and immediately went to study Art Therapy at Queen Margaret University.  At this time Rosie was a very active member of the artists community in Edinburgh, contributing and showing works in all the major group exhibitions in the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA)  as well as other smaller local shows. She has had a break from the art world whilst pursuing her musical career, but is delighted that this show will give her the opportunity to show her work to a wider audience again.

waveRosie is a bit of a visual magpie, hopping from one subject to another and using a variety of media to demonstrate her response to the ideas.  Currently what interests her most is the light at the sea. She works is a variety of different media on paper including printmaking.

10% of all sales from this exhibition will go to Mercy Corps, an organisation that works with displaced people from all over the world, and which Rosie supported with a charity single last year.

 

 

Celebrating St Valentine’s Day with Love in Art

couples-in-artFebruary has always been a month for romance, although the origins of St Valentine’s Day itself have become murky. Way back in the day, on February 15th, pagans celebrated Lupercalia; a fertility festival dedicated to their God or Agriculture, Faunus. But the 5th century arrived all too quickly for the pagans and Lupercalia was outlawed by the Christian Church. It was replaced with St Valentine’s Day (Valentine being one of three possible Saints of the same name), and moved to February 14th.

bridal-fashionsRomance only really came to Valentine’s Day during the 14th and 15th centuries, when some clever Englishmen and Frenchmen thought February 14th was the first day of the birds’ mating season. Thus, from then on, St Valentine’s Day became a day of not only birdy romance, but a celebration of human love.

Art, literature and music have often found their muses in romance, and the work of artists, writers, poets and musicians often celebrates the love symbolised by Valentine’s Day. Find artistic inspiration in our selection of books celebrating love in art.

February’s Art Exhibition

michael-topley-poster-image-2Why not pop along to the Art & Design Library and see their February exhibition. This month’s exhibition is entitled Edinburgh Scenes & Others and is by Michael Topley. You can see his work from 3 – 27 February.

Michael lives  in Morningside having moved up from North Somerset five years ago and started painting seriously having been previously involved in photography. His job as an engineer and family commitments prevented him from giving too much time for art, but he has always had a strong interest.  Along with his wife he is a member of an Edinburgh Art Group which meets once a week.

About his work Michael says “As I hope I have expressed in my paintings, I like to reflect modern life, particularly with urban street scenes, but don’t limit myself to these and will tackle most subjects with varied results. I feel that watercolours can be as expressive as any other medium and try hard to show this in my work”.

 

Holocaust Memorial Day 2017: How can life go on?

Holocaust Memorial DayOn 27 January we mark Holocaust Memorial Day. We remember not only the millions killed in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution, but also those who have been victims of subsequent genocides. We honour the survivors and reflect upon the lessons of their experiences to challenge hatred and persecution and to prevent future atrocities.
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day asks the question `How can life go on?’, asking us to consider what happens after a genocide.

From Wednesday 11 – Saturday 28 January a display from library collections on the Mezzanine floor, Central Library, considers the creative response to the Holocaust and the contribution that peoples of Jewish origin have made to the cultures of the countries that they were displaced to. We explore how suffering can be channelled and expressed through art, music and writing through pieces reflecting on the Holocaust and how artists, musicians and writers emerged from their experiences, demonstrating how life can go on.

At Central Library on Friday 27 January, 2 – 3pm,  Dr Hannah Holtschneider from the University of Edinburgh is delivering a talk entitled `Holocaust Memorial Day – `How can life go on? The long way home’, reflecting on the aftermath of the Holocaust for refugees and survivors who came to Scotland.

The Furuyama Moromasa Scroll is now available to view online!

Regular readers of this blog will have kept up with the story of our beautiful 18th century Japanese scroll. We’re now very pleased to report that you can view the full 44ft long scroll in its entirety on Capital Collections!

The scroll dates from the early 1700s and depicts the bustling theatre district of Edo, modern-day Tokyo. The artwork, entitled ‘Theatres of the East’ represents a major discovery in the ‘ukiyo-e’ school of art, and is a detailed illustration of all manner of 18th century Japanese street life.

In the Capital Collections exhibition, you can click on each image to zoom in and browse the incredible detail within each section. See if you can spot the bathhouse, the man in his tower keeping a watchful eye out for fires, a puppet theatre, tightrobe walking acrobats, a dog chasing rats away and even a pantomime horse….

Section from Central Library's Furuyama Moromasa scroll

Section from Central Library’s Furuyama Moromasa scroll

Detail showing pantomime horse on stage.

Detail showing pantomime horse on stage.

You can catch up on the Scroll story so far with these earlier blog posts: