Visit Egyptian landmarks and 200-year-old cities in the new Hallie Ford art exhibit
The new exhibition features Scottish artist David Roberts’ sketches of an 1838-1839 trip to Egypt and the Middle East. His work, the first detailed architectural drawings of many ancient monuments, helped spark interest in Egyptology.
A lithograph of David Roberts’ 1838 sketch, ‘The Great Temple of Aboo Simble,’ on display at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Visitors to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art this summer can take a trip down the Nile, see the Temple of Ramses II and the Pyramids of Giza as they appeared nearly 200 years ago.
The exhibition, ‘David Roberts: Artist and Traveller’, has run for over 40 years and features around 60 prints by the Scottish designer whose depictions of Egyptian landmarks and architecture in the 1830s helped galvanize European interest for Egyptology and to travel outside the country. continent.
John Olbrantz, the museum’s director, discovered Roberts’ art in the late 1970s while curating an exhibit on Egypt for the Bellevue Museum of Art in Washington. He saw Roberts’ detailed sketches in a book, depicting scenes like the tombs of ancient pharaohs and the architecture of Cairo seen from outside the city walls.
“I absolutely fell in love with them. They were so well done. They kind of captured the essence of what I imagined Egypt to be in the early 19th century,” Olbrantz said.
Olbrantz has since said he intends to organize an exhibition of Roberts’ work and is collecting material. He has worked more intensely on the project over the past year and a half.
The Hallie Ford exhibit, on view through Aug. 27, draws primarily from the collection of Ken Sheppard, a Seattle-area attorney who is one of the artist’s foremost collectors.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new book by Olbrantz about Robets’ life, his work and the context in which he worked, where travel and travel magazines were just beginning to become popular in Western Europe.
Roberts, born in 1796, grew up in a poor family. As a child he showed interest in copying prints and illustrations, but his parents could not afford to send him to art school, Olbrantz said. Instead, at age 12, he was apprenticed to a house painter and decorator where he learned painting techniques.
Subsequently, he worked as a painter of theatrical scenes in Scotland and London.
“He had no formal training as an artist. He was purely self-taught,” Olbrantz said. But these experiences gave him an eye for architecture and the highly detailed sketches for which he would later be known.
Roberts’ first major artistic trip was to Spain from 1832 to 1833, where he sketched mosques, churches, and cityscapes in minute detail. He returned with about 300 sketches, sold them to a publisher, and worked with lithographers to make prints of the scenes he sketched.
John Olbrantz, director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, traces Scottish artist David Robert’s journey down the Nile in 1838-1839 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
In 1838 he left for Egypt and the Holy Land, self-financing the trip after failing to find a publisher. The resulting sketches rendered in fine detail many of the major Egyptian monuments and artefacts, often including people in the foreground to give a sense of the impressive scale of the monuments to the ancient pharaohs.
Many of his sketches show graves and statues still partially covered in sand that have since been cleared and excavated, Olbrantz said.
Back in Europe, he published a collection of his sketches.
In addition to influencing the fields of Egyptology and biblical archaeology, Olbrantz said his work documents what travel was like in the 19th century. Many of his sketches were reprinted in travel magazines, helping to stimulate European interest in travel to the Middle East.
“He was an important but largely overlooked performer,” Olbrantz said. “He had a huge impact.”
The Hallie Ford Museum of Art, 700 State St., is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for educators or students with ID. Free admission on Tuesday.
Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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