Sunday, December 22, 2013

Plein Air Painting History 101: Philip Gilbert Hamerton

Phillip Gilbert Hamerton

When Philip Gilbert Hamerton published A Painter's Camp in 1863, the collapsible paint tube, which made plein air painting much more convenient, had only been around for about 20 years.  Hamerton, who eventually gave up being a landscape painter for the apparently more profitable career as art critic, wrote the book to document his adventures in plein air painting in England, Scotland and France.  He thought himself a rare breed:

With no more than such ordinary powers of physical strength and endurance as are to be found amongst average English gentlemen, I have worked from nature on the spot seven or eight hours a day, in the wildest situations, and in the most merciless storms of winter. I have carried through the most delicate processes in color, hour after hour, when shepherds refused to wander on the hills and sheep were lost in the drifted snow.

"The River Yonne" (91cmx152cm) by Philip Gilbert Hamerton

Although much of the book is devoted to Thoreauvian rants against civilization, it is full of adventure that displays the author's eccentricities.  At one point, he ends up shooting and burying the hound that traveled with him because it took to chasing sheep.  At another, he is accompanied by a Scottish shepherd lad who helps lug around his gear.  "Thursday," as Hamerton calls him, because that was the day of the week he arrived on the scene, speaks in dialect.  But Hamerton insists he speak good English, and although Thursday tries, he often fails, and so agrees to a daily thrashing by Hamerton to help break him of the habit.  You get the idea.

"Sens from the Vineyards" (91cmx152cm) by Philip Gilbert Hamerton

Of most interest to me was the "hut" that Hamerton invented to carry with him on his month-long painting adventures:
I have been very busily occupied with the invention of a new hut, which is at last finished, and which appears to promise every accommodation I require in a wonderfully small space. ... It consists entirely of panels, of which the largest are two feet six inches square: these panels can be carried separately on pack-horses, or even on men's backs, and then united together by iron bolts into a strong little building. Four of the largest panels serve as windows, being each of them filled with a large pane of excellent plate-glass. When erected, the walls present a perfectly smooth surface outside, and a panelled interior; the floor being formed in exactly the same manner, with the panelled or coffered side turned towards the earth, and the smooth surface uppermost. By this arrangement, all the wall-bolts are inside, and those of the floor underneath it, which protects them not only from the weather, but from theft, an iron bolt being a great temptation to country people on account of its convenience and utility. The walls are bolted to the floor, which gives great strength to the whole structure, and the panels are carefully ordered, like the stones in a well-built wall, so that the joints of the lower course of panels do not fall below those of the upper. The roof is arched, and covered with waterproof canvas. I have been careful to provide a current of fresh air, by placing ventilators at each end of the arch, which insures a current without inconvenience to the occupant.

He also packed along a cook stove that sat in the center of the hut, venting through the canvas roof.  If you'd like to read more about Hamerton and his painting experiences, here is a link to the Google Books version.

By the way, you can still support my Kickstarter project, "50 for the 50th," in celebration of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park's 50th anniversary.  I'd love to have your support!  For details, please visit my Kickstarter page:

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