Last Look | Watercolors by John White Abbott and David Cox

Don’t miss your chance to view recent acquisitions by David Cox and John White Abbott, currently on view in the exhibition Landscapes Behind Cézanne—which is now extended through Sunday, May 20. The installation of some twenty works, drawn entirely from the Museum’s collections, juxtaposes watercolors by Cézanne with landscapes drawn, printed, or painted on paper by earlier artists.

David Cox, English, 1783–1859: Mountainous Landscape, North Wales, late 1840s–early 1850s. Watercolor and black chalk on two joined sheets of heavy oatmeal wove paper. Museum purchase, Surdna Fund (2017-217)David Cox’s Mountainous Landscape, North Wales evokes the mountainous scenery of North Wales, which from 1842 onward became a mainstay of Cox’s work—during his yearly routine of sketching and travel, he was particularly drawn to the small village of Bettws-y-Coed, near the junction of the rivers Conwy, Lugwy, and Lledr. Between 1844 and 1856 he made annual visits to Bettws-y-Coed, discovering a wide range of subject matter—from majestic vistas to sun-dappled lanes—that provided material for his finished watercolors and oil paintings. Dated to the late 1840s to early 1850s, this swiftly executed, windblown vista exemplifies the way in which the cragginess of the observed landscape is matched by Cox’s increasingly rugged technique, amplified by his use of “Scotch” paper, a strong wrapping paper made from bleached linen sailcloth; it is distinguished by little black and brown specks (these did not bother Cox; when asked what he did to get rid of them if they appeared in the sky, he said, “Oh, I just put wings to them and then they fly away as birds!”). This freely executed sketch lays bare the gestural, and at times even manic, energy of Cox’s black chalk marks, which underplay and overlay the broad, short strokes of transparent, pure watercolor. 

John White Abbott, British, 1764–1851: Loch Long from Hills near Arrochar, Scotland at 5 in the Morning, 1791. Watercolor with pen and gray ink, over graphite, on cream wove paper. Museum purchase, Surdna Fund (2017-216)John White Abbott’s Loch Long from Hills near Arrochar, Scotland at 5 in the Morning dates from Abbott’s six-week tour of Scotland and the Lake District in the summer of 1791, which began in York on June 13, and ended in Glastonbury on July 28. During this tour he produced over eighty works on sketchbook pages of the same size. It is generally considered that Abbott concentrated on producing graphite outlines while he was clambering up hillsides (as in this work), reworking them with pen and filling in the outlines with transparent watercolor back in the studio, when he also added elegant wash-lined borders and inscriptions on the back of the mount as to the date, place, and—in this instance—time of day. Exemplifying the Picturesque aesthetic of late eighteenth-century British “tinted drawings” at its most delicately expressive, this meticulously executed work evades topographical specificity in favor of spirit of place–capturing the early morning calm of the Loch with two little boats glimpsed by Abbott from his hillside perch. 

Laura M. Giles
Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings