top of page

Inspiring Artists: David Roberts and Louis Haghe

I remember walking into a charity shop in Corsham with my friend Steve Lovering. We browsed the objects, books and I found myself drawn to a stack of frames against the counter and saw what I knew was a David Roberts work. I saw the price £10 and immediately thought well even the frame is worth that even if it is a print. However, I was also drawn to the colouring which was not what I had seen in his works in the Egypt and Numbia books I had. The scene was boats being unloaded on the Nile in Roberts recognisable style, but there was a signature and reference to someone else and it was a limited print. I bought it and fought off Steve's interests and on research discovered all about Louis Haghe a Belguim who specialised in enhancing and printing lithographs. The picture now hangs in Bath and I found the original in my books.

Roberts (1796 –1864) is especially known for a prolific series of detailed lithograph prints of Egypt and the Middle East that he produced from sketches he made during long tours of the region (1838–1840). These and his large oil paintings of similar subjects made him a prominent Orientalist painter. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1841.

David Roberts was born near Edinburgh, the son of John Roberts, a shoemaker.At the age of 10, he was apprenticed for seven years to a house painter and decorator and he studied art in the evenings. One of his first jobs was to paint scenery for James Bannister's circus and this was the beginning of his career as a painter and designer of stage scenery. Roberts traveled with the circus on a tour or England. He then worked as the stage designer's assistant at the Pantheon Theatre, Edinburgh, and then as a decorator house painting, working on the large houses. He later moved to be principle scene painter at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh.

Although he was making a living from scene painting, it was around this time that Roberts began to produce oil paintings seriously. In 1821 he became friends with the artist William Clarkson Stanfield, who joined him to paint scenery at the Theatre Royal, and Roberts developed his love of landscape painting. In 1821 the Fine Arts Institution of Edinburgh accepted three of Roberts's paintings, (views of Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys). At Stanfield's suggestion, Roberts also sent three pictures to the 1822 Exhibition of Works by Living Artists, held in Edinburgh.

In 1824, he exhibited another view of Dryburgh Abbey at the British Institution and sent two works to the first exhibition of the newly formed Society of British Artists. In the autumn of 1824 he visited Normandy. His paintings based on this trip began to lay the foundation of his reputation; one of them, a view of Rouen Cathedral, sold for 80 guineas. By 1829 he was working full-time as a fine artist. That year, he exhibited the Departure of the Israelite's from Egypt, in which his style first became apparent. In 1831, the Society of British Artists elected him as their president.

In 1832 he travelled in Spain and Tangiers. He returned at the end of 1833 with a supply of sketches that he elaborated into attractive and popular paintings. The British Institution exhibited his Interior of Seville Cathedral in 1834, and he sold it for £300. He executed a fine series of Spanish illustrations for the Landscape Annual of 1836. Then in 1837 a selection of his Picturesque Sketches in Spain was reproduced by lithography.

J.M.W. Turner persuaded him to abandon scene painting and devote himself to becoming a full-time artist. Roberts set sail for Egypt on 31 August 1838 with the intent was to produce drawings that he could later use as the basis for the paintings and lithographs to sell to the public. Egypt was much in vogue at this time, and travellers, collectors and lovers of antiquities were keen to buy works inspired by the East or depicting the great monuments of ancient Egypt.

Roberts made a long tour in Egypt, Nubia, the Sinai, the Holy Land, Jordan and Lebanon. Throughout, he produced a vast collection of drawings and watercolour sketches.

On his return to Britain, Roberts worked with lithographer Louis Haghe from 1842 to 1849 to produce the lavishly illustrated plates of the Sketches in the Holy Land and Syria, 1842–1849 and Egypt & Nubia series. He funded the work through advance subscriptions which he solicited directly. The scenery and monuments of Egypt and Holy Land were fashionable but had hitherto been hardly touched by British artists, and so Roberts quickly accumulated 400 subscription commitments, with Queen Victoria being subscriber No. 1. Her complete set is still in the Royal Collection. The timing of publication just before photographs of the sites became available proved fortuitous.

In 1851, and again in 1853, Roberts visited Italy,and his last volume of illustrations, Italy, Classical, Historical and Picturesque, was published in 1859. He also executed, by command of Queen Victoria, a picture of the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851. In. 1839 he was elected an associate and in 1841 a full member of the Royal Academy; and in 1858 he was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh. The last years of his life were occupied with a series of views of London from the Thames. He had executed six of these, and was at work upon a picture of St Paul's Cathedral as seen from Ludgate Hill, when he died suddenly.

Louis Haghe was born in Belgium and was a lithographer and watercolour artist who visited England to find work, and settled there permanently in 1823. Around 1830 and together with William Day he formed the partnership Day & Haghe, which became the most famous early Victorian firm of lithographic printing in London. Day and Haghe created and printed lithographs and pioneered the new techniques for chromolithography as well as hand-tinted lithographs. The firm became pioneers in developing the medium of the lithograph printed in colours.

In 1838 they were appointed 'Lithographers to the Queen'.

Possibly his most ambitious project was providing 250 images for David Roberts' The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia printed between 1842–9. Roberts praised his skill and artistry.

From the mid-1850s Haghe concentrated more on his watercolours, and gained a reputation for his architectural scenes of northern Europe, with his pictures bought and displayed by the Victoria and Albert Museum. He also painted in oils, which were exhibited at the British Institution. He became president of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours from 1873 to 1884.

So i have a lithograph which dates back to the mid 19th century and the teaming up of two artists whoc both enjoyed Royal patronage and created some stunning works together. The numerous Roberts books give many hours of enjoyment and have been republished by many over the years. His style is distinctiive, the accuracy amoost photogenic but the atmosphere created very victorian and spendid.

Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
bottom of page