Friday, 25 March 2011

Augustus Earle, Artist, 1829

Napoleon's Tomb on the Island of St. Helena.  Watercolour by Augustus Earle, 1829. 
The information below has been edited from:

It is now widely accepted that Augustus Earle, 1793 - 1838  was the first independent, professionally trained artist to visit each of the five continents and record his experiences.  He was not only highly prolific but talented, gregarious and adventuresome as well.

Prior to this time, 'travel' artists had been attached to the various voyages of exploration that set off from Europe during the eighteenth century or had worked abroad under the auspices of wealthy, often aristocratic, patrons.  Earle, however, had no such constraints and was fortunate to be able to combine his wanderlust with the ability to earn a living through art.  The body of work he produced now comprises what is arguably a unique record documenting the effects of European contact and colonisation during the early nineteenth century and chose to execute his impressions of places visited, and cultures and peoples encountered, almost exclusively in watercolour which, unlike oil paints were inexpensive, portable and easy to use.

Born in London in 1793, the son of an American portrait painter, Earle revealed his talents at an early age and from 1806 exhibited with the Royal Academy.  His first recorded works are historical subjects but he also undertook sketching trips outside London in search of local colour and scenery.  He left England in 1815 to visit Malta and the Mediterranean and soon after his return, in March 1818, set off for the United States of America.  Between 1820 and 1829 he travelled around the world with a particular emphasis on Brazil, Tristan da Cunha, New South Wales and New Zealand.  Although best known as a travel artist, Earle also painted oil portraits, historical and ethnographic subjects, and landscapes, executed lithographs, and wrote several publications about his adventures.

It would appear that he spent about eighteen months in the United States of America visiting mainly New York and Philadelphia.  He then left for Rio de Janeiro, was in Chile by June 1820 and took up residence in Lima between July and December that year.  In November 1820 Earle returned to Rio de Janeiro aboard HMS Hyperion and remained there for the next three years.  The city was strategically placed on the southern shipping routes and its natural wonders and architecture had delighted travellers since the eighteenth century.  Furthermore, colonisation and slavery had resulted in an exotic mix of races and customs.

On 17 February 1824, against all advice, he left Rio aboard the decrepit Duke of Gloucester bound for the Cape of Good Hope, and thence Calcutta.  The reason for his hasty departure was a letter containing the most flattering offers of introduction to Lord Amherst, who had just left England to take upon himself the government of India.

Storms forced the ship to anchor off Tristan da Cunha, and attracted by the idea that “this was a spot hitherto unvisited by any artist” Earle went ashore with his dog and a crew member, Thomas Gooch.  His despair when the Duke of Gloucester inexplicably set sail three days later, and disappeared over the horizon can only be imagined.

Tristan da Cunha had remained uninhabited until 1816 when the island group was formally annexed by a garrison from Great Britain.  The troops left the following year but one member, Corporal William Glass, chose to stay behind together with his wife, Maria, whom he had married in Cape Town.  At the time of Earle's arrival, there were six permanent adult inhabitants and several children to whom he became tutor.

Earle was finally rescued on 29 November by the Admiral Cockburn and reached Hobart, whence the ship was bound, on 18 January 1825.  He remained there several months and then set sail for Sydney where he gained a certain amount of acceptance within local society and decided to apply for a land grant.  Although this was denied, due to his lack of capital, he soon established a reputation as the colony's foremost artist and also made several excursions to outlying areas of New South Wales.
In October 1827, Earle left Sydney aboard the Governor Macquarie to visit New Zealand, where he had “hopes of finding something new for my pencil in their peculiar and picturesque style of life.”  He left in April 1828

He then spent several months back in Sydney before departing in October 1828, bound for India.  At Madras he acquired both fame and money; and during his short stay there executed the original drawings of that Presidency, which have been since copied and exhibited as a Panorama, by Messrs. Daniell and Parris.  While in the zenith of his celebrity, his health unfortunately declined, and he was advised to leave India with as little delay as possible.
A view of Jamestown and Ladder Hill, St. Helena 1829

Earle caught two further boats back to England travelling via Mauritius, where he executed a panorama, and St Helena, and finally arrived home in late 1829.  He wasted no time in capitalising on his experiences abroad and published an eight-part series of Sydney views as well as an illustrated account of New Zealand and Tristan da Cunha.  A series of New Zealand views also appeared in 1838.  Towards the end of 1831 Earle again left England, this time as a draughtsman aboard the, HMS Beagle.  When the Beagle arrived in Brazil and set about mapping the coast, Darwin, Earle and one other, took the opportunity to set up house together in Rio de Janeiro for a few months. Apart from being a fine painter, Earle was a bon vivant with an eye for adventure, travel and the ladies and having lived in Rio for over three years on a previous excursion he made an excellent guide for Darwin.  Sadly after a brief period in South America, was forced to resign due to ill health.  He went back to London and died at his residence on 10 December 1838.

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