Saturday, February 7, 2015

David Roberts, The Houses of Parliament from Millbank

David Roberts, The Houses of Parliament from Millbank, 1861

David Roberts (1796-1864) was a Scottish painter known for his interest in Orientalism.  Born in Edinburgh, he began his career there as a stage and scenery designer.  He moved to London in 1822 with his wife, Margaret, and six-month-old baby, Christine, when he was offered a job as a scenery designer and set painter at the Coburg Theater, now the Old Vic.  He was commercially successful with his sets, while gradually making the transition to fine artist and building his reputation throughout the 1820s.  By 1829 he was working full time as a painter and exhibited his Departure of the Israelites from Egypt.  In 1831 Roberts was elected president of the Society of British Artists.  In 1832 he began his travels, and truly found his style.  He first traveled to Spain and Tangiers, notably painting the interior of Seville Cathedral.  He went to Egypt and Arabia, Jerusalem and Jordan.  He depicted archaeological sites, everyday people, and sweeping landscapes.  Roberts appears to have been fascinated with every aspect of the Near East.  He even had himself painted in "Orientalist" attire.  When he returned to Britain he made lithograph prints of his illustrations of his travels, to immense commercial success.  One of the things that makes this portrayal of the Houses of Parliament so interesting is the way that Roberts depicted the famous building to look like a foreign element.  The edifice is shrouded in mist and eastern-looking boats pass in front of and around it.  Even the lighting gives the scene an air of the exotic. He took a similar approach to a view of Edinburgh from his later life.  Roberts applied what he learned in the Middle East and applied to his subjects in Britain to show a new dimension of this familiar scene.

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