Absolutely Panoramic: Bristol, A unique site and a changing city
“A locality offering great possibilities for an artist’s pencil”. That was how one biographer of Francis Danby, the Bristol School’s best-known painter, described the city’s distinctive setting.
Not far from the sea but hemmed in by its spectacular gorge, Bristol had prospered as a port since the Middle Ages. The city grew considerably in the 18th century, as a result of the slave trade. Built at that time, Queen Square is the embodiment of that period of prosperity.
In the late 1700s, the city began attracting artists, who drew their inspiration from its site and monuments. Turner was one of the first, in 1791.
Other talented painters continued to depict Bristol its surroundings in the early 1800s: Thomas Rowbotham, Samuel Jackson and William Müller. During the 1820s the collector George Weare Braikenridge commissioned more than a thousand views of the rapidly changing city.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Mouth of the Avon, near Bristol, from the Cliffs below Clifton, 1791/92, K6431.
In 1791, the young Turner was only just embarking upon his brilliant career. While his contemporaries were exploring other English regions to find new motifs, Turner was one of the first artists to seek inspiration in Bristol. He chose the spectacular site of the Avon Gorge close to the city. His view from a natural cave further accentuates the gorge’s wild beauty. View full image.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Avon Gorge and Bristol Hotwell, 1791/92, watercolour, K816.
Turner chose a viewpoint at the entrance to the Avon Gorge, which amplifies the monumental scale of the scenery. The sailors, ships and the Hotwells Spa Hotel buildings offer a striking contrast to the natural splendour of the location. View full image.
Nicholas Pocock, View of Bristol Harbour with the Cathedral and the Quay, 1785, oil on canvas, K742.
Nicholas Pocock was a native of Bristol and one of the first artists to specialise in paintings of the city and surrounding areas. This canvas perfectly evokes the thriving activity of the port in the very heart of the medieval city. The Gothic cathedral tower is clearly recognisable on the left. This building would also attract the attention of the young Turner a few years later. View full image.
Thomas L. Rowbotham, Queen Square, looking south-west, 1827, watercolour, M2206
Built between around 1699 and 1727, the elegant Queen Square, named after Queen Anne (1702-1714), was one of the city’s greatest sources of pride. Rowbotham produced numerous views of Bristol during the course of the 1820s when the city was rapidly changing. They were commissioned by the collector George Braikenridge in an attempt to document the city’s (architectural) history. View full image.
William James Müller, View of Bristol from Clifton Wood, 1837, oil on canvas, K1542
This sweeping panoramic view of Bristol allows the viewer to appreciate both the spectacular beauty of the scenery as well as the medieval city’s historic monuments and the port’s latest amenities, which extended to the edge of the city. William James Müller was the youngest of the Bristol School artists. His work was exhibited in London where he lived and, before long, he became one of the first British artists to specialise in painting the landscapes of the Middle East. View full image.
Samuel Colman, The Ceremony of Laying the Foundation Stone of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, 1837, oil on canvas, K874
The idea of building a bridge over the narrowest point of the Avon Gorge, from Clifton hill upstream of Bristol, first emerged in the 18th century. It was only at the start of the 1830s that plans were adopted for a suspension bridge designed by the architect Brunel. In this painting, Samuel Colman depicts the ceremony of laying the foundation stone. The structure, now one of the most famous in the city, was only completed in 1864. View full image.