Absolutely Sublime: Danby, Colman and the imaginary landscape
In the early 1820s, Francis Danby began a series of imaginary landscapes, with some success. The aesthetic of the “sublime”, which sought “delightful horror”, had developed in Britain during the 1700s.
Artists like Turner and John Martin began exploiting in the landscape genre. Inspired by their success, Danby exhibited a number of striking catastrophe paintings in London.
These include Sunset at Sea after a Storm and The Opening of the Sixth Seal, which brought him considerable fame. Danby’s pictures had a major influence on the Bristol art scene, particularly on William West.
The painter Samuel Colman was the most original representative of this fantasy genre.
He was profoundly influenced by his Nonconformist faith and expressed it in paintings like Saint James’s Fair and The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host.
Francis Danby, Sunset at Sea after a Storm, 1824, oil on canvas, K5008
Inspired by Géricault’s famous Raft of Medusa, which was exhibited in London in 1820, this seascape depicts the unfortunate survivors of a shipwreck drifting on a raft. The tragic subject and the glowing tones of the sunset, which intensify the drama, are reminiscent of the paintings of John Martin. This painting achieved considerable success in Bristol and subsequently in London. View full image.
Samuel Colman, The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host, about 1830, oil on canvas, K4283
Painted in around 1830, this biblical scene depicts the prophet Moses and the Jewish people escaping from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s army. Divine wrath brings down the raging waters on the Pharaoh and his troops, sweeping them away. Colman draws inspiration, in his own very graphic style, from scenes of catastrophes painted by Danby. View full image.