David Roberts came from a humble background and was initially apprenticed to a painter-decorator, but soon turned his hand to stage set design. In 1822, while working for the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh and beginning to submit architectural compositions for exhibition there, he travelled to London, where he produced designs for the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and the Opera House in Covent Garden. In 1824 he visited Normandy, where he made drawings of Gothic buildings. He went on to visit most of Europe, venturing as far as Syria and Egypt, sketching subjects that he would later translate into oils and watercolours. Many of these studies were subsequently lithographed, notably Picturesque Sketches in Spain, Sketches in the Holy Land and Syria, and Classical, Historical and Picturesque, all of which proved popular and profitable. Roberts was also a contributor over many years to the Landscape Annual. Towards the end of his career, he turned his focus once more to British subjects.
Critics have identified three distinct phases in David Roberts’ career: until 1838, he used bold and luminous colours inspired by 18th century Dutch Masters, but following his trips to the Middle and Near East, his style became more clinical and the colours less vivid. Towards the end of his life, his colours darkened perceptibly.
Roberts became an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1839 and a full member two years later, and from 1842 was a member of the Society of British Artists. He exhibited in London at the Suffolk Street Gallery until 1836.
2003, From Ruskin to Turner: Drawings and Travels in Romantic Picardy, Museum of Picardy, Amiens
2008, The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting, Tate Britain, London
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Amiens: St Mark’s Square, Venice
Bristol (City Mus. & AG): Temple of Dendera, Upper Egypt (1841, oil on canvas)
Dublin: Temple of Neptune at Paestum
Dundee (University Fine Art Collection): Mount Seir, Wadi el Ghar (1839, watercolour on paper)
Edinburgh (Nat. Gal. of Scotland): Rome: Sunset from the Convent of Sant’Onofrio on the Janiculum (1856, oil on canvas); View of Edinburgh from the Ramparts of the Castle (watercolour heightened with white/two sheets of blue-green paper)
Glasgow: Church St-Etienne-du-Mont, Paris
Leicester: Jerusalem: View of the Valley of Josaphat
Liverpool (AG, University): Royal Palace, Madrid
Liverpool (Walker AG): Baalbec – Ruins of the Temple of Bacchus
London (British Architectural Library)
London (Tate Collection): Chancel of the Collegiate Church of St Paul, at Antwerp (1848, oil on canvas, exhibited in 1848)
London (Victoria and Albert Mus.): Historic Buildings, Granada; Port of Cairo (known as Bal-el-Mutawellee); Interior of Milan Cathedral; Ruins of Elgin Cathedral
London (Wallace Collection): Granada: the Chapel of Ferdiinand and Isabella (1838, oil/panel)
Preston: Tombs of the Scaliger Family, Verona
Sheffield: Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
Sydney: St Peter’s, Rome
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