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18th and 19th-century British works of art
The Collections of UCL Art Museum are particularly rich in 18th and 19th-century British works of art. Many of these were part of the 1900 gift of Henry Vaughan to UCL. Vaughan was a renowned collector of old master prints and drawings and of 18th and 19th-century British art, who left oil paintings by Turner and Constable to the National Gallery and drawings by Michelangelo to the British Museum. The small but significant collection of British watercolours given to UCL by Vaughan includes works by Turner, de Wint, Cox and Rowlandson, and he also gave significant groups of prints by Turner and Constable to the collection. Vaughan presented UCL with a fine set of proofs from Turner's Liber Studiorum, including the rare mezzotints from the Little Liber, and an excellent group of working proofs from Constable's English Landscape Scenery. The gift of Henry Vaughan had a didactic intention and his will specifically stated that the prints and drawings were intended for the use of the students at the Slade School of Art.
This drawing was made while Wright was in Italy on his Grand Tour. Unlike many of his fellow Grand Tourists, Wright was not as interested in the Renaissance art to be found in Italian cities as in the light effects he encountered on his travels. The most spectacular of these were a fireworks display and an eruption of Vesuvius, both of which he painted on his return.
Rather than present the Colosseum from the side or above, the more usual viewpoints, Wright has shown the maze of corridors encircling the central space. This has allowed him to observe the interplay of light and shade: the sunlight which floods from the arena through the arches, and the deep shade of the interior.
Turner produced this print shortly after his return from Italy, where Paestum was the most remote classical site he had visited. It comes from his unpublished Little Liber series, the sequel to his earlier Liber Studiorum (Book of Studies), a series of over 100 prints intended as a guide to the study and practice of landscape art. These prints were organised under the headings Historical, Mountainous, Pastoral, Marine and Architectural.
There are only twelve Little Liber prints, and all of them depict effects of light and weather. Rather than employing professional printmakers, Turner engraved these plates himself. He worked in mezzotint, an entirely tonal print technique which was well suited to the depiction of dramatic contrasts between dark cloud and bursts of light.
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