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Bonhams Travel and Exploration Auction Features Topographical Art

Three very different but equally intriguing 19th century topographical artists star in Bonhams next Travel and Exploration sale in London on 15 September – reminders of the hardship and courage involved in bringing back images of far flung places when the only realistic way to do this was to go out and draw them.

Edward Lear – most famous, of course, for his nonsense verse – was also a highly gifted landscape artist and his oil painting of 1871, ‘Sunset on the Nile above Aswan’ glows as the fading light turns the river luminous. The painting is most likely to have been a commission from Ernest Noel, the M.P. for Dumfries Burghs who befriended the artist on a journey down the Nile and would have seen Lear sketching during the voyage. It has been in the family ever since and is estimated at £20,000 – 30,000.

Topographical art of an earlier period and a very different style is found in David Roberts watercolour of 18 March 1839 entitled, ‘Hebron’, (£30,000 – 50,000). Roberts had arrived in the city two days earlier at the end of a journey from Cairo via the famed St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai and a perilous trip across Mount Hor during which he and his party had fought off bandits and survived sandstorms, sickness and other physical hardships. Roberts had left Britain for the Holy Land in August 1838 to draw the great sites of historical and religious interest with the intention of producing lithographs for sale. These eventually appeared monthly in sets of six to form two series, The Holy Land (1842-45) and Egypt and Nubia (1845-49) and were a great commercial success. ‘Hebron’ was owned by John Hopkinson, Lord Mayor of Manchester in the early 1880s, then by his son Edward Hopkinson who was elected the Coalition Conservative MP for Clayton in Manchester in the 1918 General Election – during the last Conservatives/Liberal coalition – and down the family to the present day.

Finally, Alfred Sells (1822 – 1908) was an Anglican clergyman and talented artist who sailed for Australia in May 1877 to take up a post as the Rector of Holy Trinity Church at Lyndoch, one of the oldest towns in South Australia (though it had only been settled for 40 years when Sells arrived). His sketches from the voyage on the SS Somersetshire are included in the album together with watercolours of places in England, Continental Europe and Australia. Most are inscribed with title and bear dates between 1876 and 1879. The album is estimated between £40,000 – 60,000. Sells lived and ministered in Australia for several years, returning to England in 1888.

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