Romantic Circles Gallery
Dover Castle from a Market Stall on Castle Street
A woman in a black cloak with a young bonneted girl behind her stands in a covered, open-air market filled with baskets of fruits and fresh goods. The woman grips a large basket of grapes and looks toward someone who appears to be a young boy. This short figure, perhaps the store attendant—in a beige coat, black beret and brown boots—has turned his back to the viewer. A dirt road flanked on both sides by one-story homes runs from the back of the market into the distance. Two figures (difficult to see as they are faded in the watercolor) wear top hats and ride down the road in a black carriage. In the far background above the line of residences, a castle sits on a broad hill. Its grounds are extensive and cover the entire breadth of the hill. A crenellated tower with a white flag stands in the middle of the castle complex.
Copyright 2009, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Edward Blake Blair Endowment Fund purchase, Chazen Museum
Height (in centimeters):
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Inscription, lower right, in script: 18515 FAS
John Britton (1771-1857)
The topographer and antiquarian publisher John Britton employed George Shepherd for work on his Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain (4 vols., 1807-18). Shepherd, working in London in 1807, contributed sketches of Cambridge and Northampton (Peltz).
New Society of Painters in Water-Color
Hardie’s survey of British watercolor painting explains that, prior to the nineteenth century, the Royal Academy considered watercolor a lesser medium next to oil painting. This opinion changed, however, with the establishment of the Old Water-Colour Society in 1804 and the success of their exhibitions (Hardie 112-13). In 1832 Shepherd began exhibiting at the Society of British Artists and became a founding member of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours, a competitor of the first society, in 1834 (Peltz).
Dover Castle, known throughout its history as the "key" of England on account of its strategic coastal location, occupies thirty-five acres of land in the coastal town of Dover in Kent, England. The first foundations were laid in the first century B.C. (Batcheller 74-6). The hill of Dover was further fortified by the Saxons in the fifth century and became a castle following the Norman Conquest. The complex was expanded and rebuilt over the following centuries, from the early thirteenth century under Henry III to the Hundred Years War (Pettifer 116-20). The church of St. Mary in Castro and the ruins of the Roman Pharos, a watchtower, survive from this early period. Batcheller's 1838 guide to the town and castle of Dover states that the castle fell into disrepair beginning in 1670 when it no longer served as a royal residence (Batcheller 110). Extensive repairs were made only in 1793 in response to the threat of revolutionary France; at this point the castle became a high capacity garrison. By the 1830s, it had become a tourist site (Batcheller 110-12). According to a report by the Hon. John Byng, this seems to have been the case at least since the last decades of the prior century (qtd. in Ousby 67).
The following are found in William Batcheller's The New Dover Guide, Including a Concise Sketch of the Ancient and Modern History of the Town and Castle and such Other General Information as may be Useful to Visitors; and a Short Description of the Neighboring Villages (4th ed., 1838):
"The present state and appearance of the castle"
"The Roman Saxon and Norman fortification" [Plate 4]
In this image, the centrality of Dover Castle and its integration into the surrounding landscape demonstrates the centrality of medieval structures in constructing national identity during the Romantic era.
Commenting on Romantic ruin painting, Louis Hawes states that medieval ruins were popular subjects for topographical artists and watercolorists. Indeed, the portfolios of Samuel Prout and Samuel and Nathaniel Buck—trained topographers of the Romantic era—all include medieval ruins. Hawes further observes that artists of architectural decay also tend to position their ruins in the middle ground (462). This again is true of several of the aquatints based on William Gilpin’s picturesque drawing of ruins—for example, the ruins of Castle Abergavenny (William Gilpin, Observations on the River Wye... 1792. Plate 12). The London topographer George S. Shepherd fits the first characterization, but not the second. His Dover Castle recedes into the background, and the castle, the hill, and the road (slightly more pink) are all colored with the same wash.
Hawes remarks that the 1830s was a period of decline for the Romantic ruin (457). Dover Castle from a Market Stall may support this assertion in that, despite the title of the painting, the castle is not the sole focus of the scene. Shepherd began his career as topographical draftsman and became a talented renderer of urban architecture, particularly of London as seen in his sketches in J. Booth's Architectural Series of London Churches (1818) and Robert Wilkinson's Londina illustrata (1825–34). At East Acton (1814) and his scenes on the River Thames (ca. 1818–25) display his abilities as a rural and natural landscape artist (Peltz). In this light, Dover Castle seems to be a hybrid metropolitan and natural landscape scene: the interaction between a customer and distracted attendant in a small-town market scene complements the historic, medieval castle that appears almost transformed into a natural land formation.
Some scholars of the Romantic period, such as Malcolm Andrews and Anne Janowitz, assert that landscapes and ruined architecture aroused historical memory and became emblematic of national identity in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Several primary sources support this opinion. A ruined mansion in Brambletye was the occasion for John Byng to contrast his own era to "those Gothic days":
Over and about these ruins I . . . meditated . . . [on] the great improvements of the roads, which have introduced learning and the arts into the country and removed the (formerly wretched) families, who buried themselves in mud and ignorance, to the gay participation of wit and gallantry in the parishes [towns] of Marylebone and St. James! (89)Commenting on the ruined Caraig-cennin Castle in Wales, traveler Henry Penruddocke Wyndham declared: "'This was doubtless . . . a British building, as is evident from its plan and the style of its architecture’" (quoted in Mavor 343). Furthermore, the picturesque aesthetic glorified decayed structures from the medieval period because they had been subsumed by the land, stained, overrun and rent by insects and vegetation (Ruskin qtd. in Lowenthal 157). While Dover Castle is not clearly depicted as a ruin, this perspective of Dover Castle emphasizes the union of architecture with land, a source of historic pride wholly integrated into English soil.
Andrews, Malcolm. The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760-1800. Stanford: Stanford UP. 1989. Print.
Batcheller, William. The New Dover Guide, Including a Concise Sketch of the Ancient and Modern History of the Town and Castle and such Other General Information as may be Useful to Visitors; and a Short Description of the Neighboring Villages. 4th ed. Dover, 1838. Print.
Byng, John. Byng's Tours: The Journals of the Hon. John Byng 1781-1792. London: Century in association with The National Trust, 1991. Print.
Hawes, Louis. “Constable's Hadleigh Castle and British Romantic Ruin Painting.” The Art Bulletin 65.3 (1983): 455-70. Print.
Janowitz, Anne F. England's Ruins: Poetic Purpose and the National Landscape. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1990. Print.
Lowenthal, David. The Past is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.
Mavor, William Fordyce. The British Tourists; or, Traveller's Pocket Companion, through England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Comprehending the Most Celebrated Tours in the British Islands with Several Originals in Six Volumes. 3d ed. Vol. 1. London: Printed by J. Gillet for Sherwood Neely & Jones and B. & R. Crosby, 1814. Print.
Ousby, Ian. The Englishman's England: Taste, Travel, and the Rise of Tourism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.
Peltz, Lucy. “Shepherd, George Sidney (1784–1862).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 13 May 2009.
Pettifer, Adrian. English Castles: A Guide. Woodbridge: Boydell P, 1995. Print.
Dover Castle from a Market Stall on Castle Street