William Daniell's journeys around Skye, Raasay and the Moray Coast in 1815
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Aug 12th 2009, page 93
BETWEEN 1813 and 1823, the artist William Daniell completed a journey round the entire coast of Britain that resulted in one of the most splendid topographical publications of the early 19th century, A Voyage Round Great Britain. The eight volumes are best known for their exquisite aquatint illustrations (308 altogether). Some of the finest of these coastal views record the third leg of the tour, when Daniell travelled through the West Highlands and Hebrides in the summer of 1815.William Daniell's Isle of Skye and Raasay focuses on his visits to those islands in July and August of that year. Although a small part of the overall journey, the islands produced a disproportionately high number of prints (published in volumes three and four), showing how captivated the artist was by the astonishing scenery and unfamiliar ways of life he encountered as he journeyed on horseback through the difficult terrain, making treacherous island crossings in small, open boats.
Fifteen of Daniell's magnificent aquatints are reproduced, some seen with engravings of the same subject by other topographical artists, such as Moses Griffiths, and photographs of the same views today. Excerpts from Daniell's accompanying text are enlivened by the often more illuminating social commentaries and descriptions of the places by contemporary travellers such as Johnson, Boswell, Walter Scott and John MacCulloch. The book also includes a letter from Scott introducing Daniell to the 'Laird of MacLeod' and other little-known correspondence. All this is set into historical context with brief detours into Macdonald and Macleod 'clancestry', highlights of the peregrinations of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and topics such as the Clearances, patterns of landownership and recent island history.
The author, John Garvey, is a professor of physics who also paints, and he is particularly good at describing the technique of making aquatints, of which Daniell RA was the unrivalled master, and the qualities that make them so alluring. The soft, smoothly modulated tones and muted palettes give these watercolour-like views a wonderful atmospheric quality, which Daniell enhanced by exaggerating the perspective and drama of the hills for artistic effect. The scenes are also particularly absorbing for his skilful depiction of assorted small boats under sail and oar going about their everyday maritime activities, and one of the delights of this book is the inclusion of magnified details from the published prints—intricate pictures within pictures revealing a whole new layer of pictorial information often previously unnoticed.