A Grand Tour
Join us on The Grand Tour, as we visit some of Europe’s most famous landscapes through paintings in our collection.
Artists, aristocrats and the affluent flocked to mainland Europe from England between 1660 and 1840. Young nobles, mostly men, left to begin a tour of the great towns and cities of France, Germany and Italy. The Grand Tour, as it was known, was thought to be the perfect way to complete a young person’s education.
The Grand Tour still influences many of our ideas about art, architecture and the landscape today. As our ability to travel freely is currently restricted, we are taking the time to reflect on this early and important form of tourism.
In this online exhibition, you will explore the legacy of The Grand Tour through works of art in the Calderdale Museum Service collection, including three famous English painters: Samuel Prout, John Ruskin and Albert Goodwin. From one brush stroke to the next, you will journey across the continent, with three generations of artists and their contemporaries. Through layers of paint and colour, we will discover how travel shaped the work of artists in England and the lives of people back home.
This exhibition was curated by Calderdale Council Museum Service in partnership with students from the University of York. As part of their degree, Elise Ainge and Katie Greenaway undertook a placement at Bankfield Museum, exploring the art and history of The Grand Tour. Many of the stories, paintings and ideas you will encounter were identified as part of their research.
The Basque Coast, Gulf Lyons by E. Annis
The Grand Tour was the first major global tourist movement. From the 17th century onwards, rich young nobles, as well as artists, travelled to the great towns and cities of Europe. Travelling on the Grand Tour was seen as a rite of passage and essential preparation for a wealthy young person. Experiences on the Tour would help shape their future prospects and careers.
During the peak period of the Grand Tour between 1660 and 1840, as many as 20,000 people journeyed to mainland Europe each year from all over Britain. Young travellers (mostly men), often accompanied by their tutors, took the opportunity to study art, history and attend major social events such as dances and banquets. These activities were designed to supply young nobles with polished manners, topics for polite conversation and to help them feel at ease in refined company. Despite the educational purpose of the Tour, many travellers were also distracted by extra-curricular activities such as drinking, sex and gambling.
Capriccio, Venice, attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
Writers, painters and other artists were frequent travellers on the Grand Tour. Many travelled to learn from master painters and to capture the atmosphere and mood of far flung people and places.
This striking oil painting is attributed to Turner. The way the artist has created a sense of place through light, colour and composition is reminiscent of Turner’s distinctive style. It depicts one of Venice’s many canals and lagoons which were made famous by the great masters such as Canaletto (1697-1768). Turner became obsessed with Venice. Despite only spending about a month there in total, nearly a third of Turner’s paintings were of the city.
Following in Turner’s footsteps, many British artists planned their own itineraries to take in the landscapes represented in his paintings. In addition to Venice, this includes Paris, the Swiss Alps, Naples, Florence and Rome.
Amalfi by Albert Goodwin (1845-1932), painted 1900
In the period following Turner’s death in 1851, Albert Goodwin (1845-1932) emerged as one of the most significant landscape painters in Britain. Goodwin was a gifted artist. His work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy when he was just 15. After a successful display at the Royal Watercolour Society, John Ruskin (1819-1900) noted Goodwin’s potential and decided to mentor him. In 1872, Ruskin took Goodwin on a tour of Europe where he created detailed preparatory sketches which he later developed into finished works.
Goodwin was clearly inspired by travel. He continued to explore new places throughout his life, sometimes with his family in tow. Switzerland was a favourite location for Goodwin. He also travelled to Italy, Crete and even further afield to Egypt. He travelled as far as the West Indies and North America, and also took several holidays in his native Britain, including Whitby, Scarborough and York.
Women were rarely able to take a Grand Tour alone but many, like Goodwin’s daughter Edytha, were able to see the sites of Europe while travelling as part of a family. Edytha became an artist herself, exhibiting work at the Royal Academy in 1907.
Off the Dutch Coast by Thomas Bush Hardy (1842-1897), painted in 1896
There was no set route or destination on the Grand Tour. Individuals created their own itineraries. Carting their possessions and servants with them, travellers from England made their way south through France, Germany, Switzerland and occasionally Greece. Tourists stayed in destinations along the route such as Genoa and Geneva for many months. Their ultimate destination was often Italy and the great centres of Renaissance art, science and learning, such as Florence, Venice and Rome. Some Grand Tours lasted several years.
Many Grand Tourists travelled by road. However, waterways, rivers such as the Rhine and the Seine, were equally important and presented picturesque subjects for paintings. Sheffield painter Thomas Bush Hardy (1942-1897) found inspiration in Europe’s many marine environments. His works feature coastal scenes in England, the Netherlands, the French channel ports and Venetian lagoons.
Park Scene by Thomas Hainsworth (1873-1944)
To fully experience a Grand Tour, travellers needed to see specific sites, gain certain knowledge and return home “improved”. A visit to Paris established codes of sophistication, diplomacy and presented opportunities to take part in elaborate social events and banquets. During the early period of the Grand Tour, some gentlemen mingled with the French nobility and attended the royal court. Paris continued to be a key destination for tourists and artists throughout the period of the Grand Tour and into the 20th century. Many important artistic movements, such as Impressionism, started and flourished in France.
Halifax born painter Thomas Hainsworth appears to have visited Paris to paint this picturesque park scene, possibly along the banks of the River Seine. Hainsworth exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, as well as the Royal Academy in London.
On the Rhine by Samuel Prout (1783-1852)
Many Grand Tourists travelled through towns and cities via Europe’s great rivers. A popular route was along the Rhine, stopping off at destinations such as Cologne. Artists like Samuel Prout visited areas in what is now modern-day Germany, to sketch street scenes, paint in busy market places and make sensitive architectural studies.
Prout started his artistic career through the study of architecture and by drawing the picturesque cottages and boats in his home town of Plymouth. He first toured mainland Europe in 1818, after he was encouraged to travel to warmer climes in order to improve his ailing health.
Despite chronic illness, he continued to travel throughout his life. His painted scenes of Europe were very popular with his clients.
To boost his income, Prout also took on students, including a young John Ruskin (1819-1900), who would inherit his attention to detail and love of architectural forms.
Gandria on Lake Lugano, Switzerland by G. Dolby, 1907.
Many of the works in this online exhibition were painted during the Romantic period, a time when painters turned their attention to nature and a close observation of the landscape.
Destinations on the Grand Tour, such as Germany’s picturesque river routes and Switzerland’s sublime lakes, were a major source of inspiration for artists. Many artists on the Tour were responding to emerging ideas about unique national identity, traditions and culture, which they were attempting to capture in their paintings.
Romantic art often tried to capture the awe and wonder of nature. The Alps, which had previously been seen as physical barrier to travel, became a destination in themselves.
Dolby produced a series of watercolours and those of the Swiss countryside suggest a sense of serenity and tranquillity. Beyond this series of works, we know very little about the artist or their travels.
Coast Scene, Bellagio, Lake Como (Italy) by William Raymond Dommersen (1859-1927)
During the 18th century, travel to Italy was seen as key to a wealthy noble’s education. Poet Samuel Johnson’s comments reflect this attitude: “A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see”.
Like many artists, British-Dutch painter William Raymond Dommerson was also drawn to Italy, a place which inspired his artistic practice. From a long line of painters, Dommersen is best known for his land and seascapes. He was particularly interested in capturing European villages and towns along rivers, lakes and canals.
St Marks, Venice by John Ruskin (1819-1900)
John Ruskin was an influential artist and art critic. Inspired by his teacher Samuel Prout (1783-1852), Ruskin travelled widely throughout mainland Europe during his life to study art and architecture. He ventured to many of the key destinations on the Grand Tour, such as Paris, Geneva, Genoa and Pisa. This sketch made by Ruskin on one of his many trips to Venice. Through simple line work, he manages to capture the essence of Venetian architecture.
Ruskin was influential during his travels and also long after. He travelled with close friends and family, as well as emerging artists such Albert Goodwin (1845-1932). Ruskin’s travels allowed him to develop and promote his ‘truth to nature’ ideals, which insisted upon an accurate and detailed representation of the natural world. This was something he conveyed to his companions on the tour and his students back home at the University of Oxford. For Ruskin, painting had as much to do with religion and spiritualism as it did aesthetics.
Venice was a favourite subject for Ruskin on the Tour. Like other British travellers, he held the city in great affection. Ruskin was not only concerned with immortalising Venice’s buildings in his paintings, he also become a staunch advocate for the conservation of Venetian architecture and heritage. This informed his monograph, Stones of Venice, which was influential in ensuring that Venice’s great buildings and spaces were protected and preserved for the future. He also made a pioneering photographic record of buildings in the city. He was concerned that modern influences and infrastructure, such as the railway, were changing the shape of the historic city forever.
For those not focused on creating their own artworks on the Grand Tour, collecting art was just as important as it provided evidence of their European travels. Images and scenes from cities like Venice were extremely popular, which also led artists to visit and produce them for their clients. Many Grand tourists also went in search of valuable paintings, sculptures and other souvenirs to furnish their country homes in Britain. These became symbols of their accumulated wealth and status.
The Temple of Theseus by James Müller (1812 – 1845)
Bristolian artist William James Müller often painted picturesque ruins and landscapes. This drew him to travel to places such as Athens, Alexandria and Cairo.
Classical ideas from ancient Greece and Rome were hugely influential in 18th century Europe. This made Italy and Greece an attractive prospect for Grand Tourists hoping to encounter archaeological sites, art and architecture.
During the 18th century, Grand Tours tended not to take in Greece, due to travel restrictions imposed by the Ottoman Empire. It was considered too dangerous for an English tourist at the time. Many favoured trips to Italy. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in France, however, travel to Italy became more difficult. Destinations such as Greece had a surge in popularity and started to attract greater numbers of still hoping to get their fix of classical culture.
Piece Hall, Halifax by John Wilson Anderson (1798-1851)
In the 18th century, neoclassical styles hugely influenced painting, architecture and sculpture across Europe. Common design features such as tall sculpted pillars were copied and reproduced. This painting of the Piece Hall is currently displayed in 'The Piece Hall Story' at the Piece Hall in Halifax. This iconic structure, which opened in 1779, is reminiscent of Italy’s finest squares such as Piazza San Marco in Venice.
Dating from 1779, it was built as a cloth call for the trading of ‘pieces’ of cloth; a 30 yard length of woven woollen fabric produced on a handloom. The Piece Hall was the most ambitious and prestigious of its type and now stands in splendid isolation as the only remaining example. It is one of Britain’s most outstanding Georgian buildings.
Neoclassicism was heavily inspired by the art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. The Grand Tour gave travellers an opportunity to observe ancient monuments, classical works of art and attend archaeological excavations. Architects and artists began to mimic and reuse the forms they observed on the tour back home.
Full of Promise by William Henry Millais (1828-1899)
During the peak period of the Grand Tour, women did not have the same freedom to travel as their male contemporaries. During the early 18th century, there was public concern about the perils of travel for young noble women. Scandalous stories were printed in newspapers, stoking fears that women would return home pregnant after dalliances with rich young men on the continent. This stoked fears that women’s virtue and reputation were at risk.
Towards the end of the 18th century, however, more women joined the tour. Many travelled with male family members and friends. This gave them an opportunity to explore their own interests, such as archaeology, painting and the natural sciences. Women were avid collectors on the tour and some used their newly acquired objects to showcase their status and intellectual authority back home. By the early 19th century, there were also a number of female travel writers, who used their work to provide other women with knowledge of the continent. However, many of these women were among the wealthiest in society. Travel was still remained inaccessible to women without access to the large funds or beneficial social connections.
Women not lucky enough to travel, could vicariously absorb the Grand Tour experiences of others through books, exhibitions and their social connections. Some, like the subject of this painting, may have developed their own practice through careful research of subjects and techniques developed by other artists on the tour.
The Grand Tour declined as an educational necessity for the social elite in the mid-1800s. However, the accessibility and popularity of travel has only increased. The ability to travel, while currently restricted, remains an important part of all of our lives, allowing us to encounter people and places from all over the world. These influences can be seen all across Britain today, from the food we eat, to the buildings we pass in the street and the art we hang on our walls.
These are just a few of the 33 paintings that will be displayed when we are able to reopen and launch the full exhibition. We hope you can join us to view the physical works of art and tell us what you think of the paintings in person.
Find out more
- The Grand Tour Online Exhibition - The National Gallery
- The Grand Tour Online Exhibition - The Met Museum
- The Grand Tour in Venice. 2019 online publication
- Cosmopolitan Moments: Instances of Exchange in the Long Eighteenth Century
- The British Abroad, The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century by Jeremy Black, (Sutton Publishing, 2003).
- Italy and the Grand Tour by Jeremy Black, (Yale University Press, 2003).
- The Model Wife, The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, Ruskin and Millais by Suzanne Fagence Cooper, (Duckworth Overlook, 2010).
- Ladies of the Grand Tour by Brian Dolan, (Flamingo, 2001).
- Samuel Prout (1783-1852) by Rochard Lockett, (V&A Museum, 1985).
- Travel and the British Country House. Cultures, Critiques and Consumption in the Long Eighteenth Century by Jon Stobart, (Manchester University Press, 2017).
- Cities and the Grand Tour: The British in Italy, c.1690-1820 by Rosemary Sweet, (Cambridge University Press).