Time for Pugin's great work to go public
IN the summers of 1812 and 1834 respectively, two well known artists of the 19th century, who may well have been acquainted as they were both residents of Bloomsbury, descended on Highgate/Archway to paint its views. One was the much loved English painte
IN the summers of 1812 and 1834 respectively, two well known artists of the 19th century, who may well have been acquainted as they were both residents of Bloomsbury, descended on Highgate/Archway to paint its views.
One was the much loved English painter John Constable who painted a view of Highgate from Hampstead Heath and the other was the lesser known Augustus Charles de Pugin of Anglo-French descent who painted a view of Highgate Archway from Upper Holloway.
In 1824 Constable had set the benchmark for capturing the quintessence of an English homestead in his depiction of The Haywain, in the shallow ford next to Willy Lott's cottage with such verisimilitude that previous or subsequent paintings by other artists would inevitably suffer in comparison.
In this context Pugin's perspective of Highgate/Archway may rank as mediocre in both scale and composition but it does manage to capture the topography of a once beautiful hill and its milieu in astonishing detail, investing it with the warmth of a genteel and bucolic England that is redolent of a bygone era, leaving dwellings, gentry, coach and horses and wagon and wagoner homeward bound suffused in the timeless ambience of an English summer.
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Pugin's magnum opus now forms part of the King George III Topographical Collection in the British Library, to whom we owe a great deal as without him thousands of paintings would have been consigned to oblivion.
But such is its impact that one can be forgiven for thinking that it is time to rescue it from the stultifying confines of the collection for public exposition in a national gallery or for reproduction on a much larger scale to hang in the Highgate or Archway libraries.
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