Thursday, September 9, 2010
David Roberts - The Entrance to the Firth of Forth, with a proposed reconstruction of the Temple of the Sybil ...
[The Entrance to the Firth of Forth, with a proposed reconstruction of the Temple of the Sybil, at Tivoli, on the rock of Dunsapie, near Queen's Drive, in Queen's Park, Edinburgh]
signed and dated 'David Roberts R.A. 1852.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19 3/8 x 48¼ in. (48.8 x 120.3 cm.)
Painted for Samuel Christy M.P.
London, Royal Academy, 1854, no. 581.
The idea of recreating the Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli on a site near Edinburgh would appear originally to have been the brainchild of W.H.Miller (d.1848), of Craigentinny. Before his death in 1848 Miller conceived of a plan to build a replica of the Temple, as a monument to the Arts, on the highest point of his Craigentinny estate, about 100 yards from the Edinburgh to Portobello road. From this site there is a view over the whole Estate and wide views over the Firth of Forth. A week after Miller's internment in a vault on this site, a young Edinburgh architect, David Rhind, wrote to the late Mr Miller's trustees seeking the commission to build it. Other architects also approached the trustees. The estate had passed to the Marsh sisters, and Samuel Christy, M.P. for Newcastle-under-Lyme and the grandson of W.H. Miller's first cousin, Miller Christy, had stepped in to help the sisters manage their affairs. (He eventually inherited Craigentinny estate in 1861 under the will of Miss Ellen Marsh and changed his name to Samuel Christie-Miller in 1862). Christy is likely to have given the Temple-building project publicity in London, hence the interest from a number of architects. By late 1851, Christy was developing plans to try to build the Temple elsewhere in Edinburgh. He may have been forced to abandon the Craigentinny site because the Estate was found to be in dire financial straits, and there was also uncertainty because of a claim to the estate by Joseph Miller, which was not dismissed until July 1853. (An alternative monument was commissioned by Christy in 1853 to be built over the vault where W.H. Miller was buried).
Christy wrote to Roberts on 16 October 1851 with his plan:
I wish to inspire you on the spot with the romance of a project for erecting a building with a view to embelish[ing] the neighbourhood of Edinburgh in order to obtain the assistance of your taste and also of your pencil by which we may convey to others some definite idea of what is intended. Mr Playfair is the only person except one in Edin [?David Laing] I have consulted and he highly approved of getting you to sketch the situation and the building (NLS).
In a letter of 18 December to David Laing, the Scottish antiquary, Christy said 'Mr Roberts could not go to Edin until next year' but could 'make a rough sketch without giving any opinion provided he could procure a plan of the ground with some rough measurement to guide him - the size of Dunsappie Loch - height of the rock from the level of the water and a little sketch of the hill looking from the East' and asked Laing to find someone to make sketches and measurements. Christy remarks that Roberts agrees with him that it would be best to talk about the plans 'when some sketch has been placed before the Gov't'. Laing sent sketches, for which Christy thanks him in a letter of 15 January 1852, referring to his intention to get an oil painted by Roberts as soon as a potential supporter of the scheme had 'been charmed with the site and local position' and 'the Rulers are in such a shaking condition that I am afraid that they will tumble to pieces before I can have at them fairly on the subject.' Christy delivered the sketches to Roberts on 27 January, when Roberts asked for the measurement of the Rock itself, which Christy asked Laing to send by return as Roberts had promised then to get a sketch ready 'by the meeting of parlt [sic] on Tuesday next'. The speed and fluency of Roberts's painting is evident from Christy's next letter to Laing. On 3 February he wrote that:
Mr Roberts has made a beautiful drawing in oil of the Dunsappie Rock and the loch and it has come here this afternoon...The size of the canvas is 4ft x 19 inches. So much had to be done to day in getting it into a temporary frame and cut out of a large stretching frame...Tomorrow the opening of Parliament will be too much taken up to afford an opportunity I hope on Wednesday the great event in which you have taken so much interest will come off. (University of Edinburgh)
The project did not come to fruition. In a letter of 22 March 1854 to Roberts, Christy wrote 'As the project of placing on Dunsappie the restoration of the Temple of Vesta has been abandoned mainly on account of its finding so little favour amongst those locally most interested, I am not disposed to revive the matter'. It appears that Roberts had written to him to check the correct title for the picture, which was to be shown at the Royal Academy. Christy said 'everyone has admired it which will no doubt be the same at the Academy' (National Library of Scotland).
It is not clear whether the painting recorded as sold to Christy in 1853, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854, is the same as the oil supplied to Christy by Roberts in 1852. Roberts may have retouched or completed the latter, or may have painted another oil for Christy the same size as the 1852 oil (though it is most likely the pictures are one and the same). Roberts visited Tivoli in 1853 so may well have retouched and finished the painting for Christy on his return from Italy. Several pencil and wash studies of the Temple of Sybil by Roberts are known.
The proposed temple dominates the composition against the backdrop of a panoramic view. On the far left is the mouth of the bay. The village of Aberlady is in the middle distance at the right.
The picture was well received by the critics. The reviewer for the Illustrated London News wrote 'The hanging committee has deservedly assigned places of honour to ... Roberts' small picture of the Firth of Forth' (op.cit.) while his counterpart at the Art Journal enthused 'no more enchanting passage of landscape is to be found in the Morea, Livadia, or even in the Greek islands' although the latter thought that the 'temple should not have been placed so near the centre of the composition'.
We are grateful to Kristyna Matyjaskiewicz for her help in preparing this entry.
at 6:00 AM