Dartmoor – a Wild and Wondrous Region

A new exhibition featuring the portrayal of Dartmoor in art between 1750 and 1920 has just opened at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. It is part of the National Park’s ‘Moor than meets the Eye Project’. The Exhibition runs until the 31st March 2018 and is free to enter.

Prior to the mid 18th century Dartmoor was a place to be avoided it was variously described as ‘sqallida Montana Dertmore’, ‘the dreary mountainous tract’, ‘awful’ and ‘horrid’. However landscape artists who had been inspired by their Grand Tour expeditions to Europe were drawn to Dartmoor and the Lake District when the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars made Europe inaccessible.

This exhibition tells the story of how via the work of landscape artists Dartmoor evolved from ‘squalida Montana’ to a ‘Wild and Wondrous Region’.

It is very good and features dozens of paintings, sketches and illustrated books and includes artists such as JMW Turner and the Widgery’s (William and Frederick).

There is an accompanying book by Peter Mason (which is very good)

I particularly liked the Exhibition as it features a number the places I was involved with when I was the General Manager for the National Trust on Dartmoor, such as this Lutyens water colour of his proposed masterpiece – Castle Drogo.

I also love this watercolour of the Teign Valley by John Glover painted from just below Prestonbury Iron Age Hill Fort.  How the scene has changed since 1829, Castle Drogo is now visible just beyond the middle peak, the Fingle Bridge Inn is now set just to the right of the bridge and the Mill and Mill owners house is now a ruin (destroyed by a fire in late 19th century) in the bottom left corner.

There is a William Payne painting of Brent Torr from around 1790 situated in a pre-enclosure landscape, i.e. it is all open – no hedges or fields – how things change.

I was also struck by how few of the paintings featured sheep …… maybe sheep weren’t considered a good feature in a landscape picture or maybe I’ve just become obsessed with sheep numbers on Dartmoor (see here). Either way – there should be more sheep!

Highly recommended.

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