Post-Napoleonic Wars Views:
Post-Napoleonic History: 1815-1825
After the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and the defeat of the French navy, the Napoleonic Wars came to a close. Just as the start of the war with France had affected depictions of York, the aftermath also altered artistic reactions to the Northern capital. Changes in nationalistic attitudes and economic problems greatly affected York following the conflict and, in turn, impacted artistic views of the city. Despite the harsh realities of the post-War environment, from 1815 to 1825, which led to new artistic approaches, there was a continued interest in the artistic traditions of old.
The gap between the wealthy and the poor became all the more evident in York following the Napoleonic Wars. Such a situation resulted from the implementation of Enclosure Laws and wartime agricultural demand. Enclosure allowed independent farms to extend their output. During the war, there was an agricultural boom and dependence on Northern England which made independent farms (and their aristocratic or wealthy owners) increasingly rich. At the same time, however, farming communities outside this class did not benefit similarly.1
Following the war, demand for agricultural products lowered and left many workers unemployed. Furthermore, the British government imposed higher tax rates on the North during the agrarian boom, but the rate did not decrease after demand dithered. As Bermingham notes, such policies led "large numbers of landowners and farmers [to go] bankrupt and the majority of agricultural labourers were left jobless."2 Desperately in search of work, as both farming work dried up and tax rates remained high, York's population soared as a result of migration into the city.3 York's physical appearance and its sentimental appeal changed accordingly due to this migration and the economic hardship suffered by many.
The rise in industrialism in Northern England following the Napoleonic Wars seemed to offer a solution to the employment issues of agrarian work. Industrialism also drove migration to urban centres as it promised hope for employment for the wider populace. Unlike its Northern neighbours, like Manchester, York never became an industrial centre. While there was some industrialism between 1815 and 1825, and some after – like Rowntree's founding in the late 19th century – it proved a "volatile" process.4 The Ouse River was not large enough for industrial steamships, and this fact, along with the need to preserve the city's historical foundations, were two major limiting factors to rapid industrialism.5
Without the knowledge of hindsight, the population of York soared following the Napoleonic Wars, with the hopes that industrialism could bring financial security. Migration also seemed logical as Enclosure limited communal use of the land around York. The result of this situation was a visible and increasing economic disparity between rich and poor, which played out over the geography and appearance of the city.6 Simply put, there was a larger impoverished population within the city's walls and a greater number of shabbier homes as a result which made York look different.
What results from this situation is the sheer diversity of visual responses to the city. While some artists continued to work in the Picturesque genre, and some the Topographical, more critical reactions by artists also appeared. The general sense of unity in the Evelyn Collection – so many vast, sweeping views of the city – changes at this point towards a more diverse array of artistic responses.
Up until this point, the prints within the Evelyn Collection collectively convey that York was an important subject where ideas of Britishness played out. As a historic city, surrounded by much green area, it could physically model the Picturesque landscape to a degree and also featured important buildings that welcomed Topographical engagement. While Enclosure policies did challenge the idea of just how well York and its immediate area could embody the Picturesque, they did not necessarily change the environment enough to prevent artists from seeing York as Picturesque. Such artistic directions allude to the domestic dynamics at the time: interest in defining Britishness and elevating the domestic landscape during a time of war. Picturesque and Topographical works feature York in very different ways, but both provide positive reflections on York.
In the context after the Napoleonic Wars, we see increased diversity in artistic responses to York. This diversity occurs because of the post-war rapidly changing physical and cultural environment of late Georgian Britain. In the last part of this online exhibition, works produced between 1815 and 1825 will be examined which illustrate the diversity of responses. What makes this particular period so important to consider is that it is a time of transition: the Industrial Revolution is not at its peak, the nationalism and insecurities which resulted from the conflict remain to a degree, and the effects of economic policies from Enclosure Laws, for instance, begin to show their impact on the city and its artistic depiction. Views of York produced during this time tell us a story of confusion and contradiction. These works reveal that representations of York are more than splendid views, and each tells us a story of its time.
While York experienced rapid change during this decade, whether in terms of the city’s geography or its shifting place in the British imagination, Picturesque views of York were pervasive. The desire for these prints was steady, making up the majority of the Evelyn Collection from this period. Its characteristic motifs, like pastoral shepherds and animals, the harmony between man and nature, and the wide-sweeping views of a ‘natural’ environment still define the visual elements of this genre.
Stanfield’s 1820 print York Minster Moon-Light View is exemplary of the Picturesque tradition. In the left foreground of the work are resting and grazing cows that encourage a pastoralized view. The right foreground is framed by perfectly positioned trees, which represent the naturalness of the vista and also frame the scene. In the background, within a hazy, moonlit sky, is the Minster with the Ouse River in the middle. The iconography, distanced view and balance between nature and the manufacture conform to the Picturesque tradition.
Henry Cave’s prolific print work in the Evelyn Collection also speaks to the predominance of the Picturesque genre. His works, such as the 1816 South East View of York, or the 1819 Cathedral Church of York, South West View, follow the parameters of the style. Cave’s devotion to this genre, which characterizes much of his body of work, speaks to the enduring influence and interest of the Picturesque despite changing economic and social contexts. Given the economic effects of Enclosure and industrialization, the predominance of this genre may seem insidious. Wealthy patrons, in particular, continued to favour this genre for a variety of reasons, including as a means to confirm and further drive the basis of their wealth.7 But such an explanation does not account entirely for the interest in this genre. Picturesque prints were relatively cheap to produce, especially in comparison to oil paintings. They, therefore, had a broader market than just the landed gentry.
Produced immediately after the Napoleonic Wars, the context of these prints' production is important. The impact of the conflict, both physically and in the British cultural imagination, was still felt and accounts, in part, for why these Picturesque prints found an audience. Despite growing hardships following the Wars, the positive character of Picturesque motifs and vistas offered a refuge, an escape from the problems of post-war life.8 These prints did not just serve to represent British difference from France or to present a fantastical image of unenclosed lands. They provided a comforting image to a broad audience during a time of crisis and its aftermath.
York remained a favoured city for Topographical exploration. However, the problems of Enclosure and the lowered demand (mainly from the central government seated in London) for agricultural products drove economic difficulties for the city. In turn, this altered the environment of the city and made Topographical approaches more challenging. The genre’s focus on critical sites and buildings encouraged an approach that omitted negative details while also upholding empirical accuracy. The realities of economic hardship conflicted with the heart of Topographical works, which aimed to represent sites (not people) accurately but also positively. Ultimately, however, the desire to represent a site as positive and pleasant led to omitting details that did not exemplify such positive qualities. Economic hardships led to migration into the city centre, near the Minster, and corresponded with a rise in unattractive housing.9 Artists using this approach had to contend with how to avoid details that stood in visual and conceptual difference to the Minster.
Topographical representations of the Minster during this time presented the cathedral as an island, both physically and in concept. This means that artists would approach their representation of the Minster by showing it as physically separate from other buildings – deliberately disconnecting it from the social ills that manifested themselves nearby. Conceptually, the Minster was a physical symbol of divine presence and the presence of the British government. To represent the Minster as connected with impoverished populations could signal a critique of the British and its Church in failing to help the poor. For artists, motifs of the poor were often omitted, sometimes risking observational inaccuracy, to conform to the heart of the genre: to represent essential sites in a positive light.
Bevan and Monkhouse’s York Cathedral from the South West, F. Bedford’s York Cathedral from the North West, and H.S. Stover’s Northwest End of the York Cathedral utilize the Topographical genre. The Minster is presented in a high degree of detail: the architectural elements and details of the building, the structure of the lead-lined stained glass, and the relative scale compared to human figures is depicted in these prints. These works show the cathedral as being an isolated building. No other structures are displayed nearby, as if there was an established perimeter, and only minor trees or figures are permitted to encroach. Such representation negates an accurate presentation of the environs in question, as the artists have removed any representation of buildings that abutted the cathedral, including Sir Arthur Ingram’s mansion amongst others.10
These prints only feature the wealthy or the Picturesque shepherd, if any figures are shown at all. Bevan and Monkhouse’s work features several people. In the right foreground is a family, a man in a top-hat and fashionable coat with a child and several female figures (all dressed conservatively). In the left middle ground, we see a horse and carriage, which emphasizes wealth. In Stover’s print, there is a figure in the right foreground, who wears the garb of a Picturesque shepherd. He does not have the finery seen in Bevan and Monkhouse’s print, but is presented as clean, put together, and a representative of the satisfied farmer. The representation of these figures serves to aggrandize the wealthy, either by featuring the rich directly or presenting the happy labourer.
While some works portray figures, many do not. Furthermore, many works omit any signs of life outside of the Minster’s presence. J.C. Buckler’s York Minster, SE, presents a compact view of the cathedral. Buckler carefully renders the architectural detail of the Minster, but only provides a marginalized hint of the urban environs of York on the far-left background of the print. The architecture of the Minster is aggrandized by isolating it as if to say that it is this building alone that is important.
Like the Picturesque approach, it is not that the end of the Napoleonic Wars itself altered the Topographical approach to York. Instead, the genre and its expectations remained unchanged, but York itself found itself in a moment of transformation. That change led to more obvious inclusions or exclusions in the way the city was represented.
Realist depictions of York offered radically different artistic responses than those set forth by the Picturesque or Topographical genres. In these prints, the realities of poverty that affected both people and the city itself come into focus. The project of such an approach was to call attention to the hardships that came from specific economic policies, like that of Enclosure or high taxation rates. The presence of dilapidated buildings and the lack of cleanliness in the city feature in these prints, in direct contrast to the idyllic vision set forth by the other genres.
J. Netherclift’s Petergate, with part of York Minster, a copy from an earlier print by Mrs Heming, calls attention to the conditions within the city centre instead of the sweeping vistas of the Picturesque works. Placed on Petergate, the viewer faces a row of derelict houses. Smoke rises from the chimneys of these homes and obscures a clear view of the Minster. Unlike in the Picturesque works, the viewer is already situated inside the city. Furthermore, York is in a far from pristine condition: the homes with their thatched roofs lead forward, discolouration on the facades of the houses is evident, and so are the muddied streets.
Petergate refers to some of the conditions of life in York. It does not offer pristine homes to delight the viewer’s eye, and it does not avoid the pollution of the street and sky. Its depiction of city life is similar to Henry Cave’s King’s Square and shows York as a living city, not a town with a continuous mythologized agrarian and idyllic character. The discolouration of the homes highlights the living conditions of the poor in the city. Such inclusion by Heming, copied by Netherclift, refers obliquely to the results of unemployment and migration in the city.
Cave’s King Square, produced between 1800 and 1830, is a work unlike those covered so far in this exhibit. Cave does not represent the Minster at all in this print, but only features a winding road within the city. The absence of the cathedral is telling: Cave has turned his attention away from typical depictions of the city which highlight its landmarks and instead visualizes an unimportant, ordinary street. The sentimental Picturesque view and its influence are absent.
These works serve to show and potentially criticize the effects of economic policies of taxation and industry on York. Realist depictions also provide a nuanced look at York specifically, which is different from the Picturesque genre which has more universal motifs. What happens in the decades that follow after 1825 is a greater profusion of works that look at York, and economic and political policy, with a more critical eye. However, Netherclift’s print, for instance, speaks to a growing problem with wealth and the look of the city, which foreshadows the philanthropic work that W.A. Evelyn, the creator of this Collection, undertook.
Approaching Evelyn Collection Views
The artistic responses to York after 1815 were varied and tied inextricably to the politics of the period. Changing economic policies and the long-term effect of Enclosure influence how artists choose to represent York. The movement away from nationalism and more unified artistic expression resulted in a multiplicity of expression.
For those who enjoyed Picturesque and Topographical prints, York could either be physically distanced from them or its troubles would be socially separated from such viewers. For those who viewed Realist prints, the problems of the city were overtly represented. York, as a common subject in the wide variety of prints, evidences the rapid flux that this city held in the British imagination over thirty years. Not incidentally chosen, but often ignored in research, York was a central location to see debates and effects of significant policies and events of the Empire.