Most paintings do not feel like a snapshot in time, but the watercolors on display now at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., transport viewers back to the Greece the artists experienced, an area torn between the present and the past, the Ottoman Empire and independence, and nervously aware of Napoleon’s exploits nearby. The Getty Villa exhibit, entitled Greece’s Enchanted Landscapes: Watercolors by Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi, offers an amazingly precise account of magnificent landscapes and panoramic views of the Athens they encountered during their travels in the early 19th Century.
Classical scholar Edward Dodwell and artist Simone Pomardi traveled in Greece in the early 1800s. They both published books about the experience and left behind a sort of photo album of their journey, albeit photos sketched and painted in, that has never been publicly displayed in the U.S. (or anywhere prior to a show at The British Museum in 2013). The duo did sketches on location and finished applying the watercolors later. Together, they reportedly produced approximately 1,000 pictures (less than half survive) and both wrote extensively about their travels.
The Getty Villa presentation includes 44 artworks from the archive acquired by the Packard Humanities Institute from Dodwell’s descendants in the 1980s, accompanied by photographs from the Getty Museum collection and prints from the Getty Research Institute. The exhibition presents a unique record of the rediscovery of ancient Greece overlapping with the creation of the modern Greek state. The Dodwell/Pomardi journeys took place in the later years of the Ottoman’s empire control over Greece. The artworks show a mosque beside the Parthenon and ancient monuments blended with modern life, including residences built on the Acropolis among the ruins.
“The sight of ancient temples lying in ruin, or of the Greek people under Turkish rule, contrasted poignantly with nostalgic imaginings of the classical past. Yet for Dodwell and Pomardi, such juxtapositions only magnified the lost splendor of Greek antiquity,” explained David Saunders, curator of the Getty Villa exhibition.
One historically interesting work on display at the Getty shows workmen hired by Lord Elgin (Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin), who was British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removing sculptures and architectural features from the Parthenon that now reside in London and are known as the Elgin Marbles. Besides capturing the scene, Dodwell described his “mortification of being present when the Parthenon was despoiled.”
Dodwell noted on a later visit that, “instead of the picturesque beauty and high state of preservation in which I first saw it, it is now comparatively reduced to a state of shattered desolation. It is indeed impossible to suppress the feelings of regret which must arise in the breast of every traveller who has seen these temples before and since their late dilapidation.”
For some of the works presented, particularly expansive multi-panel panoramic views of Athens, they employed an optical device that was a precursor of today’s panoramic camera capabilities – camera obscura. On portable legs like a tripod, the camera obscura allowed the user to obscure extraneous details and light to view an area, and then move slightly to the right or left and see another view. The result is fully apparent in the four panorama displays of Athens at the Getty. The works combine beautiful views of ancient ruins, thriving villages and vast countryside with topographical exactitude. They manifestly express Dodwell and Pomardi’s goal to document Greece, and capture what Dodwell referred to as “the delights of the present, and recollections of the past.”
“These captivating drawings represent one of the most beautiful and compelling manifestations of Europe’s fascination with modern and ancient Greece—its landscape, archaeological sites and social customs—in the years before its independence from Ottoman rule,” added Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. He noted that displaying them at the Getty Villa, alongside their Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art collections, allows visitors to experience the images in a unique setting. The largely unseen-till-now early 19th century watercolors of Greece will be on display at the Malibu Getty location until Feb. 15, 2016.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Exhibit preview with curator Oct. 20
The British Museum: In search of Classical Greece: Travel drawings of Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi, 1805-1806
The British Museum: Parthenon Sculptures
9 Muses News: Returnism: Lord Elgin and Edward Dodwell Meet Again 200 Years Later (Part 2)
The British Museum: What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?
Photos of Finished Watercolor of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina from the Southeast and the Removal of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin’s Men courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute and the J. Paul Getty Trust