“In 1993 I inherited six small Thomas Gray notebooks, each filled with his tidy handwriting and all housed in an elegant box specially made for them … Having always been a lover of the Lake District (known as the English Lakes until the beginning of the nineteenth century) … I immediately opened ‘Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and Yorkshire.” So began publisher John Murray’s personal journey of exploration, resulting in a beautifully illustrated book, A Tour of the English Lakes with Thomas Gray & Joseph Farington RA, and a fascinating exhibition, Pen, Paint & Pixels at the The Wordsworth Trust Museum, Grasmere.
In 1769 Thomas Gray, best known today for his poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard, went on an extensive tour of the Lake District in NW England, writing it up in one of those notebooks. A few years later watercolourist Joseph Farington RA followed in Gray’s footsteps, painting views of this beautiful landscape as seen through Gray’s eyes. Fast forward 250 years and you can see the results of that duo’s work, marvellously brought up to date in the exhibition and book. John Murray has meticulously researched the scenes and taken a series of superb photographs; Nicholas Crane, presenter of BBC ‘Coast’, said at the opening, “The combination of John’s remarkable modern photographs beside Farington’s watercolours and sketches give you an evocative sense of how the landscape has changed over time.”
Museum Director Michael McGregor praised the wonderful design of the exhibition and its curation;. It is really easy to navigate, showcasing not only Gray’s notebooks alongside Farington’s paintings and engravings, but also a variety of artefacts from their journeys. Paul Kleian, Director of Communications, showed me round and pointed out the ‘Claude Glass’, a notebook-like device that enabled the observer to turn their back on a panoramic scene and see it as a neat view – ideal for artists and lady travellers who might be of a nervous disposition in this area of ‘terrifying beauty’.
Michael announced that they would also be “embracing technology” by producing their very first Smartphone App to be launched soon. It will “ allow you to be very intrepid and go out into the landscape and actually pinpoint the exact location of the views in the exhibition.” I’ve been given a sneak preview and it’s seems very easy to use.
The Wordsworth Trust Museum, set on the edge of Grasmere, is home to a truly world-class collection of priceless manuscripts, paintings , books and memorabilia celebrating Wordsworth, his life, works and the Romantic Movement that has influenced so very many people ever since he moved into tiny Dove Cottage. You can visit this historic, quaint little cottage as it’s next door to the museum showing Pen, Paint & Pixels, on until on until January 2013. Hopefully you will also spend some time in the awe-inspiring scenery that continues to captivate visitors from around the world.
Zoë Dawes lives on the Cumbria/Lancashire border and relishes the culture and arts that is at the heart of the Lake District. Follow her travels in the UK and abroad on her award-winning blog The Quirky Traveller and @quirkytraveller on Twitter.