DAVID ROBERTS: THE ORIENTALISTS AND ‘EGYPTMANIA’
Hilary Guise, professor of art history, Florida State University, lecturer and artist
A hundred years before Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the murdered boy-king Tutankhamun, an intrepid Scots artist made a seven-hundred mile boat journey up the Nile with his pencils and watercolours to find the lost civilisation of the pharaohs that could still be seen half buried in the sands of the encroaching desert. He was David Roberts and he had a business plan. He was going to meet the demand for everything Egyptian as ‘Egyptmania’ raged through Paris and London. His harvest of topographical watercolour drawings, made into lithographs, were to be sold to an exclusive list of subscribers. Queen Victoria was top of the list. David Roberts was the first European foreigner to don Turkish dress and enter a mosque. He sent back breathtaking images of soaring Arab architecture, ancient Egyptian temples, camel caravans and slave markets – all so alien to the polite drawing rooms of England. Cold, rainy, industrialising Protestant England was diametrically opposed to, yet mesmerised by all the ‘romance’ of a world untrammelled by the Christian mores of the Empire. With his finger right on the pulse of contemporary fashion David Roberts went on to become Royal Academician.