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Beyond Whistler and his Circle

Travel and tourism expanded rapidly in the nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century, the wealthy included travel in their cultural and historical education. Aristocratic young men, particularly the British, went on the Grand Tour to places including the English countryside, Italy, Switzerland, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna in the hopes of absorbing culture and history. While the Grand Tour had an educational purpose, over time it became equally important as a mark of status.

In the 1840s railroads emerged, making travel more available to the middle class. Affordable, organized tours of Europe were created around the same time. The nineteenth century also saw the advent of standardized guidebooks created by John Murray and, later in the century, the Baedeker line of travel handbooks. The purpose of these books, as summed up in Karl Baedeker’s Switzerland and the Adjacent Portions of Italy, Savoy, and the Tyrol (1893) was to “supply the traveler with all needful information, to point out the most interesting places and the best way of reaching them, to render him comparatively independent of the services and guides and others.” The new middle class tourists were attracted to the Grand Tour destinations. They traveled around Europe to satisfy curiosity about foreign lands, and for the prestige that came with travel.

Like other tourists, artists traveled to expand their education. Artists gravitated toward popular landmarks, like the Milan Cathedral or historic sites along the Seine in France. Etchers, who depicted both foreign subjects and their own countries, created art which served as souvenirs for travelers, independent artworks, and as illustrations in books. Although guidebooks such as Baedeker’s were not illustrated, independent authors produced artistic travel books that included vibrant images.

The Etching Revival spread out in concentric circles around the pioneers of the movement. Maxime Lalanne and James McNeill Whistler, for example, influenced a second wave of etchers including James McBey, John Taylor Arms, Louis Rosenberg, and Samuel Chamberlain. Artists used etching as a medium for producing touristic views and aesthetic studies. Like the tourism industry, the etching market experienced a similar boom, with demand increasing during the nineteenth century and beyond. Etchings served not only as fine art, but also as collectable commodities. David Young Cameron’s Five Sisters, York Minster, an interior cathedral view, for example, sold for $2,500 in 1928. With the 1929 stock market crash, the price of etchings dropped. By the Second World War, the etching market had all but disappeared.

- Susan Carlson