fig. 1
Clarkson Stanfield

One work of Stanfield alone presents us with as much concentrated knowledge of sea and sky, as diluted, would have lasted any one of the old masters in his life.1 John Ruskin, Modern Painters: Their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to all the Ancient Masters Proved by Examples of the True, the Beautiful, and the Intellectual from the Works of Modern Artists, Especially from Those of J. M. W. Turner Esq., R.A. vol. 1. By a Graduate of Oxford John Ruskin, Smith, Elder and Co., London, 1844, p. 349..

With these words John Ruskin, Victorian England’s eminent art writer and arbiter of taste, described the work of the artist and former sailor Clarkson Stanfield (1793–1867). During the first half of the nineteenth century, Stanfield had achieved great success as a marine painter and theatre set designer, and was viewed by his peers as a rival to the romantic painter J. M. W Turner.2 For a detailed account of the life and practice of Clarkson Stanfield, see Pieter Van Der Merwe, The Spectacular Career of Clarkson Stanfield, 1793–1867, Tyne and Wear County Council Museums, Tyne and Wear, 1979. The National Gallery of Victoria is fortunate to hold two of Stanfield’s paintings in its collection – The morning after Trafalgar, 1863, and the earlier Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall, 1830 (fig. 1) – as well as several works on paper. The Gallery’s trustees had sought to acquire an example of Stanfield’s work for the fledgling collection as early as 1866, charging advisor Sir Charles Eastlake to act on their behalf.3 The NGV was established five years earlier, in 1861. Leonard B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861–1968 a Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 20–1. Unfortunately Stanfield’s death the following year meant this did not eventuate until 1888, with the purchase of The morning after Trafalgar. The larger and more impressive of the pair, Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall, was not acquired until almost fifty years later in 1931, when it was presented as a gift by J. A. Hartley.

After making its debut in 1830 at the Royal Academy, Stanfield’s painting was sold the following year, after it was re-exhibited at the British Institute, and it remained in private collections until it was presented to the National Gallery of Victoria.4 Van Der Merwe, p. 108. Despite this seemingly inauspicious beginning, Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall is among the most significant works in Stanfield’s oeuvre and served as the catalyst for the advancement of his career. As a site, the subject itself boasts a fascinating history, which made it appealing to artists and writers alike during the eighteenth century and, with the advancement of romanticism, particularly the nineteenth century. This essay will explore the context in which Stanfield’s impressive work was produced, beginning with the significance of the mount as an artistic and literary site, before focusing on Stanfield’s interpretation itself, its contemporary reception and ongoing legacy.

St Michael’s Mount: history and artistic appeal

Stanfield was by no means the first artist to select St Michael’s Mount as a subject. Steeped in myth, history and geological interest, the mount was an intriguing landmark, and its distinctive profile, disrupting the persistent line of the horizon, had provided artists and writers with a subject of topographic and human interest for many years.

Located off the Mount’s Bay coast in Cornwall, southern England, St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island of slate and granite rock, crowned by a medieval castle. The site is accessible by foot only at low tide when the pebbled causeway connecting it to the coastal town of Marazion is above sea level. This characteristic was long considered one of its more enchanting features, with one writer in 1602 noting ‘who knowes not Mighel’s mount and chaire, The pilgrim’s holy vaunt, Both land and iland twice a day, Both fort and port of haunt’.5 Philological Society of London, ‘Description of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall’, European Magazine and London Review, no. 62, 1812, pp. 201, 202.

The mount takes its name from the archangel Saint Michael, who is said to have appeared upon the peak to a group of fisherman in 495 CE.6 St. Michael’s Mount, National Trust, http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/history-legends/myths-legends/ [accessed 17 April 2016]. By the following century it was a thriving religious centre; by the medieval period it had become an important destination for Christian pilgrims, who journeyed to the mount to visit and rest in ‘St Michael’s Chair’ or kader migel, a stone recess cleaved in one of the towers of the church where Saint Michael himself had supposedly once been seated.7 Mackenzie Edward C. Walcott, Guide to the South Coast of England, from the Reculvers to the Land’s End, and from Cape Cornwall to the Devon Foreland, Edward Stanford, London, 1859, p. 534; Clarkson Stanfield, Stanfield’s Coast Scenery: A Series of Views in the British Channel, from Original Drawings Taken Expressly from the Work of Clarkson Stanfield, Smith, Elder and Co., London, 1836, p. 2. Towards 1070 CE Edward the Confessor presented the monastery atop the mount to the Benedictine monks and it later became a cell of the abbey of Mont St Michel in Normandy, France. As is the case with its Cornish counterpart, the archangel Saint Michael is also believed to have appeared in Normandy in 709 CE, and thus the two sites are closely connected.8 Stanfield, p. 7. The sites share many similarities. In addition to the miraculous appearance of St Michael, like St Michael’s Mount, Mont Saint Michel is also a tidal island, topped by a medieval castle. Artistic depictions of the site are thus quite similar. Stanfield portrayed the site in Stanfield’s Coast Scenery in the pages directly following his account of the Cornish Mount. If it were not for the titles indicating the different geographical locations of sites depicted the images would be indistinguishable.

The first stone church was built atop St Michael’s Mount by the French Abbot Bernard le Bec in 1135, and the following century the mount was the site of three miracles, further attracting Christian pilgrims and consolidating the island’s religious significance.9 St Michael’s Mount, National Trust, http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/history-legends/myths-legends/ (accessed 17 April 2016. After the dissolution of the monastery in 1548, the mount played various roles as fortress, seaport and prison, as well as host to numerous English dignitaries until 1659, when it was purchased by Colonel John St Aubyn.10 Richard Edmonds, The Lands End District: Its Antiquities, Natural History, Natural Phenomena and Scenery, J. R. Smith, London, 1862, p. 6. Although administered by the Great Britain National Trust since 1954, his family still resides within the castle atop the mount. See Ursula Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, London, 1995, p. 272. Although now administered by the National Trust, the castle is still the private residence of the St Aubyn family.

By the eighteenth century, the act of taking a tour of the British countryside had emerged as a fashionable pastime and inexpensive alternative to a Grand Tour of Europe, thus sites such as the mount became a popular tourist destination, frequented by scholars, antiquarians and sightseers. This growing interest in local travel led to the increased production of guidebooks and prints of the picturesque countryside of Britain, developments that expanded the rich visual record of the mount and saw it established as a site of topographic interest.11 Michael Clarke, The Tempting Prospect: A Social History of English Watercolours, British Museum Publications, London, 1981, p. 31. Cornwall held particular interest for naturalists, who were drawn to the region to examine its particular geology. Geologically, St Michael’s Mount presented an intriguing specimen, as its physical composition of granite and slate is an unusual combination. See Christiana Payne, Where the Sea Meets the Land: Artists on the Coast in Nineteenth Century Britain, Sansom and Company Ltd, Bristol, 2007, p. 113. The mount’s appearance on a unique dish by Josiah Wedgwood (fig. 2), painted as part of Catherine the Great (Catherine II) of Russia’s ‘Green Frog Service’ during the mid 1770s, particularly highlights its geographic importance during the eighteenth century. Under Catherine’s direction, Wedgwood produced 944 pieces, each bearing 1222 different and recognisable views of England.12 For a discussion of full service, see Michael Raeburn, Ludmila Voronikhina and Andrew Nurnberg, The Green Frog Service, Cacklegoose Press, London, 1995. In this depiction the conical geometry of the mount is greatly exaggerated by the unusual triangular shape of the dish, highlighting the tidal phenomena that rendered it so enchanting.

Although reduced to a motif rather than represented, this limited mode of depiction was consistent with eighteenth century interpretations of the site, rendering Stanfield’s later painting all the more striking. It also accorded with approaches to topographic painting more broadly, which sought to resynthesise the unruly natural landscape into a recognisable, yet idealised version of itself. Topographic watercolourist J. Bulman, for instance, adopted this same simplified form in 1786 (fig. 3), presenting a pyramidal mount from a distance, contained and unthreatening as part of an almost pastoral landscape. A watercolour of the following year by an unknown artist, now in the collection of the British Library (fig. 4), similarly presents this underlying sense of order; the mount is presented as a precise equilateral triangle and is contained on the page by a bird’s-eye view of the Cornish coast, which frames it from above.

The more or less factual history of the mount was underpinned by various myths that were latent with romantic potential. Widely known by the nineteenth century, they fed into artists such as Stanfield’s understanding of the site and enhanced its appeal to contemporary audiences. Although these myths were fictionalised, they resonated with developments in romantic landscape painting from the 1800s onwards, and offered great scope for more sublime visualisations of the site. In 1862 Richard Edmonds authored The Lands End District: Its Antiquities, Natural History, Natural Phenomena and Scenery, a publication that outlined much of the regions’ perceived prehistory. According to Edmonds, the site was first formally described by Greek historian Diodorus Siculus as early as the first century CE, when it was documented as the island of Iktin or Ixtus, a thriving centre of the tin trade. Prior to this it was believed to have been an ancient place of high druidic worship and an early settlement of the Phoenicians.13 Edmonds, p. 6. Edmonds discusses the findings of archaeological remains along the Marazion Coast, which he takes to be the remains of the Phoenicians. In 1960 Gavin de Beer refuted this claim, concluding the Phoenician’s visit to St Michael’s Mount was an erroneous, if long-cherished legend. Gavin de Beer, ‘Iktin’, The Geographical Journal, 126, no. 2, 1960, pp. 160–7. Stanfield was a believer of this aspect of the mount’s history, referring to it in his publication Stanfield’s Coast Scenery of 1836, which highlighted various landmarks from the British south coast, including St Michael’s Mount.14 Stanfield, p. 1.

Alternative Cornish mythology based on the legend of King Arthur places the origins of the mount in the hands of a malevolent giant named Cormoran, who constructed and lived upon the mount itself. Cormoran was said to have terrorised local villagers, wading across the causeway and stealing their livestock to sustain his enormous appetite. The tale concludes with the giant’s defeat by a young local boy named Jack, who outwitted, killed and buried him upon the site. Local myth claims his heart, buried deep within the mount, can still be heard beating from the position where he fell.15 St Michael’s Mount, National Trust, http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/history-legends/myths-legends/ (accessed 17 April 2016.).

Additional descriptions of the site during the nineteenth century also claimed the bay surrounding the mount was not always submerged below the ocean. Indeed, geologists have demonstrated that Mount’s Bay sat above sea level until 1700 BCE, and St Michael’s Mount was permanently attached to the Cornish coastline.16 See de Beer, p. 163. The land at the foot of the mount (now submerged beneath the ocean) was blanketed in thick forest, a characteristic that resonates in the ancient Cornish name of St Michael’s Mount, Carreg lug en kug, meaning the ‘grey rock in the wood’.17 Edmonds, p. 153; Walcott, p. 532. While this belief was originally based on fable, timber remains have been found buried beneath several layers of seabed, which suggest an ancient forest did exist in the region. Various written records exist, situating the submersion at different points of time; however, through carbon dating samples with the assistance of the British Museum, de Beer has posited an approximate date of 1700 BCE. See de Beer, p. 163. These beliefs fed into the fable of the city of Lyonnesse, located on the land stretching between the mount and nearby Scilly Isles, supposedly submerged beneath the ocean in the manner of Plato’s Atlantis.18 See A. D. H. Bivar, ‘Lyonnesse: the evolution of a fable’, Modern Philology, 50, no. 3, 1953, pp. 162–70. Even as late as the mid nineteenth century, belief in this mythical region prevailed, with Mackenzie E. C. Walcott writing of it in 1859, describing the earlier existence of its 140 churches. The fables of local Cornish fisherman repeated the myth, especially the belief that ‘on calm sunny days, far down in the clear blue depths, they could see the towers of a lost city gleaming under the waves’.19 Walcott, p. 532. The words of the nineteenth-century poet H. Davy, describing the mount anthropomorphically as an ancient, battle-worn king, gain more potency in this context. ‘Majestic Michael rises:’ he wrote, ‘he whose brow Is crown’d with castles, and whose rocky sides Are clad with dusky ivy; he whose base, Beat by the storms of ages, stands unmov’d Amidst the wreck of things – the change of time’.20 H. Davy, quoted in ibid.

With the proliferation of these myths and the advancement of romantic theory from the 1800s onwards, Stanfield’s adoption of the site could not have been more timely. There is a sense of poetry to the notion of the sea bound St Michael’s Mount, entombed around the heart of a giant, towering alone above the submerged remains of an ancient civilisation that accords well with interests of romantic artists of the Victorian era. Stanfield was among several artists during the first half of the nineteenth century who were drawn to the site for its sublime, awe-inspiring potential, emphasising its rugged profile, isolation, and inconstant and unpredictable setting rather than purely topographic beauty. J. M. W. Turner, for example, had previously toured the region between 1811 and 1812, recording the contours of the coastline in his sketchbooks and producing a characteristically atmospheric oil painting in 1834 (fig. 5).21 See Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, Paintings of J. M. W Turner, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984, p. 207. Like Stanfield, he also published these images as engravings in instalments as Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England (1814–26). See also Sam Smiles, ‘Light into colour: Turner in the south west’, in Light into Colour Turner in the South West, Tate St Ives, St Ives, 2000, pp. 12–50. Thomas Luny, a lesser-known painter based in Cornwall, also painted the site on multiple occasions from a similar vantage point to Stanfield, anticipating his larger, more visceral interpretation several years later.

St Michael’s Mount: Stanfield’s painting and its reception

Although one of several depictions of the Cornish coast circulating in the early decades of the nineteenth century, Stanfield’s painting Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall enjoyed immediate popularity upon its initial Royal Academy showing in 1830. It was uniformly praised by contemporary critics and regarded, as one reviewer in The Times wrote, as ‘superior to anything [Stanfield] has hitherto produced’.22 ‘The Royal Academy’, Times, 1 May 1830, p. 5. Gentleman’s Magazine listed the work as one of the few that warranted the reviewer’s attention, praising it for its ‘wildly romantic effect, for which the artist is so distinguished’.23 ‘Review of Royal Academy exhibition’, Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, 1830, p. 447. Most lavish in their praise was the writer from the Literary Gazette, who described the painting as the ‘magnificent lion’ of the Royal Academy Exhibition, ‘lashing out its tail with a rage well befitting the noble and powerful monarch of the wild animals’ with a ‘roar that would do any man’s heart good to heard it’.24 ‘Fine arts: exhibition of the Royal Academy. School of Painting’, Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Letters, Science, and Art, 22 May 1830, p. 338.

While hyperbolic, such passionate accounts aptly reflect the impact of Stanfield’s painting upon contemporary audiences. Having spent much of his career thus far producing theatre sets and panoramic and dioramic displays, he was particularly grounded in the pictorial conventions of these dramatic and sensorial forms of entertainment. With this background, Stanfield was well placed to not only imitate, but also directly translate these theatrical effects into his painting, an aspect to his practice which is likely to account for the powerful impact his depiction of St Michael’s Mount had in comparison to his contemporaries.

The panorama was a large-scale landscape painting displayed on a continuous curved surface, intended to simulate the effects of an outdoor scene and often enhanced through the depiction of the sky and terrain on the ceiling and ground, which appeared to integrate seamlessly into the image.25 Ann Bermingham, ‘Landscape‘o’rama: the exhibition landscape at Somerset House and the rise of popular landscape at Somerset House’, in D. H. Solkin, Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780–1836, Yale University Press, London, 2001, pp. 127–44. Similarly, dioramas sought to convey visual effects through the depiction of landscape on large scale, yet with a focus on continuous narrative rather than landscape, and special effects employed to create the illusion of passing time and changing weather. By the second and third decades of the nineteenth century both were popular forms of entertainment and many landscape painters began to imitate their effects, manipulating the scale, atmosphere and perspective of their works to appeal to developing tastes for spectacle and sensorial effect rather than purely descriptive painting.26 ibid., pp. 127–32. By 1830, Stanfield had executed several panoramas and dioramas at London’s Drury Lane Theatre and was highly praised for his creativity within this field. One particularly innovative diorama produced the year prior to Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall, incorporated a 30 to 40 foot cascade of water, which fell from the ceiling and drained away beneath the stage to give the illusion of a waterfall.27 ‘Review’, Times, 26 December 1829, p. 2.

Stanfield’s Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall effectively emulates the visceral qualities of these popular, simulated displays. While the large scale of the painting does not correspond with the epic proportions of the life-sized panorama, at approximately 150 x 240 centimetres, the painting is large enough to provide an immersive experience. Additionally, theatrical devices were placed under the glare of stage gas lighting, which shone upon them continuously. Set painters produced their work with this viewing constraint in mind, heightening linear details and augmenting the highlights and contrast of their palette to counter the flattening effects of harsh lights to which they would be exposed. Stanfield’s painting oeuvre is marked by the distinct clarity and crispness of this preventive technique, with the recession of space indicated through the gradual lessening of contrasts of tone and colour rather than form. While this was often a criticism of his painting oeuvre during the nineteenth century, this approach highlights the artist’s intent and heightens the immersive sensorial effect of the painting.28 Van Der Merwe, p. 32.

Stanfield took great creative liberties in his romanticised depiction of the site, and it is tempting to imagine his looming and menacing mount to be Davy’s ‘Majestic Michael’, the ancient surveyor of Davy’s relics of many generations past.29 H. Davy, quoted in Walcott, p. 532. Recast as threatening and ominous, the castle atop the mount is enlarged, presented partly blending into the surrounding stone, as though growing directly from the craggy summit. Stanfield also emphasised the verticality of the peak by shrouding the mount in cloud and fog, obscuring part of its base, which both increases the size of the castle proportionately and creates a more dramatic silhouette against the sky. In reality the castle, while large, is dwarfed by scale of the mount, and is a distinctly man-made structure, noticeably separate from the natural landmass below.

Stanfield’s dramatic perspective further enhances this spectacle, the artist having lowered the horizon line so that viewers behold the scene from an elevated level. The distant mount appears to loom impossibly above the elevated audience, emphasising the precarious positioning of the painting’s imaginary vantage point. This instability is echoed by the small boats perched atop the surging waters to the left of the mount, gathered around the disappearing mast of a sinking ship. The shipwreck was one of the most popular and romantic motifs of marine scenes during the nineteenth century and its inclusion with Stanfield’s painting serves to underline the vulnerability of the human figures to the surrounding natural elements. In choosing to depart from reality, Stanfield’s representation is pure theatrics, and a transformation not missed by nineteenth-century audiences, describing it as ‘beautiful, yet hardly recognizable by those who live within sight of it’.30 Edmonds, p. 165.

Following its display at the Royal Academy, Stanfield’s deliberately romanticised view triggered minor controversies within contemporary art circles, beginning with the Society of British Artists, which firmly established its notoriety. In drawing on Romantic tendencies prevalent by the 1820s, increasing the scale, skewing compositional perspective and employing dramatic contrasts, Stanfield was no different to many other landscape painters seeking attention upon the crowded walls of the academy. Yet, the Society of British Artists of which Stanfield was a founding member from 1823 and the president from 1829, regarded his exhibition of the highly romanticised work as a deliberate attempt to gain admittance into the Royal Academy. Positing itself as an alternative to the artistic body, the Society of British Artists regarded this as a blatant disregard of their conventions, and Stanfield subsequently resigned from his presidential position in June 1830, shortly after the opening of the Royal Academy exhibition.31 See Van Der Merwe, pp. 15–17.

Their concern was not entirely unfounded; although Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall was not the first of Stanfield’s works to be displayed at the Royal Academy, the attention he attracted set in motion a fruitful association with Somerset House. The following year one painting and three drawings were accepted for exhibition – A storm, Strasburg, Venice, and Fisherman of Honfleur (all produced during or prior to 1831) – an appearance that almost doubled his total number of showings since 1920. Associateship followed in 1832, and on 10 February 1835, Stanfield was elected a Royal Academician. He soon became a prominent member of the organisation and exhibited works every year until his death in 1867.32 A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work from Its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, S. R. Publishers, Wakefield, 1970, pp. 230–1.

As well as critical artistic attention, Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall also attracted high-profile admirers, most notably the experienced seaman King William IV. Stanfield was an experienced sailor after having been pressganged into service during the Napoleonic wars and his lucid rendering of the sea strongly resonated with the monarch. Eager to acquire further examples of the artist’s work, he commissioned two paintings from Stanfield the following year, Portsmouth Harbour, 1831, and Opening of the London Bridge, 1831–32.33 See Van Der Merwe, p. 17. Both remain in the Royal Collection. This was certainly a substantial feat; William IV was not particularly known for his interest in the fine arts, commissioning very few marine or landscape paintings during his lifetime.34 The majority of works acquired during his reign were porcelain pieces and small oil paintings on card of military figures. Partly repeating the painting’s controversial reception by the Society of the British Artists the year prior, this patronage was a matter of contention among some Royal Academicians, and The Times published a letter to the editor in 1831 in which one member expressed the Academy’s displeasure that the King had chosen Stanfield, an artist ‘not previously sanctioned [for] admission into their body’ to complete a royal commission.35 ‘Letter to the editor’, Times, 2 January 1832, p. 2. Regardless, William IV was certainly pleased with the commission, and in the same year, The Athenaeum reported that ‘his Majesty was pleased to testify his entire approbation of the image’. The correspondent echoed the monarch’s sentiments, describing it ‘the best picture … the artist [had] yet produced’. Referring to the catalyst of the commission, notably the writer added in parenthesis, ‘though they remember his St. Michael’s Mount well’.36 ‘Patronage of art’, Athenaeum, 1831, p. 572.

St Michael’s Mount: enduring reputation and legacy

Although Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall was purchased in 1831 and remained in private collections for several years, its reputation, and Stanfield’s association with the site as an artistic subject, continued to be perpetuated throughout the following decades. In 1836, six years after its display at the Royal Academy, he published Stanfield’s Coast Scenery, a series of periodicals illustrated with engravings of the British and foreign coast after the artist’s paintings and drawings.37 Stanfield, p. 6. His view of St Michael’s Mount was the first of these plates (fig. 6), accompanied by a geographical and historic description of the site. The series was well received, described as doing ‘honour to the state of the fine arts in England’, and was relatively accessible, with a new section published monthly for the ‘moderate price’ of two shillings and sixpence.38 ‘Fine arts’, Metropolitan Magazine, 1835, p. 82. While the engravers received mixed reviews, Stanfield was only praised, with The Athenaeum reporting ‘some of the engravers employed in this publication have done but scant justice to our finest marine painter’.39 ‘Fine arts’, Athenaeum, 1835, p. 700.

Although upon close inspection it is evident the mount is approached from an entirely opposite vantage point to that of the painting, when reversed during the printing process, the engraving produced by J. Stephenson closely echoes the format of the original, adopting an identical compositional structure with the castle-topped mount looming from the left and small sea vessels foregrounded on the right. Whether this reversal was an deliberate attempt by the engraver to follow the format of the original painting or simply an overlooked technical aspect of the printing process is unclear; regardless, the relationship between the two was obvious to contemporary audiences.40 During the printing process, the image incised upon the engraver’s matrix is reversed, thus the final impression is a mirror image of the original. One writer, for example, referred to the engraving explicitly as Stanfield’s ‘well-known, superb and grand view of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall’, highlighting how the engraving was connected to Stanfield’s original painting itself, rather than the Cornish coastline more broadly.41 ‘Fine arts’, Metropolitan Magazine, 1835, p. 82.

This association was consolidated further the following decade, when Stanfield again secured royal patronage. In 1846 Queen Victoria commissioned the artist to produce Royal yacht passing St Michael’s Mount, September 1846 (fig. 7) to commemorate her and Prince Albert’s highly publicised visit to St Michael’s Mount.42 ‘The royal pictures: the royal yacht off Mount St. Michael’, Art Journal, 1855, p. 24. In 1848 she also acquired a small watercolour of the site by the artist.43 Delia Millar, The Victorian Watercolours and Drawings in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Philip Wilson Publishers, London, 1995, p. 821. Stanfield’s 1830 painting and this commission are strikingly similar, with the artist adopting the same vantage point, and most likely reworking his original sketches of the site from 1829. Importantly and unsurprisingly, however, the mood greatly diverges from the romantic drama seen in his original image. In place of ominous storm clouds and waves are bright blue skies, tempered only by a slight breeze, ‘just enough to stir the waters into active motion’, reflecting the painting’s commemorative function, to represent a ‘Queen’s day’ and a royal visit.44 ‘The royal pictures’, p. 24.

As the first occasion in which any British monarch had toured the site in an official capacity, this was an important historical event, rendering the Queen’s commissioning of Stanfield all the more significant as a mark of his developing reputation. Yet, it is unlikely she had ever seen his original painting herself. She had only been eleven and twelve years old at the time of the Royal Academy and British Institute exhibitions of 1830 and 1831, and there is no record in the Court Circular of her being in Edinburgh when the painting was re-exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1845. She was, however, familiar with the artist’s work, and in her journals expressed her admiration for the quality of his theatre sets and the ‘beautiful sea pieces’ she had viewed at the Royal Academy.45 See Millar, p. 821. The Queen’s selection of Stanfield highlights his enduring relationship with the Cornish landmark, and underlines how, through the painting’s notoriety and reproduction in Clarkson’s Coastal Scenery, he had become associated with depicting this particular site. The commission served to cement this association, being widely reported at the time, as well as reproduced in engraved form by Robert Wallis in the Art Journal in 1855 (fig. 8).46 ‘The royal pictures’, p. 24. Following these commissions Stanfield returned to the mount as a subject on at least one more occasion; a second undated version is now in the collection of the Kunsthalle, Hamburg (fig. 9).

After several years out of public view Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall was displayed at the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, its most notable exhibition appearance since the Royal Academy and ten years before Stanfield’s death. The first of its kind, this exhibition was a broad survey of works from across eras and geographical regions, drawn solely from private collections, including the Royal Collection of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.47 Helen Rees Leahy, ‘Walking for pleasure? Bodies of display at the Manchester art treasures exhibition in 1857’, Art History, 30, no. 4, 2007, p. 547. One of eight paintings by Stanfield selected for exhibition, Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall was displayed in the Gallery of Modern Painters, which included ‘every British artist, deceased or living, of the greatest eminence in his profession’ and could be seen reproduced in an illustration of the display published in the Illustrated London News (fig. 10).48 ‘The art-treasures exhibition at Manchester’, Illustrated London News, 1857, p. 400. Exhibiting towards the end of his life, by then a mature and successful artist, Stanfield was described as one of the ‘foremost living men’ included in the exhibition.49 ‘The exhibition of art treasures as Manchester’, Art Journal, 1857, p. 187. Although among the earliest works of career, Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall was prominently displayed and highlighted as a ‘noble example of this grand master of art’.50 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, A Handbook to the Gallery of British Paintings in the Art Treasures Exhibition Being a Reprint of Critical Notices Originally Published in The ‘Manchester Guardian’, Bradbury and Evans, London, 1857, p. 114.

Until his death in 1867, Stanfield exhibited more than 130 works of art at the Royal Academy. Yet within this body of work his depiction of Mount Saint Michael, Cornwall remained among the most memorable and familiar to Victorian audiences during his lifetime. This essay has sought to demonstrate that the inherently romantic history and character of the Cornish site, widely known during the nineteenth century, provided Stanfield with an artistic subject perfectly adapted to his specific skills as a painter and his artistic background. Produced at a time when Romanticism was shaping the visual, sensorial and literary tastes of audiences, the marriage of these elements upon his canvas vividly captured the attention of the art-viewing public, securing the painting’s contemporary critical success and establishing its enduring legacy during the Victorian era.

I would like to acknowledge Alison Inglis and Laurie Benson for reading early versions of this text and their valuable suggestions and advice.

Rebecca Edwards, Assistant Curator, Australian Painting, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts to 1980, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2016)

Notes

1

John Ruskin, Modern Painters: Their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to all the Ancient Masters Proved by Examples of the True, the Beautiful, and the Intellectual from the Works of Modern Artists, Especially from Those of J. M. W. Turner Esq., R.A. vol. 1. By a Graduate of Oxford John Ruskin, Smith, Elder and Co., London, 1844, p. 349.

2

For a detailed account of the life and practice of Clarkson Stanfield, see Pieter Van Der Merwe, The Spectacular Career of Clarkson Stanfield, 1793–1867, Tyne and Wear County Council Museums, Tyne and Wear, 1979.

3

The NGV was established five years earlier, in 1861. Leonard B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861–1968 a Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 20–1.

4

Van Der Merwe, p. 108.

5

Philological Society of London, ‘Description of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall’, European Magazine and London Review, no. 62, 1812, pp. 201, 202.

6

St. Michael’s Mount, National Trust, http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/history-legends/myths-legends/ [accessed 17 April 2016]

7

Mackenzie Edward C. Walcott, Guide to the South Coast of England, from the Reculvers to the Land’s End, and from Cape Cornwall to the Devon Foreland, Edward Stanford, London, 1859, p. 534; Clarkson Stanfield, Stanfield’s Coast Scenery: A Series of Views in the British Channel, from Original Drawings Taken Expressly from the Work of Clarkson Stanfield, Smith, Elder and Co., London, 1836, p. 2.

8

Stanfield, p. 7. The sites share many similarities. In addition to the miraculous appearance of St Michael, like St Michael’s Mount, Mont Saint Michel is also a tidal island, topped by a medieval castle. Artistic depictions of the site are thus quite similar. Stanfield portrayed the site in Stanfield’s Coast Scenery in the pages directly following his account of the Cornish Mount. If it were not for the titles indicating the different geographical locations of sites depicted the images would be indistinguishable.

9

St Michael’s Mount, National Trust,  http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/history-legends/myths-legends/ (accessed 17 April 2016.

10

Richard Edmonds, The Lands End District: Its Antiquities, Natural History, Natural Phenomena and Scenery, J. R. Smith, London, 1862, p. 6. Although administered by the Great Britain National Trust since 1954, his family still resides within the castle atop the mount. See Ursula Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, London, 1995, p. 272.

11

Michael Clarke, The Tempting Prospect: A Social History of English Watercolours, British Museum Publications, London, 1981, p. 31. Cornwall held particular interest for naturalists, who were drawn to the region to examine its particular geology. Geologically, St Michael’s Mount presented an intriguing specimen, as its physical composition of granite and slate is an unusual combination. See Christiana Payne, Where the Sea Meets the Land: Artists on the Coast in Nineteenth Century Britain, Sansom and Company Ltd, Bristol, 2007, p. 113.

12

For a discussion of full service, see Michael Raeburn, Ludmila Voronikhina and Andrew Nurnberg, The Green Frog Service, Cacklegoose Press, London, 1995.

13

Edmonds, p. 6. Edmonds discusses the findings of archaeological remains along the Marazion Coast, which he takes to be the remains of the Phoenicians. In 1960 Gavin de Beer refuted this claim, concluding the Phoenician’s visit to St Michael’s Mount was an erroneous, if long-cherished legend. Gavin de Beer, ‘Iktin’, The Geographical Journal, 126, no. 2, 1960, pp. 160–7.

14

Stanfield, p. 1.

15

St Michael’s Mount, National Trust, http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/history-legends/myths-legends/ (accessed 17 April 2016.)

16

See de Beer, p. 163.

17

Edmonds, p. 153; Walcott, p. 532. While this belief was originally based on fable, timber remains have been found buried beneath several layers of seabed, which suggest an ancient forest did exist in the region. Various written records exist, situating the submersion at different points of time; however, through carbon dating samples with the assistance of the British Museum, de Beer has posited an approximate date of 1700 BCE. See de Beer, p. 163.

18

See A. D. H. Bivar, ‘Lyonnesse: the evolution of a fable’, Modern Philology, 50, no. 3, 1953, pp. 162–70.

19

Walcott, p. 532.

20

H. Davy, quoted in ibid.

21

See Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, Paintings of J. M. W Turner, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984, p. 207. Like Stanfield, he also published these images as engravings in instalments as Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England (1814–26). See also Sam Smiles, ‘Light into colour: Turner in the south west’, in Light into Colour Turner in the South West, Tate St Ives, St Ives, 2000, pp. 12–50.

22

‘The Royal Academy’, Times, 1 May 1830, p. 5.

23

‘Review of Royal Academy exhibition’, Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, 1830, p. 447.

24

‘Fine arts: exhibition of the Royal Academy. School of Painting’, Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Letters, Science, and Art, 22 May 1830, p. 338.

25

Ann Bermingham, ‘Landscape‘o’rama: the exhibition landscape at Somerset House and the rise of popular landscape at Somerset House’, in D. H. Solkin, Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780–1836, Yale University Press, London, 2001, pp. 127–44.

26

ibid., pp. 127–32.

27

‘Review’, Times, 26 December 1829, p. 2.

28

Van Der Merwe, p. 32.

29

H. Davy, quoted in Walcott, p. 532.

30

Edmonds, p. 165.

31

See Van Der Merwe, pp. 15–17.

32

A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work from Its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, S. R. Publishers, Wakefield, 1970, pp. 230–1.

33

See Van Der Merwe, p. 17.

34

The majority of works acquired during his reign were porcelain pieces and small oil paintings on card of military figures.

35

‘Letter to the editor’, Times, 2 January 1832, p. 2.

36

‘Patronage of art’, Athenaeum, 1831, p. 572.

37

Stanfield, p. 6.

38

‘Fine arts’, Metropolitan Magazine, 1835, p. 82.

39

‘Fine arts’, Athenaeum, 1835, p. 700.

40

During the printing process, the image incised upon the engraver’s matrix is reversed, thus the final impression is a mirror image of the original.

41

‘Fine arts’, Metropolitan Magazine, 1835, p. 82.

42

‘The royal pictures: the royal yacht off Mount St. Michael’, Art Journal, 1855, p. 24.

43

Delia Millar, The Victorian Watercolours and Drawings in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Philip Wilson Publishers, London, 1995, p. 821.

44

‘The royal pictures’, p. 24.

45

See Millar, p. 821.

46

‘The royal pictures’, p. 24.

47

Helen Rees Leahy, ‘Walking for pleasure? Bodies of display at the Manchester art treasures exhibition in 1857’, Art History, 30, no. 4, 2007, p. 547.

48

‘The art-treasures exhibition at Manchester’, Illustrated London News, 1857, p. 400.

49

‘The exhibition of art treasures as Manchester’, Art Journal, 1857, p. 187.

50

Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, A Handbook to the Gallery of British Paintings in the Art Treasures Exhibition Being a Reprint of Critical Notices Originally Published in The ‘Manchester Guardian’, Bradbury and Evans, London, 1857, p. 114.