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English School, circa 1855 Circle of Thomas Packer
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English School, circa 1855 Circle of Thomas Packer

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1. View looking south down the Western side of the Crimean Peninsula from Eupatoria towards Sevastopol
2. View looking north towards Sevastopol from Balaklava
3. View looking north-west from the heights behind Sevastopol, with Inkerman in the far distance to the East
4. View of across the great harbour towards Sevastopol, looking from Severnaya on the north side

 

Each oil painting on canvas 98 x 132 cm

 

This extraordinary set of topographical views date from the period 1853-56 during the Crimean War, as evidenced by the presence of various soldiers in uniforms of the allied participants (English, Turkish and French) and the presence of defence works and artillery positions.

The tradition of the “bird's-eye view” is a long one in English art, and can be traced back to various maps produced in the sixteenth century, but is perhaps best known in the numerous views of gentlemen's estates and houses in the 17th and 18th centuries. It seems likely that the artist of the present set of paintings had been trained in military topography: most officers in the English army and navy received training in perspective drawing and topography as part of their general training. Some of their teachers were distinguished artists: John Christian Schetky (1778-1874), for instance, was appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Military College (then at Marlow) and afterwards at the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth, where he continued for 25 years. He was Official Marine painter to Kings George IV and William IV and to Queen Victoria.

Many officers, then, were accomplished amateur draughtsmen, whose work was usually executed in watercolour. It seems likely that the present paintings were executed from such on-the-spot drawings when back in the studio. The “elevated perspective” was raised to a high standard in the Crimea by such practitioners of the art as William Simpson (1823-1899) and Thomas Packer (d.1907) who published a series of lithographs of “The War in the East”: