The intention of much naturalistic art from before the advent of photography, with some very notable exceptions, was to be invisible in terms of technique. Landscapes and townscapes, portraits and the narratives of historical painting had to be well-defined and immediately recognisable to the viewer, with nothing to distract, nothing left out, nothing overly laboured. The more visible the process of making in a picture, the more the eye and brain had to do to make sense of it (a goal of the later Impressionists), and the more the suspension of disbelief was threatened.
Within Bristol's collection of about 20,000 works of art on paper, there are many ephemeral works that were never acquired for exhibition purposes. They are often described as for scholarly or academic use. But it is sometimes these so-called lesser works which, by accident or design, show evidence of making.
It can be found in unfinished drawings, where an artist's workings out can be glimpsed, particularly those which have later finished versions for comparison. It can be found in sketches and photographs showing artists at work in their studios or outdoors. These give insights into artists' methods. Evidence of making can also be found in the tools and materials an artist used, such as easels, brushes, artists' boxes, palettes and paints, and also in any picture which shows these (where they are often just small details tucked away in larger compositions).
And then there is photography. With its potential to capture more information than a sketch or painting can ever hope to do, the taking of a photograph has long been considered the most objective way of recording anything. But some of the earliest photographs taken in Bristol reveal other surprising ways of capturing the making of a picture. For example, there are at least two photographs in Bristol's collection that show other photographs being taken.
Below, are five themed narratives exploring some of Bristol's collection of works on paper which show evidence of making.
image: detail from A Sketching Party in Leigh Woods, circa 1830, showing an unidentified Bristol artist, by Samuel Jackson (K2761)