The Grand Tradition


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The Grand Tradition

Artists have been traveling the world in search of inspiration since the 1500’s. But beginning in the 1700’s, and especially during the 1800’s, it was the collective creative efforts of a whole legion of intrepid artists... who had the ability to draw & paint... that created the first images ever seen of all the new vistas and wonders of the age.

The Travels of Marco Polo

The 13th-century travelogue written down by

Rustichello da Pisa from stories told by Marco Polo,

describing his travels.

Marco Polo spent 20 years of his life, from 1271 to 1291, traveling throughout Asia, Persia, China, and Indonesia. And his exploits and life in the court of Kublai Khan became legend.

However... Marco Polo did not in fact write his travelogue himself.

Nor did he illustrate it.

How much better it would have been... if he could?

Khubilai Khan

Portrait of

Kublai Khan

during the Yuan era.

The most important manuscript map surviving from the early Age of Discovery, the Cantino World Map is named for Alberto Cantino, an Italian diplomatic agent in Lisbon who obtained it in 1502 for the Duke of Ferrara. It was covertly copied without authorization. It incorporates extensive new geographical information based on four series of voyages: Columbus to the Caribbean, Pedro Álvarez Cabral to Brazil, Vasco de Gama followed by Cabral to eastern Africa and India, and the brothers Corte-Real to Greenland and Newfoundland. Except for Columbus, all had sailed under the Portuguese flag.

It is not my purpose here to detail the entire historical relationship between the commercial, cultural, and artistic motivations that propelled the enormous outward interests of Europeans during this Age of Discovery. But it is my desire to illustrate how artists worked and how that has influenced the development of my own efforts over the past several decades.

The Age of Discovery

The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration, was a period in history starting in the early 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century during which Europeans engaged in intensive exploration of the world, establishing direct contacts with Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania and mapping the planet. Historians often refer to the 'Age of Discovery'[1][2] as the pioneer Portuguese and Spanish long-distance maritime travels in search of alternative trade routes to "the Indies", moved by the trade of gold, silver and spices.[3]

The Portuguese began systematically exploring the Atlantic coast of Africa from 1418, under the sponsorship of Prince Henry, reaching the Indian Ocean by this route in 1488. In 1492, racing to find a trade route to Asia, the Spanish monarchs funded Christopher Columbus’s plan to sail west to reach the Indies by crossing the Atlantic. He landed on an uncharted continent, then seen by Europeans as a new world, America. To prevent conflict between Portugal and Spain, a treaty was signed dividing the world into two regions of exploration, where each had exclusive rights to claim newly discovered lands. In 1498, a Portuguese expedition commanded by Vasco da Gama finally achieved the dream of reaching India by sailing around Africa, opening up direct trade with Asia. Soon, the Portuguese sailed further eastward, to the valuable spice islands in 1512, landing in China one year later. East and west exploration overlapped in 1522, when Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish expedition West, achieving the first circumnavigation of the world, while Spanish conquistadors explored inland the Americas, and later, some of the South Pacific islands. In 1495, the French and English and, much later, the Dutch entered the race of exploration after learning of these exploits, defying the Iberian monopoly on maritime trade by searching for new routes, first to the north, and into the Pacific Ocean around South America, but eventually by following the Portuguese around Africa into the Indian Ocean; discovering Australia in 1606, New Zealand in 1642, and Hawaii in 1778. Meanwhile, from the 1580s to the 1640s Russians explored and conquered almost the whole of Siberia.

As we explore this incredible story of artistic exploration, we as artists must understand the wonderful context in which we find ourselves today... at the very beginning of the 21st century.

As modern day artists of various kinds... who travel the world in search of inspiration & subject... we can become so incredibly focused on our own creative efforts, our own objectives, logistics, schedules, and business commitments... that we simply have never taken the time to study and fathom the incredible artistic tradition that we are in fact members of. We don’t know how or why the first artists set sail into the unknown.

And we don’t know how we... fit into this grand artistic tradition. But unlike Marco Polo... we can in fact draw & paint. And it is our Grand Tradition that has opened the eyes of the world. So it would do us well to honor our past.

Our story... our Grand Artistic Tradition... is intimately entwined into the very fabric of these bygone eras when artists first set off for the remotest ends of the earth.

India changed my life

As the huge Air India 747 came in low over the roof tops of Delhi, just after 6 am, the morning sun... shining through a brownish khaki-colored haze... looked like a white hot ball of molten glass in a glass blower’s furnace. As they opened the doors of the plane a blast of 100+ degree heat and the smell of wood smoke, mixed with jet fuel, wafted through the cabin.

It was September – 1970, two weeks before my 25th birthday, and I had arrived in New Delhi, India. I began to practice Yoga a few months after I graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art, in 1967. And a few years later here I was heading up into the foothills of the Himalayas to live and train with a famous Yoga Master by the name of Swami Rama.

Traveling... for Artistic Reasons

India was kaleidoscopic array of color, exotic architecture, birds, & culture. And for a young artist... on his very first trip outside the USA... it was all colorful & amazing. And so on this very first trip to India I was not only initiated into some of India’s ancient meditation traditions... but her extreme natural beauty as well.

As the years, decades... and many return trips has continued... my artistic interests have grown into the predominant feature of my professional career as a Watercolor Painter and Wildlife Artist.

But as my artistic interest and efforts developed into what is today the dominant focus of my career as an artist... I gradually became aware of the unique historical relationship India has had with artists since the early 1700’s.

And today... I am very proud to count myself in a long line of artists who have found beauty and artistic inspiration in India.

In fact... for about 100 years... from the mid-1700’s up through the mid-1800’s... India was the number one destination in the entire world for European artists seeking inspiration... outside of Europe.

And for any artists who have ever travelled outside of their home country...

that’s where this story gets really interesting!

Over the next several days I examined a couple dozen paintings around the hotel, each one beautifully preserved, framed, and carefully hung throughout the hotel. The owner f the hotel allowed me to take a few down and examine them closer in better light.

And to my amazement they were all magnificently little watercolors done on an off white paper with a slight visible tooth. And each one, though done mostly in transparent watercolor, had touches and details where the artist worked some opaque watercolor in at the final stage for highlights.

I was so taken by them that I offered to purchase a few. But the owner simply would not even negotiate a price. What he did say however... was one of the turning points in my own career!

When I pressed the owner for more details... or a reason why he wouldn’t even think of selling them... he simply stated... “I cannot. You see... these paintings are part of this hotel. You see this as a hotel. But to me... it is the home I grew up in. In fact... my father grew up here... as did his father... and his father’s father.

These paintings were here when I was just a boy. And in fact... my grandfather told me they were here when he was growing up!”

My mind started to swirl as he told this story of how these paintings had been in this house when his grandfather was just a boy. And as he went on I discovered more.

“You see... my grandfather once told me how when my father was just a boy... he had once thrown a ball indoors and it hit one of the paintings and made it smash to the ground. And grandfather was so upset because these were treasures that “his” grandfather had hung so many years ago.

It seems an English artist had come here when my great great grandfather was just a boy. And he had stayed here with the old Maharaja. And to pay his room & board... he paid in paintings of Jaipur and the surrounding area. And he had stayed here for 2 years, so there used to be many many more paintings but my great uncles and aunts over the years had taken some for their homes as well.”

As I calculated... that would have been in the very early 1800’s, nearly 200 years ago!

Recognition   This single astounding occurrence back in December of 1985 so stunned me that I had to completely re-evaluate my own artistic efforts in India. I had been thinking that what I was doing was quite unique. But now I had to recognize the fact that I was only following in an artistic tradition that had been in active pursuit by many other artists... for a couple hundred years!

Returning home to the USA I began an earnest and in-depth study of the artists of this early period. And the more I studied the more amazed I was. Especially when I realized that India was... from the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s... the single most sought after destination on earth for European artists... especially the English.

The “Age of Discovery”, began in the 1400‘s, and was initially inspired by the commercial efforts of Europeans to find a new sea route to India... and India’s Pepper.

Black & White Pepper had been a basic commodity in India for thousands of years before Europeans first tasted it. But the Pepper Trade was controlled by the Arab & Turkish Traders along India’s northwestern coastline up into the middle east. It was there that the Venetian Traders then purchased it from the Turks and brought it into Venice. From there Pepper made it’s way all over Europe.

But as Pepper’s popularity in Europe grew... so did the Arab prices. So the Venetians began thinking of ways to circumnavigate around the Arab Pepper Monopoly. But so did the Spanish, Italians, and Portuguese.

Columbus was certain that India and her Pepper was due west across the uncharted waters of the Atlantic. So that’s the direction he headed.

The Portuguese, were certain that the vast uncharted and unmapped continent to the south... Africa... must have an opening that could & should eventually allow them clear passage to India.

Columbus... as we all now know... never made it to India.

The Portuguese however did!

In 1498???... 2 years after Columbus bumped into the islands of the Carribean... Portuguese Captain, Vasco DeGama, not only made it around the southern tip of Africa... and on to the west coast of India... he made it back to Europe!

And what’s amazing is that Vasco DeGama’s ship... returning with a fully loaded cargo of Black Pepper, spices, and Indian Cotton... proved incredibly profitable.

The Market Value of DeGama’s first-of-its-kind sea voyage to India was in fact worth 60 times the entire cost of the expedition! That’s a 6,000% Profit... on Pepper!

And it was this incredible profit motive that then super-charged the entire Age of Discovery... and the commercial efforts to open & establish new routes of all kinds... to the amazing spices & wonders of India and Asia.

From Pepper to Painting

For hundreds of years before Photography... artists who could draw & paint were employed as Expedition Artists to record big events, details of discoveries, landscapes, people & customs, and in short... anything that people back home light like to see.

Caravelle  Epicée recalls the voyages of the spice trader ships of the 15th and 16th centuries. The caravel was a vessel of great importance at this time, developed in Iberia it was used by Portuguese and Spanish explorers along the west coast of Africa and in numerous voyages around South Africa in attempts to reach India. It was also used to cross the Atlantic - the Nina and the Pinta of Christopher Columbus's famous voyage to the new world were most probably caravels.

What began as a commercial effort to circumnavigate around the monopolistic control of the Pepper Trade into Europe that the rulers of the Turkish Empire had imposed... gave birth to the Age of Discovery.

However... Photography did not become a viable portable imaging technology until the mid-to-late 1800’s.

August 19th, 1839

This was the day in history when Photography was first presented to the public in Paris. And it is this date that is recognized as World Photography Day.

So... long before photography... it was artists who could draw & paint who found new employment, adventure, and prestige as Expedition Artists attached to various explorations to the far corners of the globe.

And this unique artistic tradition... of creating a visual record of ones travels, sights, experiences, topography, costumes, customs, rituals, landscape features, unique vistas, bugs, flowers, birds, animals, plants, fish, and people... in a sketchbook or journal of some kind... was born.

Adventurous Artists

Eliquatuero dip tiros numsan vent et lam, conum zzrit laing iam iure nonsen de exeril aduit te facip eugait lametue ut consecte dolesed etain ut dolor sevelit verto adionse uta magnisc.

Paul Gauguin

Manao Tupapau Aka Spirit Of The Dead Watching

Albert Bierstadt   

John Singer Sargent


My Favorite Artists

Revelations in Jaipur

Although artists became part of most of the major explorations of the world, from Columbus’ day onwards, they were employed members of an Expedition. And their job was to record anything & everything of interest. And although these very early artistic exploits are interesting and historically important... they are not the ones that interest me the most.

It’s a bit later... beginning in the mid-1700’s that artists began to travel... not as part of some governmental or commercial enterprise or exploration... but rather on their own vision so to speak.

And to me... it’s the artists of the late 1700’s and throughout the 1800’s, that truly set off across the globe in search of their own particular artistic inspiration and study.

And it is this class of artist, masterful in at least one medium, and driven by pure artistic hunger for both subjects and aesthetic styles, that set the stage for artists like me in this 21st century.

And below you will find a brief assortment of only some of my favorites, along with pertinent web links that will provide you with a great deal more in-depth study of each one of these unique artists, their lives, their travels, and their genius..

Up till now I’ve simply been setting the stage for a description of my own present-day Working Method and my own creative adventures with Artist Journals. It’s important for you as fellow artists to understand the context within which my efforts have evolved.

And oddly enough... it’s all related to one Christmas in 1985, when Deanna and I took a holiday break in Jaipur, from our field efforts studying India’s many species of storks and cranes.

An unexpected surprise   It was December 1985, and we had been in India for about 6 weeks looking for various species of storks & cranes. But we were both tired and in need of some quality R&R. So we made our way into Jaipur and checked into a very small old palace on the outskirts of town. Most if not all of India’s  fabulous old palaces, once owned by more than 600+ Maharajas, have long since been converted into quaint hotels, the likes of which are unique to India’s fabulous old heritage.

This one only had about 10 rooms but still had it’s old Rajput Style & Charm along with it’s antique hand-carved dark rose wood furniture from the high tea days when handsome jewel-covered Rajput Princes entertained the Royalty of England.

As we made our way up the large wide marble stairways to our room on the second floor, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Pausing for a moment or two I studied a couple lovely little works of art in old frames that lined the old Indian yellow walls.

But I was tired from our drive into Jaipur so I continued on to our room... only to be surprised to see a similar set of paintings decorating our room.

d Watching

Continue to... Traditional Artist SkillsTraditional_Artist_Skills.html

Mildred Archer

The leading expert at that time... was a woman named Mildred Archer. And so I literally sought out and devoured everything I could fine that she had written about European artists in India.

Here’s more works by Mrs. Archer...

Over the years since Christmas in Jaipur,1985, my studies have turned into a major effort for me. And what began as an enlightening realization of how India... and the more than 200 professional & amateur European artists who made the long arduous trip out to India... set the stage & style for other artists to come.

And this is where I think it becomes really interesting, especially in direct relationship to how & why I engage in artistic travel today.

As my study of this little-understood aspect of artist’s lives and efforts in the 18th and 19th centuries deepened and widened... I developed a clear understanding of how & why European artists were so artistically fascinated with India for 100 years.

And I soon found myself expanding my interests... from an almost total focus on India... to the entire spectrum of working artists seeking inspiration in far off lands.

And beginning with the most famous artists of the Victorian age... England’s Thomas & William Daniell, in the last decade of the 1700’s... and running all the way through the 1800’s into the early 1900’s... I studied artist after artist who had set off to some distant land on various types of artistic quests.

For intrepid European artists of the 1800’s who wanted to find more exotic subjects than those of Europe... India was the ideal destination. It was a long way from home... very very exotic, foreign, new, and far more ancient than Europe. But in addition... it was a lot safer than North Africa and the middle east Holy Lands.

However... with Napolean’s military efforts in Egypt... and then the opening of the Suez Canal... the ancient marvels of Egypt quickly shifted artistic interest away from India and into all of North Africa, Egypt, and the Holy Lands of the Middle east.

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, (ca. 1868) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Hearst Castle

The Suez Canal Company (Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez) came into being on 15 December 1858 and work started on the shore of the future Port Said on April 25, 1859.

The Suez Canal at Ismailia, c. 1860. The Ismailia segment was completed in November 1862.

The canal opened to shipping on 17 November 1869. Although numerous technical, political, and financial problems had been overcome, the final cost was more than double the original estimate.[46] The opening was performed by Khedive Ismail of Egypt and Sudan, and at Ismail's invitation French Empress Eugenie in the Imperial yacht Aigle, piloted by Napolean Coste who was bestowed by the Khedive the Order of the Medjidie (Blue Flame of Service c1955). The first ship to follow the yacht Aigle through the canal was the British P&O liner Delta.[47]

Artistic Adventures   So beginning in the mid-1700‘s when some of England’s best Portrait Painters made their way around the world to India... all the way up into the mid-1800’s... legions of talented & intrepid artists set off for far distant lands all over the globe. And although Photography had come into being in the late 1840’s... it wouldn’t be till the late 1800’s when Photography became a portable medium available to just about anyone. And Color Photography was even later.

So the talents of artists who could draw, paint, etch, and record all of the newly discovered wonders of the world... were a very marketable commodity.

The opening of the Suez Canal to traffic... coupled with the completion of America’s Transcontinental Railroad six months earlier... changed the world in a major way. It made it possible for commercial, governmental, or individual “circling” of the world in record time. And for artists seeking exotic far-off lands to explore... it was a new day!

At the ceremony for the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869

The Eyes of the World were Artist’s Eyes   In the spring of 1794, a talented professional artist, Thomas Daniell, and his nephew Willam, set sail from London, England on an artistic expedition

to India that would last nearly 10 years. And the artwork they created, both on the expedition and upon their return to England made them famous, wealthy, and the high water mark of the Victorian Age. And their commercial efforts in the early 1800’s, creating amazing printed folios of hand-colored Aquatints set the stage for artists throughout the 1800’s.

And as a 21st century artist, following in the tradition of these early 18th & 19th century artists... I can only imagine what they might think of our digital cameras, iPads, and the Internet.

I often marvel at the fact that today... in the first decade of the 21st century... it only takes 9-10 hours to fly from London to New Delhi. But back in the 1790’s... it took Thomas & William Daniell a full eleven months of sea travel, around the southern tip of Africa and all the way to China... before making it back to Calcutta! Could they even begin to fathom the idea that today it only takes 10 hours?

Although the Daniells set the stage & style for other artists... in careful examinations we find the entire world coming under the visual scrutiny of many talented artists during this Age of Discovery. I have listed many of my favorites in this left-hand sidebar. But for the fun of it... just look at this short list of the various artists who followed this extraordinary Artistic Tradition.