Monday, January 26, 2015

Onboard the HMS Beagle

Conrad Martens, self portrait, 1833

Conrad Martens sketchbooks from his voyage with Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle have recently been added to the Cambridge Digital Library. The drawings were done between 1833 and the summer months of 1834. It was on this voyage that the first seeds of Darwin’s book, Origin of Species, were planted.

Conrad Martens (1801–1878) was a London born painter, best known for his landscapes. He trained under prominent watercolorist and teacher, Copley Fielding. In 1832, at the age of 32 Martens joined the ship Hyacinth as a topographical artist. On that voyage while at a stop in Montevideo near the end of 1833 he met Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle and obtained the position of draughtsman, replacing the ship’s artist who was leaving the ship for reasons of illness. One member of the ship’s company was Charles Darwin. The young Darwin was serving as a naturalist and companion to the ship’s captain and during their time together aboard ship he and Martens became lifelong friends. Some critics suggest that it was aboard the Beagle that Martens developed his particular style of artistically imagined but geographically accurate landscape painting. But his time on the Beagle was not long and he left the ship at Valparaiso in the summer months of 1834. His eye has been drawn farther west and he booked passage on a ship sailing to Sydney via Tahiti.

His ship arrived in Sydney in 1835 and the artist remained there for the rest of his life. Captivated by the sea and landscape of Sydney Harbour, he began sketching even as his ship approached the wide harbor. He was fortunate to gain an introduction to members of the gentry in New South Wales and quickly built up a clientele of the social elite. He painted watercolors and oils of their estates as well as landscape views. One of his more famous works is the 1866 watercolor below.

 North Head from above Balmoral, Sydney Harbour; watercolor 1866

A Patagonian Indian, 1834 sketch

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America