David RobertsRA

1796 - 1864

David Roberts RA (24 October 1796 – 25 November 1864) was a Scottish painter. He is especially known for a prolific series of detailed lithograph prints of the Holy Land and Egypt that he produced during the 1840s from sketches he made during long tours of the region (1838–1840). These, and his large oil paintings of similar subjects, made him a prominent Orientalist painter.

It was J.M.W. Turner who managed to persuade him to abandon scene painting and devote himself to becoming a true artist. Roberts set sail for Egypt on 31 August 1838. His intent was to produce drawings that he could later use as the basis for the paintings and lithographs to sell to the public. Egypt was much in vogue at this time, and travellers, collectors and lovers of antiquities were keen to buy works inspired by the East or depicting the great monuments of ancient Egypt. Muhammad Ali Pasha received Roberts in Alexandria on 16 May 1839, shortly before his return to Britain. He later reproduced this scene (apparently from memory) in Volume 3 of Egypt & Nubia.

Roberts made a long tour in Egypt, Nubia, the Sinai, the Holy Land, Jordan and Lebanon. Throughout, he produced a vast collection of drawings and watercolour sketches.

On his return to Britain, Roberts worked with the top lithographer of the day Louis Haghe from 1842 to 1849 to produce the lavishly illustrated plates of the Sketches in the Holy Land and Syria, 1842-1849 and Egypt & Nubia series. These were printed by the publisher F.G.Moon, of Threadneedle Street in London.  Roberts funded this expensive undertaking through advance subscriptions which he solicited directly. The scenery and monuments of Egypt and Holy Land were fashionable but had hitherto been hardly touched by British artists, and so Roberts quickly accumulated 400 subscription commitments, with Queen Victoria being subscriber number one. Her complete set is still in the Royal Collection.

The Lithographs
Two types of the lithograph exist – the first is the subscription edition which was printed on a fine paper, hand coloured and then stuck on card.  The second is the first edition, printed on a more coarse paper and not coloured by hand. These ones we colour to match the subscription colouring. Each lithograph is sold in mint condition and in an acid free mount.

David Roberts lithographs were produced from 1842-49 by the publisher F.G. Moon, then having their offices on 20 Threadneedle Street in London. The cost of the expensive endeavour was partly offset by subscriptions from well-to-do (mostly) British subjects including Charles Dickens, the famous publisher John Murray, the young artist and writer John Ruskin, as well as Queen Victoria, Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, and Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia.

Hundreds of prints were made of each drawing from the lithographer’s original plate, rendered in reverse on the stone. When a set of several different drawings was completed they were then sent as a batch to subscribers who either had paid in advance for them or would upon receipt. The Holy Land was completed first and was issued in twenty parts over a near-four-year period.

The prints were in two sizes, a full plate size of approximately 19 x 12 ½ inches and a half plate size of 12 x 9 ½ inches.  The first set produced was the “Subscription” edition. Here the lithograph was printed onto a thin but expensive paper (sometimes referred to as India paper), cut to size, and after being mounted on thick card-stock measuring 24 inches by 17 inches, then carefully hand-coloured.

This would ensure that each lithograph gave the impression of being an original water colour rather than a print. Indeed, every copy of the identical lithograph in the subscription edition is slightly different from the next, no two being exactly alike.

Subscribers could, upon completion of all parts, choose a binding of their own choice, or leave the parts in their original wrappers.

The next version produced due to the success of the subscription was the “First Edition”, pressed onto the thick paper that served also as text pages (the full plate were left blank on the reverse side while the half plate contained text both under the print and on the reverse side).

These were printed, in the case of the Holy Land, with one additional tint while the Egypt set employed usually two additional tints (and in one case three, the famous “Approach of the Simoon” plate 240).

First edition prints have the title, often in orange or yellow, directly underneath each print in addition to the publisher’s name in small type (F.G.Moon). It should be noted that, in both editions, the lithograph itself bears the title – always on the lower left or right of each print – which, as well as Roberts’s signatures, are actual facsimiles taken from the original sketches..

Darnley Fine Art holds a comprehensive selection of Roberts’ lithographs, both in the subscription and first editions.

We colour the first editions to match the subscription version.  

Artworks by David Roberts