(24 October 1796 – 25 November 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). In September of 1838, he arrived in Alexandria, spending the next 12 months touring and sketching Egypt, Nubia, Jordan, the Holy land and Lebanon. Throughout, he produced a vast collection of drawings and watercolour sketches. In Jordan, he sketched the lost city of Petra, which though well known to the Bedouin, was largely hidden to the wider world. With agreement of a local tribe, he was permitted to camp within Petra for five days. Within this time, he managed to complete sketches that would later be worked up in to 14 finished lithographs.
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. Over the next few years, sketches from Robert’s tour of the Middle East were worked up into a set of large-scale volumes which contained over 240 lithographs. 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.
David’s work shared scenes of life in the Middle East that had not been previously seen in Europe. As a result of this success, he became a well-known landscape and architectural artist.
The Lithographs and Publisher
David Roberts lithographs were produced from 1842-49 by the publisher F.G. Moon, at 20 Threadneedle Street in London. The cost of the expensive endeavour was partly offset by subscriptions from well-to-do clients 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 (48.26 x 31.75 cm)and a half plate size of 12 x 9 ½ inches (30.48 x 24.13cm). 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.
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).
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.