The Bowes Museum’s exhibition Rokeby: (Poetry & Landscape) Walter Scott & Turner in Teesdale, marks the bicentenary of the publication of Scott’s epic poem, Rokeby, a thrilling tale of star crossed lovers, ghosts and treasure, set against the backdrop of the English Civil War.
Exploring the relationship between literature and art, the exhibition - curated by the Museum’s Keeper of Fine Art, Emma House - examines the poem’s role in attracting artists such as Turner, Atkinson Grimshaw, and the Pre-Raphaelite Alfred William Hunt to the region, highlighting the importance of Teesdale in the development of landscape painting in Britain. It includes loans from the British Museum, Tate, and regional galleries as well as paintings from the Museum’s own collection.
Scott penned Rokeby following several visits to John Morritt’s country estate, Rokeby Park, having taken inspiration from the surrounding scenery. The Bowes Museum is situated a mile or so from the estate, at the centre of the landscape brought to life in the poem. Originally published in 1813, it placed Teesdale firmly on the tourist map as well as drawing a succession of artists to the region, including Turner, who later produced 20 views for Whitaker’s An History of Richmondshire, four of which relate to locations in the poem.
Scott’s publisher was later to commission Turner to illustrate newer editions of the poet’s work, stating that he could sell 8,000 copies with Turner’s illustrations as opposed to 3,000 without.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue and a full programme of events. Walking tours and newly published leaflets encourage visitors to explore the region’s attractions and viewpoints in relation to the paintings and literature they inspired.
A further programme of painting, photography, textile and writing workshops encourage participants to get their creative juices flowing and respond to the poem by producing their own works of art inspired by the landscape.
The Museum is also working with Dora Frankel Dance, who will perform a newly choreographed piece – The Unfolding Sky: Turner in the North - exploring Turner’s landscape paintings. There will also be an opportunity to take part in a dance workshop.
The exhibition has been supported by funding from the Heart of Teesdale Landscape Partnership. Further support has come from the Museum Friends, who have assisted with the preparations. The Museum is also indebted to historian Michael Rudd for his work on the exhibition and supporting programme, and to Tony Seward for his contribution to the accompanying catalogue.
John Atkinson Grimshaw, On the Tees, near Barnard Castle, Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) The Bridgeman Art Library