EMPSON, Charles. ALBUM OF ORIGINAL WATERCOLOURS OF SOUTH AMERICA. [Colombia: 1824-1827]

$ 285,000.00

EMPSON, Charles. ALBUM OF ORIGINAL WATERCOLOURS OF SOUTH AMERICA. [Colombia: 1824-1827]

Oblong folio (10 x 14 2/8 inches). 30 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE drawings of which 18 are watercolor (no. 24 is in grisaille) and 12 are pencil (no. 21 faintly signed "Empson"), each with tissue guards (various sizes ca 7 x 9 inches), all mounted into an album, mounting leaves numbered 1-32 in a contemporary hand (no. 16 skipped in numeration, no. 31 removed). Contemporary dark green straight-grained morocco, with floral blind-tooled border and gilt-tooled frame, spine gilt, top edge gilt, pink silk markers (extremities a bit rubbed).  

Provenance: with the invoice of Francis Edwards dated October 1953, made out to; Jacques Levy, his sale, Sotheby's, 20th April 2012, lot 96  

This album of beautiful original watercolours is accompanied by Empson's published account of his journey to South America: "Narratives of South America; illustrating Manners, Customs, and Scenery" (London: A.J. Valpy & William Edwards for the Author, 1836), and the portfolio of illustrations "Fac-similes of Twelve Drawings of Tropical Scenery from Sketches made on the spot by Charles Empson", with 12 plates of which 10 are etched and 2 are lithographed, all hand-colored, and mounted on cards.  

Empson, a print and watercolour dealer in Bath, spent three years travelling the northern part of South America, for the most part in what is now Colombia, from 1824 to 1827.  

"The glorious descriptions of Humboldt had induced many persons who had no other motive beyond that of beholding Nature in all her majesty, to explore these regions so gorgeously clothed in primaeval vegetation, and so abundant in every production interesting to mankind. It was my happiness to associate with many travellers who had established themselves in the Republic before any of the European nations had acknowledged the independence of Columbia, and had shared in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary war; but they found ample compensation for all their privations in the inexhaustible variety of the new world. A field so rich, and so extensive, proved an irresistible temptation to the scientific man; the produce and commercial demands of so vast a continent were not less attractive to the merchant, while scenes of grandeur and beauty offered the most fascinating allurements to the imagination of the enthusiast." (Preface).  

Empson was accompanied by his friend Robert Stephenson, son of the famous railway engineer. They returned with precious objects of pre-Colombian art, including some gold artifacts which Charles later exhibited in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Unfortunately, some of their possessions were lost in a shipwreck at the entrance to New York harbor.  On his return Empson published his account of their adventures as "Narratives South America; Illustrating Manners, Customs, and Scenery: containing also numerous facts in Natural History, collected during a Four Years' Residence in Tropical Regions", 1836,  illustrated with facsimiles of his original watercolour drawings, many of which feature in this album.  

1: Fine watercolour drawing (6 4/8 x 9 4/8 inches) of the turbulent Rio Magdalena at Angostura with snow capped mountain range in the distance: "The rainy season was commencing as we left El Claro; the river rapidly swelled, and our progress was very  slow: after sixteen days of hard toil, we reached Angostura, a place so called, as the river there is confined in a strait between rocks: there is at all times considerable difficulty in getting a heavy boat through this strait, but at particular seasons it is extremely dangerous. On our arrival, the river had swollen until the pressure of water above the Angostura forced the current through the strait with such violence, that it formed a cascade, or salto, as the natives call it..." (page 249).

2: Fine pencil sketch (7 x 8 3/8 inches) of the Cocina or Kitchen subsequently lithographed for the published account: "The tenement represented in this sketch is variously denominated, according to the purposes to which it is applied: when the building is attached to a mansion, it is a cocina, or kitchen; when only used as an occasional residence, it is termed ranchero, or hut; and if constantly occupied by a family who have no other dwelling, it is called caseta, or villager's cottage. This was our kitchen, store-room, and housekeeper's apartment. The kitchen was partially open to admit the light, and facilitate the escape of the smoke: the furniture was entirely of domestic manufacture" (page 54)  

3: Fine pencil sketch (5 x 8 4/8 inches) of an undulating lakeshore scene peopled with  couples and small groups enjoying the view of the placid lake; possibly that at the junction of the Rios Clara and Magdalena, a place called El Cienega: "The sketch represents the first habitable spot after leaving the lagoons and gaining the more wholesome air and clear water of the Great River" (page 6).  

4: Fine pencil sketch (8 x 10 inches) of the bridge at Bocanema: "Near the ancient town of Bocanema, at a place called El Salto, (" the Leap,") is to be seen one of those primitive and picturesque suspension-bridges which are so frequent in South America: it was constructed by the villagers in a single day. The generous feeling which stimulated them to perform this arduous task deserves to be recorded. The venerable priest of Bocanema was anxious to visit an Indian family whose hut was separated from his own dwelling by the rapid torrent of El Salto. The only place at which he could ford it was so distant, that he had not strength to accomplish the journey. No sooner was this difficulty made known to his flock, than with affectionate promptitude they prepared to prove their attachment, by making it practicable for him to pass El Salto. The bridge was formed of the light but almost imperishable canes which exuberantly border the mountain-stream: the tough and flexible creeping plants afforded an excellent substitute for cordage. Two trees, which were firmly rooted at the brink of the torrent, served for buttresses, giving stability to the rude arch they had formed, by uniting the woven flooring with a rustic railing, which was  further strengthened by split and flattened bamboos. All these were attached to the strong branches of the trees before mentioned, and formed the abutments of a light but enduring structure. The narrator of this occurrence crossed the bridge with the priest for whose  accommodation it was erected, and from his own lips learned the history of its origin" (page 123). See plate 9 below for an original watercolour drawing of this bridge.  

5: Fine pencil sketch (7 4/8 x 9 6/8 inches) of a small dwelling-place, built of "split and flattened bamboo, and roofed with palm-leaves, was ceiled with smooth reeds; the whole frame-work firmly tied together with bijuco,-a climbing plant, singularly tenacious and durable, answering all the purposes of cord" (page 18).  

6: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of a magnificent view of the Pacific ocean from high on the coastal cliffs probably near Cartegena. Looking west towards the sunset a number of three-masted ships sale by.  

7: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of a wonderful display of flowering plants and trees along the bank of the Rio Magdalena: "The plants which luxuriate in the moist rich soil and humid atmosphere of the Cienega are magnificent, especially the Parasites, which are numerous and in great variety: the trees are festooned by creepers of splendid colours and most elegant structure: indeed the whole course of the river is remarkable for the colossal character of its vegetation, and the lagoons are pre-eminent for their floral attractions. Miles of the surface are covered by various species of the lotus, or pale water-lily, mingled with others of different hues, and with many flowers entirely unknown to us. We noticed one in particular, which, from its gigantic proportions, might vie with the Arnold! Rafflensia, but which far exceeded it in beauty : its superb snowwhite corola was enriched with petals of the deepest crimson, whilst its broad flat leaves formed resting-places for aquatic birds of dazzling plumage: here we saw the Rose-coloured Pelican, and the Silvery-feathered Crane; the Purple Galaniule, and a bird resembling the Scarlet Ibis" (page 6).  

8:  Fine watercolour drawing (7 6/8 x 10 2/8 inches) of the ruined stone bridge at Honda: "The earthquake of 1812 laid prostrate many of the cities of Venezuela, and destroyed nearly every house in Honda. They were never entirely rebuilt; but some of the buildings, which were only partially repaired, have experienced many successive shocks. There are but few habitations which have an appearance of security: the churches and convents are in a fearful state of dilapidation. The noble stone bridge built by the Spaniards across the Guale, and the adjoining monastery of San Juan De Dios, were thrown down at a later  period; and falling into the bed of the river, the navigation became so dangerous, that the temporary bridge, represented in the sketch [see accompanying portfolio of facsimiles], was constructed from the ruins of the convent" (page 80).      

9: Fine watercolour drawing (6 7/8 x 9 4/8 inches) of the bridge at Bocanema. See plate 4 for the original pencil sketch for this watercolour and the Journal entry for this image (page 123).  10: Fine watercolour drawing (6 7/8 x 9 3/8 inches) of a luxuriant river bank covered with verdant palm trees and bright flowers, probably the Rio Magdalena: "The river here leaps from one climate to another ;-from the cool plains which are marked by stunted vegetation, and birds of sombre plumage, into the luxuriant vale of Villeta; rich in every variety of the palm-tree, and redundant with foliage; the land of Parrots, Mockingbirds, Lizards, Monkeys, and Mackaws" (page 46).  

11: Fine watercolour drawing (6 4/8 x 8 3/8 inches) of a small dwelling similar to that in plate 5 with a Cocina, or kitchen, attached; the whole surrounded by a clearing and a cane fence keeping palm trees and tall grass at bay.  

12: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x8 4/8 inches) of the summit of the Andes in the distance "those ribs of the world, as they have been powerfully denominated, their lofty pinnacles capped with snow, cold, dead, and pallid, during the noontide blaze" (page 42), a well-trodden mountain path in the fore-ground with a gentleman riding his horse into the pass: "If painting can only convey a faint idea of the distant mountains, how can language express the emotion produced by the grandeur of a scene, which at one glance reveals to the spectator the extensive range of the majestic Andes, from their broad bases covered with the richest verdure, to their untrodden summits clad with eternal snows, and rising fifteen thousand feet above the level of the ocean?" (page 35).  

13. Exceptionally fine watercolour drawing (7 4/8 x 12 4/8 inches) of the magnificent Andes, with a small town, possibly Merida ("The city of Merida is the capital of an extensive province, bounded on the north by Maracaibo, on the east by Varinos, on the south by Llanos, and on the west by Santa Martha" - page 156) nestled into the foothills: "The nearly perpendicular mountains which rise in the immediate vicinity of the city are covered to their very summits with a dense mass of the most luxuriant and varied foliage. Beyond these mountains are seen the distant Andes, reaching to an elevation of fifteen thousand feet, their snowclad peaks forming an object of the most striking grandeur" (page 156).  

14: Fine pencil sketch (7 x 8 2/8 inches) of a church, probably at Bocanema, now in Venezuela, with a prominent bell being rung: "The bell is not swung as in Europe, but remains fixed to a beam in the belfry; a rope is passed through a hole in the heavy iron tongue, and is generally carried to the outside of the church; the tongue can only be brought into contact with the sonorous metal by sudden jerks, the force of which it is impossible to regulate: an harmonious tone is therefore unattainable" (page 209).      

15: Fine Watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of a very dramatic outcrop of rock with a cross atop, all towering over a small hut hidden in the palm trees.  

[16] - missed in pagination  

17: Fine pencil sketch (7 4/8 x 10 inches) of a South American cottage: "The dwelling represented in this sketch was built for an Englishman, who selected the situation as combining every advantage of a tropical residence: it was impossible to allege more than two objections against it;-there was no society; and it required ten months to traverse the distance which separated this earthly paradise from the native land of its inmate. The house, composed of split and flattened bamboo, and roofed with palm-leaves, was ceiled with smooth reeds; the whole frame-work firmly tied together with bijuco,-a climbing plant, singularly tenacious and durable, answering all the purposes of cord. By this construction, the danger resulting from earthquakes was, in a great measure, obviated: the light and flexible nature of these materials rendered such a dwelling a place of safety, when more substantial erections were destroyed: the inmates often felt as if shaken in a basket, but never sustained any injury during these fearful visitations" (page 18). See plate 19 for the original watercolour of this drawing, later reproduced as a hand-coloured etching for Empson's portfolio of facsimiles.  

18: Fine pencil sketch (5 x 9 inches) for "The Rustic Corridor" reproduced as a hand-coloured etching for Empson's portfolio of facsimiles: "This sketch was taken from the corridor of a cottage built on the eastern slope of the Andes. Travellers, to whom almost every portion of the globe is familiar, have acknowledged, while gazing upon this spot, that they never beheld such a sublime spectacle. The real foreground of this splendid panorama could not be represented by the pencil: the dark ravine into which you look, is beautiful beyond conception, extending to the very base of the snow-clad Cordilleras. There grew the graceful palm, with its plume-like foliage, groves of Bamboo, Tree ferns, Magnolias, Acacias, Cedars, and, towering above all, the mighty Almendron with its smooth silvery stem, straight and round as a Tuscan column, bearing aloft its noble clusters of pure white blossoms contrasting with the dark, dense foliage of its widely-spreading branches. A rapid, clear, and musical river, supplied by the gradual dissolution of the everlasting snow, under a cloudless sun, produced a diurnal and perceptible increase of the mountain torrent, which sometimes fell in cascades, and sometimes, impeded by huge blocks of granite, expanded into broad lakes, and again, finding an uninterrupted channel, rolled onward beyond the scope of human vision" (page 33). See plate 20 for the original watercolour of this drawing.

19: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of a South American cottage: “The dwelling represented in this sketch was built for an Englishman, who selected the situation as combining every advantage of a tropical residence: it was impossible to allege more than two objections against it;—there was no society; and it required ten months to traverse the distance which separated this earthly paradise from the native land of its inmate. The house, composed of split and flattened bamboo, and roofed with palm-leaves, was ceiled with smooth reeds; the whole frame-work firmly tied together with bijuco,—a climbing plant, singularly tenacious and durable, answering all the purposes of cord. By this construction, the danger resulting from earthquakes was, in a great measure, obviated: the light and flexible nature of these materials rendered such a dwelling a place of safety, when more substantial erections were destroyed: the inmates often felt as if shaken in a basket, but never sustained any injury during these fearful visitations” (page 18). Reproduced as a hand-coloured etching for Empson’s portfolio of facsimiles. 

20: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of the magnificent view from “The Rustic Corridor” reproduced as a hand-coloured etching for Empson’s portfolio of facsimiles: “This sketch was taken from the corridor of a cottage built on the eastern slope of the Andes. Travellers, to whom almost every portion of the globe is familiar, have acknowledged, while gazing upon this spot, that they never beheld such a sublime spectacle. The real foreground of this splendid panorama could not be represented by the pencil: the dark ravine into which you look, is beautiful beyond conception, extending to the very base of the snow-clad Cordilleras. There grew the graceful palm, with its plume-like foliage, groves of Bamboo, Tree ferns, Magnolias, Acacias, Cedars, and, towering above all, the mighty Almendron with its smooth silvery stem, straight and round as a Tuscan column, bearing aloft its noble clusters of pure white blossoms contrasting with the dark, dense foliage of its widely-spreading branches. A rapid, clear, and musical river, supplied by the gradual dissolution of the everlasting snow, under a cloudless sun, produced a diurnal and perceptible increase of the mountain torrent, which sometimes fell in cascades, and sometimes, impeded by huge blocks of granite, expanded into broad lakes, and again, finding an uninterrupted channel, rolled onward beyond the scope of human vision” (page 33). See plate 20 for the original watercolour of this drawing.

21: Fine pencil sketch, SIGNED BY EMPSON (6 x 10 inches) of a ruined building, probably in Honda: “The earthquake of 1812 laid prostrate many of the cities of Venezuela, and destroyed nearly every house in Honda. They were never entirely rebuilt; but some of the buildings, which were only partially repaired, have experienced many successive shocks. There are but few habitations which have an appearance of security: the churches and convents are in a fearful state of dilapidation” (page 80)

22: Fine pencil sketch (7 x 8 2/8 inches) of a bamboo gate across a forest path.

23: Fine pencil sketch (5 6/8 x 9 2/8 inches) of fishermen’s swellings along the banks of a glassy river reflecting the coconut palms and exotic plants that grow near the waters edge.

24: Fine pencil and watercolour drawing in grisaille (7 2/8 x 9 6/8 inches) of a walled cemetery with a hexagonal mausoleum at it centre, completely overgrown and surrounded by palm trees.

25: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of a simple dwelling surrounded by four magnificent trees with the foothills of the Andes in the background.

26: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of a small rustic dwelling in the fore-ground with the Andes in the background: “those ribs of the world, as they have been powerfully denominated, their lofty pinnacles capped with snow, cold, dead, and pallid, during the noontide blaze” (page 42)...”If painting can only convey a faint idea of the distant mountains, how can language express the emotion produced by the grandeur of a scene, which at one glance reveals to the spectator the extensive range of the majestic Andes, from their broad bases covered with the richest verdure, to their untrodden summits clad with eternal snows, and rising fifteen thousand feet above the level of the ocean?” (page 35).

27: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 4/8 inches) of several different species of exotic tree with the foothills of the Tolima volcano in the background. Reproduced as a hand-coloured etching in Empson’s portfolio of facsimiles.

28: Fine watercolur drawing (6 4/8 x 9 6/8 inches) of a magnificent waterfall: “Look steadily, and you may perceive a faint cloud, from which a thin vapour descends the grim acclivity: this i& the river, which, traversing the plains of Bogota, precipitates itself over the boundary, forming the Salto of Tequandamo. The river here leaps from one climate to another ;—from the cool plains which are marked by stunted vegetation, and birds of sombre plumage, into the luxuriant vale of Villeta; rich in every variety of the palm-tree, and redundant with foliage; the land of Parrots, Mockingbirds, Lizards, Monkeys, and Mackaws “ (page 43).

29: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 8 4/8 inches) of a Pulperia or storehouse constructed of mud bricks and outer open frame of bamboo and palm fronds.

30: Fine pencil sketch (6 x 10 4/8 inches) of the bridge at Honda: “The earthquake of 1812 laid prostrate many of the cities of Venezuela, and destroyed nearly every house in Honda. They were never entirely rebuilt; but some of the buildings, which were only partially repaired, have experienced many successive shocks. There are but few habitations which have an appearance of security: the churches and convents are in a fearful state of dilapidation. The noble stone bridge built by the Spaniards across the Guale, and the adjoining monastery of San Juan De Dios, were thrown down at a later period; and falling into the bed of the river, the navigation became so dangerous, that the temporary bridge, represented in the sketch, was constructed from the ruins of the convent” (page 80). Reproduced as a hand-coloured etching in Empson’s portfolio of facsimiles

[31:] – removed

32: Fine watercolour drawing (7 x 9 inches) of a precarious bridge crossing a ravine, possibly the “Ravine of the Unburied Dead”: “A race of the Indians called Guayaberros once occupied an empire which included the province now called Pamplona, obviously so termed from the capital of Upper Navarre in Spain. Some of the regal ornaments, which it is believed did belong to the monarch of this tribe, were obtained by the writer, and are now in his possession. They are of pure gold, and of elegant form, but the workmanship is rude. The Spaniards found the Guayaberros a warlike and (as they are called by the invaders, in their dispatches) a most obstinate people, giving more trouble to the conquerors than any other of the aboriginal tribes. Their cacique was a man of superior talent and extraordinary bravery: after many perilous encounters, he was made prisoner; but he had taken measures to defeat the rapacious designs and hopes of the plunderers, by removing from his palace the gold so much coveted by Cortes and his followers; nor could the threats or persuasions of the Spaniards prevail upon their captive to disclose where he had concealed his immense treasures. At length, upon receiving an insult of the most humiliating character, and being threatened with instant torture, he gave a reluctant consent to make known the hiding-place of his wealth. The cave in which his riches had been secured was in a situation to which he could not direct the Spaniards; but he promised to conduct them to the spot. Dreading the escape of a prisoner of such importance, they chained six slaves to the fetters of the fallen chief: but he refused to move, unless the vassal soldiers were released, and six persons of the highest nobility among the followers of the Spanish general were substituted. This demand being agreed to, the cacique led them to one of those frightful paths, or ledges of the rocky pass, of which there are so many to be seen in crossing the Andes; where one false step would precipitate the traveller to the bottom of a chasm, which the noontide beam of a tropical sun could never penetrate. From this path the cacique threw himself with such a sudden and effectual plunge, that he dragged with him the six Spaniards to whom he was chained. It is said that the bodies were never found, and that, for a long time after this catastrophe, shrieks were heard from the gulf:—even to this day, the ravine, said to be the scene of this tragedy, is known by an Indian term, which signifies 'the unburied dead.'” (page 190). Catalogued by Kate Hunter