In the 18th century, British artists such as John Robert Cozens, Giovanni Batista Lusieri, and William Pars began traveling to continental Europe in unprecedented numbers. For most, their goal was Italy, where they hoped to capitalize on the growing number of potential patrons to be found there among the Grand Tourists. Seen as the culmination of a young gentleman’s education, the Grand Tour was an extended journey, usually terminating in Rome, which brought travelers into direct contact with great monuments of western history, from classical ruins to Renaissance art. For members of Britain’s aristocracy, the tour served as a sort of credential, signaling the knowledge and experience that came with travel, as well as the financial ability to undertake it. Visible evidence of participation in the Grand Tour could be acquired through artistic commissions and purchases. In their display of “Italian light on English walls,” as a line from William Cowper’s poem The Task describes them, these artworks functioned not only as souvenirs of the journey, but as pointed displays of one’s refinement and erudition.
Nine rarely exhibited works on paper, drawn from The Huntington’s permanent collections, demonstrate the great variety found in Grand Tour imagery, and reveal the many reasons artists traveled to Italy. Whether seeking commissions, accompanying young aristocrats on their travels, or furthering their own artistic education, this generation of great British artists played an important role in visually documenting the Grand Tour.
(Photo: Courtesy Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens)