National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 25, 1975

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Click figure 4 here for an enlarged image

Lyttleton's View of Halifax: Microscopic Cosmos

by Alexandra E. Carter

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5 

Lyttleton Military Art Training

Lyttleton would have received instruction in the technique of topographical drawing at the Royal Military Academy because it was considered an essential part of the curriculum for both army and naval officers. The former were required to make pictorial documents of land physiognomy while the latter concentrated on coastal formations and shoreline indentations. The importance attached to the discipline of drawing is evident from an abstract of the Academy records:

The above qualifications (Mathematics, English and French) are indispensable at the time of examination; but the future studies of each Candidate will be very materially forwarded if he is learned to draw before he is received as a Cadet. (15)

The training at the Academy also included "putting perspective in practice by copying from nature...then ...proceeding to take views about Woolwich and other places; which teaches them at the same time to break ground and form the eye to the knowledge of it." (16)

The watercolour painting included in the military programme was more than an occupational skill for many officers like Lyttleton: they continued to practise their technical drawing skill as a recreational and creative hobby throughout their lives. The boredom of peacetime militia was one reason for the copious production of watercolour sketches of early Canada; the officers helped fill leisure hours by sketching on their own as well as instructing young ladies and others interested in this most fashionable occupation. (17) In addition, there was the desire of colonial residents to include art of any style in their surroundings and specifically whatever art was popular in England at the time. In the nineteenth century, English art was largely dominated by the development of the water-colour.

Fortunately the drawing masters of the training schools were among the most able artists in the field: Paul Sandby, who taught at Woolwich from 1768 to 1799, was recognized in his own day as the "father" of British watercolours. He was succeeded by his son, Thomas Paul (1791-1811), so the Sandby tradition had far reaching influence; it was fortunate that the members of the family were as versatile as they were talented, thus averting the possibility of every trainee becoming a copy-artist of the master's style.

It is this tradition of stylistic freedom that encouraged Lyttleton to investigate various approaches and media in the small oeuvre known today. The rest of his works extant seem to be limited to three water-colours, two lithographs and one drawing for engraving. (18)

Lyttleton's Oeuvre

Lyttleton's watercolour of The House of the Honourable James McNab, now in the Provincial Museum of Nova Scotia (fig. 4), is an especially fine architectural rendering of his father-in-law's residence, probably in the early 1850s.

Two works by Lyttleton were exhibited in the Nova Scotia section of the International Exhibition held in London in 1862: the catalogue lists Sketch of Halifax and American Winter Scene under Lyttleton's name. Presumably these were felt to be consistent with the purpose of Nova Scotia participation as explained in the preface: "to bring the capabilities of the province to the notice of the world, and as a record that may be of service on future occasions when Nova Scotia will be called to take her place among her sister colonies at the Great Exhibition of the mother country." (19) The present location of Winter Scene remains unknown.

The Sketch of Halifax is not identified, but Lyttleton drew another smaller, distant view, c. 1853, taken from McNab's Island, which is now also in the Royal Ontario Museum (fig. 5). His sketching position in this instance appears to have been nearer the northern tip of the island, within slightly closer proximity to the city. A lithograph was published from this smaller version, by firms in both London and Boston, c. 1862 (fig. 6). It seems unlikely that Lyttleton would exhibit this smaller view, which was almost a decade old in 1862, especially considering the promotional intent of the entire display. For these reasons it is possible that the Halifax watercolour exhibited in London is the panoramic view described earlier and it may be dated plausibly to the early 1860s (fig. I).

It is interesting to compare the lithograph, c. 1862, and the original watercolour on which it is based. The two scenes are mirror-images, with the exception of a figure of two ladies and a gentleman in the centre foreground which is omitted in the reproduction. This is unfortunate because the style of the ladies' dress provided local colour as well as important information on the current Victorian taste in Halifax for costumes with many layers of petticoats and overskirts. These prompted the historian Thomas Raddall to remark that the well-dressed Haligonianne en route to church was similar to "a perambulating cabbage with a whalebone core." (20) The group of figures to right of center are identified as Captain Hugonin with his daughter, and Will Lyttleton, son of the artist. (21)

The two watercolour views from McNab's Island are similar in orientation, and one can immediately recognize the foreground terrain with the Hugonin house nestled into the gentle slope of the hill and the harbour reaching to the city on the opposite shore. The three striking physical characteristics of the wide view, which we may loosely call the Panoramic View of Halifax, for the purpose of clarity (fig. I), are the actual dimensions and the unusually broad proportions of this watercolour, 31.9 x 76.8 cm (12-9/16 x 30-1/4 in.), as well as the remarkable vista it includes: the detail (fig. 3), which is a little more than the central third of the Panoramic View of Halifax, more closely approximates the scope of the 1853 work; the dimensions of the latter are 32.4 x 48.2 cm (12-3/4 x 19 in.) and identical with those of the lithograph.

The drawing in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia to which Piers drew attention is not important for this study as it features a view of the 1850 Halifax tire which does not bear directly on the subject of the panorama. (22)

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