John Wilson Carmichael

Pictures of Tyneside or Life and Scenery on the River Tyne circa 1830.

pictures-of-tyneside

I found a book of engravings in the library, republished in 1969, from original prints with an edited description of an original folio of engravings by Lambert and Collard from drawings by the artist J.W.Carmichael, a North East marine painter.

I was attracted by the simplicity of the narrative created by 33 engravings starting high up the river and depicting a scenery, the everyday life and the changing river.  This again returns to my fascination with the notion of series, with each element independent as a visual image, but linked together as book or folio, to describe something in multiple viewpoint. Even the individual images must be composites – the engraver working from an artist’s sketches and more importantly a framed composition that places figures, animals, boats into a foreground that is episodic, isolating the action.  I was immediately tempted to go and stand in the places and see this narrative in place – my first expedition to Aydon Castle is recorded here  – this confirmed the impossibility of the views created by Carmichael in terms of one position recordings of a place or a single view.

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(Noting the connection to Carmichael’s finished painting of ‘The Lord Mayor’s barge’ in the Laing Art Gallery)

Any photographic re-staging or transposition of these engravings or paintings  would need to be one of photomontage. This way of looking and recording was easily interpreted by viewers in 1830 – why show just the Tyne in a single moment when you can show various incidents of the life of the Tyne riverside as well. This explains the continuing interest in the work of historical marine and landscape painters like Carmichael – they don’t just show what things used to look like, they invite viewers into a nostalgia of activity, revelling in what people did and comparing it with what people do now, all set against a backdrop of theatrical scenery.  It is important to note the distance put between the viewer and the people depicted, they are actors, and are small in scale, observed as if in passing, dwarfed by the relative importance of the scenic stages that Carmichael creates. We are not invited in to really find out about the realty of these lives.

this final one particularly intriguing………who is the reluctant boy sat on the bridge:
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This book  is described in a local history blog with full scans from the published book here, recording all the scenes down the river Tyne.

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an oil sketch by Carmichael – a view back towards North and South Shields from the river mouth – showing a kind of impossible distance emphasising the slow transportation and connection of the time. The tiny figures are like rocks or points of light to show scale.

Middlebrook, S (ed) (1969), Pictures of Tyneside or Life and Scenery on the River Tyne circa 1830. Newcastle upon Tyne: Oriel Press Limited.

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