King's College London
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‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century

Hugh William Williams

Page of printed musical notation for some Grecian melodiesGrecian melodiesIn 1816, the Scottish landscape painter Hugh William Williams(1773-1829) began an extensive two-year tour of Italy, Greece and the Ionian Islands. He published a two-volume account of his travels in 1820, written in the form of letters and illustrated with engravings made after his own original drawings.

The plate on display shows some Grecian melodies to which Williams gives the following unfavourable description:

The Athenian and othe rGrecian airs are generally of an inferior character, and incapable, I suspect, of expressing any varied feeling of the mind. It would be unreasonable, indeed, to expect it could be well adapted to refined or lofty sentiment; but you may judge from the few popular strains accompanying this letter.

The material Williams collected during his tour provided him with subject matter for a series of large watercolours, which he exhibited in the1820s, and for a later work, Select views in Greece (1824 and 1829). His prolific output relating to Greece earned him the name ‘Grecian’ Williams.

Many European artists visiting Greece at that time painted an idealised view of the landscape, evoking the style of the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. More interested in the ancient than modern Greece, artists often excluded the actual inhabitants of the land. Elsewhere in his account, Williams notes:

The distant views of Athens claim the style of Claude: his unbroken lines, that continuity and taking up of parts, sweetly transferring them to each other, and conveying to the mind the sentiment of beauty, well express what Athens is in her robes of silvery grey. The colouring, too, of Claude is just and accurate, as referable to Greece and her remote and lovely scenes.

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