This watercolour shows Rue de la Paix in Calais. Artist John Burgess exhibited at least three views of Calais and this may be the watercolour listed as ‘Old Lighthouse, and Hotel de Ville, Calais’ when exhibited at the Winter Exhibition of Sketches and Studies of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, in 1865-66.
The view includes the Watch Tower (or Tour du Guet), located in the Place d’Armes, which is 35 metres high and one of the oldest monuments in the city, and the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville), also in the Place d’Armes, a late Renaissance building of 1740, although its belfry was a survival of an earlier building.
Reminiscences of Burgess by his friend, the Sicilian-born pianist and professor Rosario Aspa, give us an insight into how the artist may have produced this study of Rue de la Paix:
‘He liked to sketch standing, the folio resting on the left arm… It gave him the opportunity of moving away when incommoded by lookers on, and it was his habit to shut up his book, as if he had finished, to take a turn round the streets, and then, getting another start, to secure as much as he could before the crowd had time to reassemble...’
Watercolourist John Burgess was born in Birmingham; the son of landscape painter John Cart Burgess (1788/9-1863) and Charlotte (born c.1792), daughter of painter and engraver Anker Smith (1759-1819). Burgess became a painter after an early career on the sea. In about 1833 he went to Italy via Normandy and Paris, and stayed there until 1837. At this period he was striving to be a figure painter, but he later turned to landscape. On his return he made sketching tours in Devon, Surrey and the Thames Valley, and in 1840 settled in Leamington Spa. In 1851 he was elected an associate member of the Society of Painters in Watercolour. Burgess was still living in Wellington Street, Leamington Spa, when his father died at that address in 1863.
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