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Paintings Make the Best Tour Guides

Roberts Stormy Landscape

In the wildly popular HBO television series Game of Thrones, the dramatic landscapes match the high drama that plays out on screen. Many of the show’s most memorable scenes are shot on location in Northern Ireland—its rugged terrain, remote beaches, romantic ruins, and tempestuous weather offer the ideal setting for the often grim but always thrilling fantasy. Fans of the show from around the world have taken note and are flocking to key film sites, spurring a robust tourism industry.

That seeing a beautiful vista on screen might make you want to experience the place for yourself is hardly surprising, and thanks to success stories like Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies in New Zealand, travel marketers and tourism boards the world over are looking to brand through television and movies. But long before the advent of film, savvy artists and entrepreneurs marketed Ireland’s scenic beauty to well-heeled travelers through paintings, engravings, and even cartographic board games, examples of which can be seen in Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840.

Early views of Ireland in art were generally detailed drawings of major cities and ports made by draftsmen and mapmakers, but by the mid-eighteenth century, a growing appreciation for nature and a rising interest in landscape aesthetics saw an increase in site-specific works of the Irish countryside.

Fisher View of the Lakes of Killarney

Landowners often commissioned paintings depicting the scenery around their stately homes. In the case of the view of Killarney shown above, local landowner Lord Kenmare and the self-taught artist Jonathan Fisher collaborated to produce a series of large paintings, which Fisher then turned into a book of engravings called A Picturesque Tour of Killarney. The book included specific instructions on how to view the lake from the best possible vantage points and was in high demand with both wealthy sightseers and those who could not make it to Killarney but sought a vicarious experience.

Another tourist locale in eighteenth-century Ireland made more popular by picturesque engravings was the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder on the island’s northeast coast in what is now Northern Ireland. The engravings seen below are based on paintings by Irish artist Susanna Drury, who is said to have spent three months living in the Causeway area while she completed her meticulous pictures. The equally-detailed engravings by François Vivares received wide European circulation.

Causeway West

Causeway East

Ireland’s popularity as a tourist destination was made manifest when Walker’s Tour through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime was published in 1812. This map board game had players take turns progressing around the country from Dublin by spinning a top-like device called a totum and following a carefully constructed route of what were deemed the island’s must-see towns, estates, and landscapes. To win, a player had to land directly on place number 113, the “bold and romantic” Giant’s Causeway.

Walkers Tour

Whether eighteenth-century painters or twenty-first-century filmmakers, artists and in turn, tourists, have been inspired by the Irish landscape for centuries. If a trip across the pond is not in the cards, come be inspired by Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design before it closes June 21.

—Anna Decatur, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts

Image Credits:

Thomas Sautelle Roberts. Stormy Landscape with Anglers, c. 1820. Private Collection.

Jonathan Fisher. A View of the Lakes of Killarney from the Park of Kenmare House, c. 1768. Private Collection.

Francois Vivares (Engraver). The East and West Prospects of the Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim, May 1, 1777. Rolf and Magda Loeber.

Published by William Darton Jr. Walker's Tour through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime, Published March 9, 1812. Rolf and Magda Loeber.