Small Streams


It’s Show(box) Time!
November 14, 2013, 6:54 am
Filed under: art, media, painting, technology, Uncategorized

I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum with a friend of my sister Susie’s. We mostly saw the 19th C. paintings and drawings: Constable, Turner, Rosetti, Burne Jones, etc. I saw a Constable drawing of an elm tree that had me doing a double take. Given my lack of familiarity with the genre of landscape, all I can say is that Constable’s elm tree makes Bob Ross’s pine tree look sad.

Constable landscape

Constable landscape

What caught my attention, of course, was the big wooden box in one of the galleries, Thomas Gainsborough’s Showbox.

Gainsborough's Showbox

Gainsborough’s Showbox

According to the V&A…

In the 1780s Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) painted a series of landscapes in oils on glass, which were viewed in a specially constructed ‘showbox’, described in this way:

“The machine consists of a number of glass planes, which are moveable…chiefly landscapes. They are lighted … at the back, and are viewed through a magnifying lens, by which means the effect produced is truly captivating.’
Gainsborough’s ‘showbox’ contained a painted glass transparency, set before a silk diffusing screen that was originally lit by three candles. The image is viewed through the adjustable lens at the front. The box opens at the top and back and also contains slots for storing the transparencies.

I guess this is not the first example of the magic lantern, but it does show that people’s imaginations were tilted that way since the 18th century. I’ll have to follow this post up with one about the V&A Museum of Childhood, which is just chock-full of viewer goodness. Until then, here’s a Gainsborough on glass:

2013-11-14 11.07.32

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