The nineteenth century was a time of remarkable changes. What had started in the first flush of Romanticism born out of the Age of Reason transformed into Victorian modern industrialization that saw factories and electrified urban sprawl. Revolutions, colonization and existential modernism saw the world transform like no other century before it. The unsettling changes in society drove many to try to embrace a simpler lifestyle, believing that the traditions of the old ways were being lost. The Pre-Raphaelites, for example, tried to recapture what they saw as a fading spirituality in contemporary art.
One man who watched the unfolding of the entire century, born during the Napoleonic Wars and dying shortly before WWI was English artist William Callow(1812-1908)[RWS:Royal Watercolour Society]. Working almost exclusively in plein aire watercolours traveling around Europe and documenting the scenic architecture with loving detail, as he watched his world slowly disappear behind smoke stacks, rail yards and tenement buildings. Hardly could he have imagined that most of what he painted would be totally destroyed in the following century.
Callow is not remembered as a great or famous artist. He is not mentioned in the canons of art history, and there are no retrospectives in major museums. But his quaint and sentimental picture postcard watercolours are still as charming today as they were over a century ago, which is why I keep a reproduction of his work hanging in my studio. A last, dying glimpse into a world that was lost forever.