A look at eighteenth-century images of quarrying and mining in Derbyshire
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery recently purchased a small eighteenth-century watercolour from Chiswick Auctions in London. We don’t know who painted it or when, and its title, ‘Limestone Quarry, Derbyshire’ is somewhat ambiguous.
It is however, the earliest picture of limestone quarrying that the museum owns. It is perhaps the earliest picture of Derbyshire quarrying in existence.
Limestone quarrying was, and still is, an important industry for Derbyshire and the landscape is littered with the remains of old quarries. Although ubiquitous across the county, quarries very rarely make it into early topographical views of the area. The watercolour shows quarry workers, complete with pick-axes, chiselling away at the cliff face on the right hand side. In the centre, smoke can be seen billowing from a small lime kiln.
In the eighteenth-century artists had a complex relationship with industry. Lead mines and their associated processes form part of the established canon for the picturesque tour of Derbyshire. When John Webber and William Day visit the county in 1789 they paint Odin Mine near Castleton and Guilderoy Mine near Matlock Bath. Lead workers feature in Philip de Loutherbourg’s ‘View near Matlock’, 1785 and women can be seen washing lead ore in the River Derwent in John Boydell’s engraving of Matlock Bath.
There is not the same tradition of painting quarries in eighteenth-century Derbyshire. The subterranean workings of the mines fitted into the picturesque aesthetic more easily than the quarried rockfaces. In fact, one of the first proponents of the picturesque was John Dalton, who in the 1750s, described the mines in Whitehaven, Cumbria within the picturesque framework. Quarries appear to have been outside this recognised tradition hence why this acquisition is so rare and special for the museum.
The picture was bought with Art Fund support as part of the ‘New Collecting Awards’.