David Roberts was born on October 24, 1796 at Stockbridge, Edinburgh in Scotland. He exhibited immense artistic talents as a child through his excellent sketches of Scottish monuments and castles. His family encouraged his artistic endowments and he started out as an apprentice to a housepainter and decorator. During his seven-year tenure here, he learned art in the evening classes.
Later, Roberts started paintings sceneries for a traveling circus. He also painted many types of scenery for theaters like Drury Lane, London and The Theater Royal, Glasgow when he shifted to London. He met Clarkson Stanfield in 1820 while painting at the Pantheon, Edinburgh. Clarkson encouraged his art and prodded him to send his works to exhibitions. At his instance in 1822, Roberts sent three pictures to Exhibition of Works by Living Artists, Edinburgh and exhibited a few easel paintings at Fine Arts Institution in Edinburgh. While illustrating for the circus, he made many sketches of local costumes and sceneries of different places he traveled with the circus company.
Roberts then moved to London to develop his painting career. He held the first exhibition of his paintings at Society of British Artists in 1824, then at Royal Academy and British Institution in 1826. Although he became a member of Society of British Artists and later its President in 1831, he resigned from the post in 1835. In 1838, he became an Associate of the Royal Academy and later became a Member in 1841. Many of his drawings of Spain saw publication in Picturesque Sketches in Spain between 1832 and 1833. Roberts then slowly left scene painting to develop easel painting on architectures and the topographies of different places. He, however, returned to theater scenery painting only for designing many of Charles Dickens productions.
David Roberts was an extensive traveler. He first traveled to Spain and Algeria between 1832 and 1833. These places were unknown to English travelers of that period. From Gibraltar, Roberts went on a short trip to Africa through Morocco, Tangiers, and Tetuan, his first ever exposure to Africa. He elaborated his sketches of Spain into many beautiful and attractive paintings.
Various lithographs were made of his paintings of costumes and sceneries of Spain. This inspired Roberts to set out on his next journey of Egypt, Nubia, Holy Land, Syria, and other areas of Middle East. He wanted to see, study, and sketch the ancient and Biblical monumental sites in detail. Roberts started out on his tour of Egypt in 1838. Between 1833 and 1838, he sold his oil paintings, watercolors and earned commissions for book illustrations. He used this money for his second expedition to Egypt. Roberts was the first English artist to draw the magnificent Egyptian monuments.
Roberts sailed forth from London in August 1838. He went through France, Marseilles, Malta, Greece, and then reached Alexandria in September. From here, he hired a boat, its crew, and a servant and went to Cairo. He visited the pyramids, Sphinx and went ahead with the river journey. During this trip, he visited and surveyed innumerable monuments and temples along River Nile. He depicted the lively colors of Cairo, minute ruins, and symbolic details of images and monuments in his watercolors. His drawings highlight the Egyptians monuments before restoration. He put all his visits into more than a hundred sketches, mostly on his way back down the river.
The second part of his Egyptian journey started in 1839. He left Cairo with two of his friends and traveled to Holy Land and modern Lebanon through Suez, Mount Sinai, and Petra. He visited many places from Dan to Beersheba. Roberts only made sketches of places and monuments of the different places he visited. He did not make the complete paintings there itself. Instead, he used the sketches and other material to produce the final paintings in the studio. He returned to England after eleven months.
After his return to England, he asked Francis Graham Moon to publish his works and Mr. Louis Haghe to make the lithographs. Private subscribers pooled in finance to publish the complete work totaling 6 volumes and 247 lithographs between 1842 and 1849 entitled The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia. This extensive work earned enormous fame and respect for David Roberts. Roberts works were very accurate and precise in displaying the perfect architecture, culture, costumes, and landscapes of Egypt and Middle East.
Roberts continued to paint and travel until the last. He was working on one of his works on the Thames of St. Pauls Cathedral when he died of a sudden stroke on November 25, 1864. Even today his paintings and illustrations of Egypt are very popular though they are more than 150 years old. Roberts works are on greeting cards, postcards, books, and other publications of modern Egypt. Many of his works are at Victoria and Albert Museum. His prints of journals and paintings are collectors items fetching huge sums of money, an incredible accomplishment for the son of a humble shoemaker who had hardly any school education or formal training.
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The Luxor Portfolio: 10 Fine Lithographs
by David Roberts (Illustrator) – Paperback: 10 pages; The American University in Cairo Press; Gift edition (Feb 1, 2011)
These handsome portfolios in a special new gift edition format contain ten fine art prints each of David Roberts's superb nineteenth-century lithographs of Egypt, ancient and modern. Between 1842 and 1849, on the basis of sketches made on the spot and aided by his excellent memory, David Roberts produced the drawings that Louis Haghe turned into prints published by Francis Graham Moon.
The Holy Land and Egypt & Nubia
by David Roberts Hardcover: 287 pages; Rizzoli; Slipcase edition (Oct 6, 2000)
David Roberts is considered one of the most expressive painters and historical record keepers of the nineteenth century, and this book collects his portraits of two of the world's most eternally fascinating regions. In 1838, Roberts traveled form his native Scotland to the Holy Land and Egypt, where he created classic paintings of the monument, cities, landscapes, and people. After his return to Scotland, lithographs of these 247 paintings were published in six volumes.
The Holy Land: Yesterday and Today, Lithographs and Diaries by David Roberts, R.A.
by David Roberts (Illustrator), Antonio Attini (Photographer), Antony Shugaar
Roberts succeeded in overcoming his humble beginnings, and quickly became one of the most acclaimed artists of the period. An excellent landscape artist, after traveling repeatedly throughout Europe, he set out for Egypt in 1838, and during the first months of the following years, he toured the Sinai Peninsula, Petra, Jerusalem, Palestine, the coast of Lebanon, and Baalbec. The lithographs taken from the sketches he made during that remarkable journey of exploration in the Holy Land, and published in London by Francis Graham Moon between 1842 and 1849, assured him a fame that has lasted to the present day. This volume contains the original plates of the first edition, in large format, arranged for the first time in correct chronological order, with commentary and considerable extracts from Roberts' journal. Each illustration, moreover, is paired with a photograph that depicts the same a century and a half later.
The Holy Land and Egypt Yesterday and Today
by David Roberts (Illustrator), Fabio Bourbon, Antonio Attini (Photographer) – Hardcover: 544 pages; White Star; 1st edition (Sep 18, 2007)
This exceptional slipcased package presents, in two volumes, full-color plates of his original artwork, accompanied by commentary and extracts from his journals. In a fascinating comparison between the lands that Roberts depicts and their modern-day incarnations, White Star has juxtaposed new photographs from travel photographer Antonio Attini with sketches of the same site drawn by Roberts, revealing the same view, more than a century and a half later.
Egypt: Yesterday and Today
by David Roberts, Fabio Bourbon, Antonio Attini (Photographer) Hardcover: 272 pages; Stewart Tabori & Chang (Nov 1996) From Booklist , March 1, 1997
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Scotsman David Roberts produced numerous views of extraordinary Egyptian sites in carefully rendered, beautifully expressive lithographs. Lavishly produced, this large-format book highlights the diaries kept by Roberts as well as his remarkable body of artwork, which so lyrically captured Egypt's celebrated monuments and timeless landscapes. In a fascinating juxtaposition, photographer Antonio Attini contributes recent photographs depicting each subject Roberts interpreted so many years earlier. These contemporary visions of such historically rich settings offer intriguing counterpoints to the grand scale of the reproductions included here. Alice Joyce
David Roberts: Travels in Egypt & the Holy Land
by Debra N. Mancoff, David Roberts Paperback: 127 pages: Pomegranate Communications (Sep 1, 1999)
In 1838, British artist David Roberts (1796-1864) embarked on a journey that would shape Europe's perception of the Middle East. Nurtured on Bible stories and tales of the exotic Orient, Roberts had always dreamed of exploring the Holy Land, though travel there was an arduous, dangerous undertaking. While he set himself the goal of bringing home an accurate visual record, he returned with a portfolio of hand-tinted lithographs that lost nothing of romanticism. His use of light, color, and atmosphere lent an aura of exoticism to his realistic view. Beautifully presented and reasonably priced, with 64 color reproductions and lucid, lively text, Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land evokes the moment in history when the European and Middle Eastern cultures discovered one another. By Debra Mancoff.
A Journey in Egypt
by David Roberts Paperback; Casa Editrice Bonechi (1994)
Follow the steps of David Roberts (1796-1864) in his discovery of Egypt. Fascinated by the ruins left by men of past ages, he drew his subject from various view points and at different hours. His works provide a precise, almost photographic, documentation of the appearance of ancient Egypt, now forever lost.