MALTON, Thomas (the Elder)

Perspective Studies


n.d. [pre-1775].

Original drawing of classical capitals and urns with lines of perspective. Pen and brown and black ink, pencil and grey wash on laid paper without visible watermark, ruled border in brown ink. Sheet 302x218mm, window mount 350x275mm. Very slight soiling and foxing but overall in excellent condition. A very good, and rare, example of a study for an important book on perspective.

In 1775 Thomas Malton the Elder (1726-1801) published A Compleat Treatise On Perspective, In Theory and Practice; on the True Principles Of Dr. Brook Taylor. This drawing is a preliminary study for plate XXII from this book. Such drawings are rare; the last to appear before this one was sold at Christie’s in 2011.
Malton’s book was important: the Royal Academy had been founded only seven years before and in its Instrument of Foundation there was a specific requirement that the art and science of perspective be taught. A Compleat Treatise was the first book to be published on the subject following the founding of the RA. Malton was perhaps making a bid for his book to be adopted as a sort of “set text” and many Royal Academicians were among the initial subscribers. It was, from the outset, regarded as one of the best modern books on the subject, based as it was on the newest contemporary mathematical studies of perspective. The combination of science and art is captured beautifully in this drawing.
Bad luck in business forced Malton to leave England to start afresh as an artist in Dublin where he died in 1801 but his influence extended well into the nineteenth century thanks to his son (also called Thomas) and to Turner’s use of A Compleat Treatise in his own lectures at the Royal Academy where he was Professor of Perspective. Malton’s book and drawings would almost certainly have been introduced to Turner by Malton’s son in whose studio Turner worked as an apprentice in the 1780s and whom Turner regarded as his “my real master”. Some of Turner’s own drawings and sketches used in these lectures are held at the Tate and among them are two of the capitals from plate XXII of A Compleat Treatise whose origins can be traced back to this drawing by Thomas Malton the Elder.

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