William Henry Bartlett was one of the foremost geographical illustrators of his day and he travelled the world producing images for his publisher, George Virtue. He came to Ireland at least twice, as witness his illustrations for Ireland Illustrated, published in 1831 and for Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland in 1841.
Dunluce Castle By Bartlett and a recent photograph. While accurate in architectural detail, Bartlett also manages to convey the impression of the wildly romantic, remote and craggy location in a way a photograph simply fails to do
Bartlett’s method was to do a sepia wash painting, as detailed and accurate as possible, and this was then engraved by the expert engravers employed by Virtue – he used the same ones as Turner. But Bartlett was also an artist, not content with reproducing only in a factual manner. Like other artists of the period he strove to convey an impression, particularly of monumental scale and wild romanticism.
The results for his Irish engravings are wonderful indeed – and important, since they enable us to compare what he saw with what remains today. Some of his illustrations are so exact that comparison with a modern photograph shows that the object of the drawing has survived in much the same condition for almost 200 years.
St Canice’s Cathedral, then and now
Others allow us to see what is no longer visible on the ground – the Old Baal’s Bridge, in Limerick, for example, was demolished by 1830, so Bartlett’s pictures of it are an essential reminder of this picturesque and unusual structure.
A colourised version (not sure when this was done) of Bartlett’s Old Baal’s Bridge in Limerick, and the bridge that is there today
Although he illustrated streetscapes and contemporary buildings, Bartlett had a particular fondness for antiquities. Wherever he could, he selected scenes that contained ruins of abbeys or castles or ancient monuments such as high crosses.
He also, almost incidentally, has left us many scenes of daily life or of special occasions, such as the women washing clothes at the Old Baal’s Bridge, or the Pattern in Connemara.
I have provided comparison shots for Bartlett’s illustrations wherever I have them, and have limited myself to a few of the better-known places in Ireland. The writers of Scenery and Antiquities, N P Willis and J Sterling Coyne, also deserve a post of their own at some point, so I can see that we will be re-visiting this book in the future!
King John’s Castle in Limerick, and below is Bartlett’s original engraving of the Old Baal’s Bridge