Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Painting of the Day: The Emperor of Austria ascending the Great Pyramid, 1869

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This pencil and watercolor scene by William R. I. Simpson has an interesting history. The creation of the piece was described in “The Illustrated London News” in December of 1869.”

Mr. Simpson was known for his sense of humor and his particular eye for the absurd, He was quoted as follows during a visit to Egypt in 1869: “I went out one day and saw the Emperor of Austria lugged to the top of the Great Pyramid by two Arabs as if he had been only an overland passenger.”

This was a common practice at the time. In fact, it was a common practice for tourists to be dragged to the top of the pyramid until very recently. But, for an Emperor to be hauled in such an undignified manner struck Mr. Simpson as quite ridiculous and unceremonious.

What brought Emperor Franz Josef to Egypt? He was one of many European Royals and dignitaries in Egypt in November of 1869 for the opening of the Suez Canal which replaced the extremely inconvenient “Overland Route” via Cairo and across the desert on the way to India.

William Simpson was a lithographer and prolific watercolor painter, who would ultimately become what we would no now label a “war-correspondent,” traveling the world to cover wars and news for London newspapers—transferring the events into vigorous sketches which were neatly transformed into wood-engravings.

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