The earliest picture of quarrying in Derbyshire?

In February the museum bought 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 quarry, Derbyshire. Unknown artist, late 1700s

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.

Detail from Limestone Quarry, Derbyshire

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.

A View near Matlock, Derbyshire with Figures Working beneath a
Wooden Conveyor, Philip de Loutherbourg, 1785 (Yale Center for British Art)

Detail from A view near Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, John Boydell, 1794

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’.