How well do you know the Irish countryside? Do you look for new walking and hiking trails, visit castles and ruins, explore the prehistoric sites? Have you been to Dun Aonghasa, seen the Shanes Castle, walked the Viking Triangle, climbed the walls of the Dunbrody Abbey or sprayed with the seawater near the Hook Lighthouse?
George Victor Du Noyer certainly has been. For 22 years, he walked around the Irish countryside, recording the geological structure of Irish lands and incidentally sketching and drawing landscapes, sights and landmarks. As a result, his field notes and geological records became a true work of art. Overall his collection contains more than 5,000 watercolours and sketches. Some of them are now exhibited in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, until February 2018. Then, the works will be transferred to the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks, Dublin.
This year, the famous Dubliner celebrates his 200th birthday. Born in a French Huguenot family, du Noyer was educated in Dublin and then employed by the Ordnance Survey of Ireland and the National Botanic Gardens. Due to his artistic talent and attention to detail, he produced scientifically accurate works of art for his employers: sketches and painting of antiquities, monuments, fossils, plants and animals. In 1847, he started working for the newly formed Geological Survey Ireland (GSI), continuing his topographical and geological journey around Ireland. Not only did he create wonderfully-detailed geological maps, but also he observed and patiently documented anything that caught his eye – be it an unusual geological formation, or a plant, or an animal.
He wasn’t trained as a geologist, but became one through experience and was later accepted to the Royal Irish Academy. Today, most of his artwork is in the collections of the Royal Irish Academy and the GSI, that organised the exhibition.
Du Noyer lived in times of the Industrial Revolution and saw the railway built through ancient glacial rock formations. He witnessed the changes the country underwent in the 50s and the 60s and depicted the labour involved in areas like Mallow, Co Cork, and Malahide, Co Dublin.
The SW Arklow Harbour
Each drawing was carefully annotated, each fossil location was verified and thoroughly marked. “He worked almost like an encyclopedist,” explains Peter Murray, co-curator of the exhibition and the recently-retired director of the Crawford Art Gallery. Each place was depicted multiple times, from different angles, which almost gives us an impression of being in a 3D interactive gallery.
Why not visit the exhibition and then compare how this or that area looked 200 years ago? Find a Dolmen where George du Noyer sat with his faithful spaniel Mr Buff, try and see what he saw in the beautiful Irish landscapes.
It is a truly magical feeling, to see familiar places through the artist’s eye. I’ll never forget how I came back from my trip to Venice and went to the John Singer Sargent exhibition of Venetian scenes. The delight I felt looking at his paintings and thinking “I was there too! I recognise this place.” Now we have a chance to feel the same joy with a hint of nostalgia while wandering around the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.