Picnickers in Dovedale, a sketch by John Nixon

DERSB 2015.31

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery are delighted to have purchased a pencil, pen and ink sketch by John Nixon (c.1750-1818). We had tried to buy this sketch back in 2011 but were outbid and had assumed that was the end of the matter. Four years later, with thanks to serendipity and a generous dose of altruism from a member of the public, the sketch is now in our collection.

This sketch is important as it shows the unusual scene of five figures enjoying a picnic under the arch of Reynard’s Cave in Dovedale. An inked inscription in the bottom left reads, ‘3 Miss Johnsons of Loughborogh, J.N and Jaspar Atkinson at Dinner in Dove Dale, Derbyshire’.

J.N (John Nixon) looks directly at the viewer and has a sketchbook upon his lap whereas Jaspar Atkinson, the more dapper of the two, is depicted wearing tartan across his shoulder. The three Miss Johnsons are shown eating and drinking in their long skirts and the scene is completed by the large flagon which sits in the centre.

We know that Derbyshire was a popular tourist attraction during this period yet we possess very few visual representations of the tradition. Artists to Derbyshire did include figures in their works however these were usually local peasants, shown in agricultural or industrial pursuits. Nixon’s sketch shows us the visitors up close and allows for an insight into the diversions and attire of these tourists.

19th century engraving showing the steep path up to Reynard's Cave

A later 19th century engraving showing the steep path up to Reynard’s Cave

To arrive at their picnic spot these five must have climbed the steep scree path up to the cave, no doubt a tricky task in a long dress. They would probably have been accompanied by a guide, who may even have had the unenviable task of lugging up their picnic.
The sketch is currently on display in the Boyd Dawkin’s Study at Buxton Museum where it is shown alongside the Reynards Cave coin hoard.

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