Depicting Derbyshire

Depicting Derbyshire

We now have our eighteenth-century watercolours and sketches available via an online catalogue –  The website, which has been funded by a grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, showcases art works of Derbyshire made between 1700-1820. These works are searchable via a map function, through keywords or through a full text search.


map function

Alongside the collections from Buxton Museum, there are also works from Derby Museums, the Derbyshire Record Office, Chatsworth House, The Arkwright Society and The Wordsworth Trust. This in an on-going project and we hope to add further pictures online in the coming year.


Examples of works online

The museum’s oil paintings can be searched via ArtUK.

We will be tweeting watercolours from our collections every Wednesday using the #watercolourwednesday and #depictingderbyshire hashtags.

Getting around eighteenth-century Derbyshire

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Pen and ink sketch of Matlock Bath from a sketchbook attributed to John Ramsay (1768-1845). (Buxton Museum 2016.8)


Derbyshire’s beauty spots feature in many eighteenth-century sketchbooks. These books usually present views of Matlock Bath, Dovedale and various country houses. They don’t however give much insight into the practicalities of travelling around the County as logistical depictions are usually overlooked, in favour of sketches of the natural or built environment.

We have recently ‘re-discovered’ a sketchbook in the collection at Buxton Museum which gives a comic insight into the art of travel around 1800.


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We know that many visitors to the County would have arrived via stage coach. When Thomas Sandby travelled to Derbyshire in 1777, he and his companions fist took a coach from London to Nottingham.* They stopped in St Albans on their way, where they had a rather dismal dinner, ‘Here we stayed about half an hour to sup on what was spread on the table against our arrival, none of the best you may be sure, for those who travel in a stage coach are generally look’d upon as nobody and must take up with the leavings of others guests, such was our fare’ (British Library, Add MS 42232, fol. 1).

Although Sandby complains that stage coach travellers were looked down upon, the benefit of a coach was that it at least offered some protection from the weather. John Skinner entered Derbyshire from Cheshire via the Cat and Fiddle which he dubs, ‘the most dreary road imaginable’.  His approach ‘was rendered still more unpleasant by the rain and sleet driving with violence in our faces accompanied by so strong a wind we found some difficulty in sitting our horses’ (John Skinner, British Library, MS 33640).

Once in Derbyshire, donkeys could be rented to take tourists to various sites. When a woman visited Matlock Bath in 1807 she hired a donkey and rode to Cromford to admire Richard Arkwright’s house. She notes in her diary that the donkey was ‘one of the most tractable’ she had ever mounted (Journal 1807, Beinecke Library, Osbournd433). Others appeared to have fared less well with their rented steeds.


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A scene in Dovedale

*This beautifully illustrated travelougue is embossed on the spine ‘Forrest’s Tours’ however Kim Sloan has identified its author to be Thomas Sandby. See Kim Sloan and P.Joyner, ‘A Cozens album in the National Library of Wales’, Walpole Society Annual, vol. LVII, 1995, 114


Picnickers in Dovedale, a sketch by John Nixon

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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.

Mary Mitford watercolour of Dovedale

Mary Mitford, Dovedale (DERSB 2015.25)

Mary Mitford, Dovedale (DERSB 2015.25)

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is thrilled to announce its latest eighteenth-century acquisition.  The Museum was successful in securing funding from the Museum Association’s Beecroft Bequest, to acquire a watercolour of Dovedale painted by Mary Mitford.

This watercolour is important as it is a rare and early example of a woman artist painting in Dovedale. Little is known about the life of Mary Mitford, she was born around 1742 and appears to have been working up until around 1774. We don’t know when Mitford visited Derbyshire but we do possess another watercolour by her, showing the old baths at Matlock Bath.

Mary Mitford, Old Baths, Matlock Bath (DERSB 40004)

Mary Mitford, Old Baths, Matlock Bath (DERSB 40004)

Mitford’s brothers, Colonel William Mitford and Lord Redesdale were both students of William Gilpin and Mary’s watercolours follow the Gilpin tradition. Kim Sloan in ‘A Noble Art’ (2000) has suggested that she was a pupil of William Marlow.  This is interesting as Marlow painted the bath complex in Matlock Bath too, a painting that we bought as part of the Enlightenment! project in 2011.

William Marlow, Matlock Bath (DERSB 2011.4)

William Marlow, Matlock Bath (DERSB 2011.4)

Mitford ‘s work is poorly represented in museum collections. The British Museum has a watercolour attributed to her showing a scene in Switzerland, which is very similar in style to the Dovedale watercolour.


Church Rock in Dove DaleA View of Reynard’s Hall in Dove DaleDove Dale The Dove Holes, Dove DaleProspect in Dove Dale 3 miles north of AshbournView in Dove Dale
Thorp CloudThe Head of Dove DaleStraights of Dove Dale, DerbyshireImage 9Prospect in Dove Dale 3 miles north of Ashbourn
A View of the Streights in Dove DaleA Scene in Dove DaleA view of Reynard's Hall in Dove Dale

Dovedale , a set on Flickr.