This view is in the general format and size of a vue d’optique — a perspective view produced as a hand-colored print generally intended to be viewed through a convex lens. Vues d’optique often were rendered in high-key color and dramatic linear perspective which enhanced the illusion of three-dimensionality when viewed through the lens, making it seem like the viewer was really there. Thus, they served as a form of visual entertainment. The viewing devices were known variously as zograscopes, optiques, optical machines and peepshows. According to the Getty Research Institute, street performers would set up viewing boxes with a series of prints giving a pictorial tour of famous landmarks, dramatic events and foreign lands. Vues d’optique were also purchased by Grand Tour travelers as souvenirs to be viewed at home as a parlor activity. To cater to this broad audience, the prints often had titles and descriptions in two or more languages. Because the images are reversed in viewing devices, the main titles on some vues d’optique are backwards. Vues d’optique were also hung on walls as decoration.
John Donowell was one of the leading architectural draftsman of the third quarter of the 18th century working in London. He exhibited at the Free Society of Artists in 1761, the Society of Artists from 1762 to 1770, and at the Royal Academy from 1778 to 1786. A number of his drawings were engraved and published as prints.
William Woollett was an engraver working in London, and one of the first English engravers to become well known in Continental Europe. A pupil of John Tinney, he studied at St. Martin’s Lane Academy. His earliest engravings were topographical plates published by Tinney from around 1755 to 1757. He worked for the prominent publisher John Boydell from 1760. He exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1760 to 1777 and became a member in 1766, also serving as secretary for several years. From 1775 to 1785 he served as Historical Engraver to the King. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Full title and publication information: “A View of Exeter College back gate (a), the Museum (b), the Theatre (c), the Printing House (d), &c. in the University of Oxford. Veuë de la Porte de derriere du College d’Exeter (a), du Musoeum (b), du Theatre (c), de l’Imprimerie (d), &c. dans l’Université d’Oxford. I Donowell Arch. del. Published according to Act of Parliament Feb. 1755 & Sold by John Tinney at the Golden Lion in Fleetstreet, London.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soiling. Some tape residue upper left and right corners, verso, lightly showing through to the front, easily matted out. Inked number upper left corner, probably of the period, can be matted out.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 3, p. 306 (Donowell).
Fagan, Louis. A Catalogue Raisonne of the Engraved Works of William Woollett. London: The Fine Art Society, Ltd., 1885. Items XVIII-XXV. pp. 11-12. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=pTIEAAAAYAAJ (3 June 2009).
“Emperor’s Palace in Beijing.” Devices of Wonder. J. Paul Getty Trust. 2001. http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/devices/html/homepage.html (30 September 2002).
Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. 2001. http://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-w-z.html (3 June 2009).
“Watercolour — A View of the Grand Walk, Marylebone Gardens.” Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. http://www.bmagic.org.uk/objects/1953P170 (3 June 2009).