Vera Cruz, and Castle of San Juan D’Ulloa, by the British 19th century topographical painter Daniel Egerton, leads Bonhams Travel and Exploration Sale in London on 7 February. It is estimated at £200,000-300,000.
The painting has been in private hands since it was first exhibited at the Society of British Artists in the late 1830s, and has been owned by the same family for at least the last 120 years.
Daniel Egerton (1797-1842) led a short but turbulent life, and his time in Mexico played a pivotal role in his artistic career. Born in London in 1797, Egerton made his first trip to Mexico in 1831. He spent five years travelling the country sketching the scenery. On his return to England in 1836, he created 13 large scale oils and watercolours, and in due course published 12 of them as a set of lithographs. These proved very popular, and in 1840 he returned to Mexico, having abandoned his wife and family in favour of the teenage daughter of a fellow artist. The pair settled in Mexico City where Egerton and his 18 years old pregnant mistress were mysteriously murdered in 1842, possibly in an argument over a property deal.
Vera Cruz, and Castle of San Juan D’Ulloa is one of the limited number of oil paintings which Egerton produced in London in 1836, and among the few surviving works by the artist where the location is known.
Bonhams Senior Specialist, Rhyanon Demery, who is curating the Travel and Exploration Sale next February said: “Beautifully presented in an ornate gilt frame, this painting demonstrates Egerton’s understanding of Mexico; bringing together landscape, history and contemporary life. We also see his skill in capturing light and movement, through the glow of the sky and movement of clouds, to the horseman racing across the beach. It is a rare and important painting of Mexico by a significant, yet elusive, British artist.”
Notes by Daniel Egerton on Vera Cruz, and Castle of San Juan D’Ulloa from D. T. Egerton Egerton’s Views in Mexico; being a series of twelve coloured plates executed by himself from the original drawings, accompanied with a short description (London, 1840):
This is the principal port of the Republic, situated in the Gulf, in N. lat. 19°, W. long. 96°, and that by which the Spaniards, the conquerors of Mexico, entered in 1521. The Castle of San Juan, seen in the picture, was their last strong-hold, when, after a dominion of 300 years, they were driven from a country where they had established their religion, their laws, customs, and language, leaving but faint vestiges of its aboriginal character. The coast is extremely dangerous, and the harbour itself affords no shelter from the violence of the north winds (nortes), which prevail generally from November to February. These winds, however, have a salutary effect, dispersing the miasma that hangs over the coast during the summer and rainy seasons, and which is supposed to produce the pestilential disease called vomito prieto, before mentioned, The Castle of San Juan is built upon a small island, upon which is likewise situated a lighthouse. It is a strong fortress, commanding the city, as well as protecting the approaches to it by sea, and has been converted, on several occasions, into an offensive power, instead of a protecting one. The land around the city lies low for some miles, and is an unhealthy spot. The route shown in the picture is the main one, leading through heavy sands to the interior, and towards the Capital. The Correo (postman), a class of men who seldom spare horseflesh, gallops along, regardless of the heat, or of the nature of the road: the white handkerchief flapping about under his hat is a contrivance in general use among riders, motion being given to the hanging ends, in travelling along, a current of air is produced, which is cooling to the face. The muleteer chooses his way over the hard wet sand, and, with steady pace, conducts his litter. One with a guiding rein, precedes the first mule that bears litter, the hinder one is kept to his work by a driver, while in the rear another conducts the light baggage and relays: the abrupt ascent from the coast, after the first few leagues, the bad roads, together with the excessive heat, render this mode of conveyance the most agreeable.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest and most renowned auctioneers of fine art and antiques, motor cars and jewellery. The main salerooms are in London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, with sales also held in Knightsbridge, Edinburgh, Paris, San Francisco and Sydney. With a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 22 countries, Bonhams offers sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of forthcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, please visit bonhams.com.