John Dugmore of Swaffham (1793-1871)

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John Dugmore of Swaffham was born into Norfolk nobility in 1793. He benefited from a deep classical education and developed a sophisticated taste in the arts. On moving to London to seek his fame and fortune at the Royal Court, he met the man who was to become his patron, William Charles Keppel (1772–1849), 4th Earl of Albermarle. It is believed that Dugmore was responsible for Keppel children’s education, and he accompanied one of Keppel's sons on a Grand Tour in 1820. Over a period of twenty months, he passed from Scotland to Western Bohemia, France, Switzerland and Italy, recording the sights and views he encountered. 

Dugmore's work has been praised for not only being visual witnesses of the shape of many main and minor European cities, but also for his ability in feeling and amplifying the esthetic news which he was meeting place by place. It is thought that his drawing style varies according to the landscape, his German drawings being very linear and pure, and his French drawings are ‘touched’ by pencil and brush in a way that seems largely to anticipate the impressionist idea of the light.

The skill evident in these watercolours is quite breathtaking - the technical prowess in rendering perspective and proportion, perfect gradation of light and shade, meticulous delineation of detail. But not only this, these works occupy a fascinating place in the history of topography and topographical art.

It is to the antiquarians of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and their impulse to collect records of the world around them, that we owe much of the knowledge we have today about landscapes since lost or altered. Dugmore's drawings are a part of this effort, and through his association with William Charles Keppel (1772–1849), they represent this effort amongst the highest echelons of British society—an effort which extended to the monarch himself, George III.

George III amassed a collection of 50,000 items of topographical interest between 1760 and his death in 1820. Of the total collection—comprising maps, topographical drawings, watercolours and prints—about one third relates to the countries of Europe associated with the Grand Tour. This endeavour tells us much about the way in which these accumulated topographical records were an expression of British patriotism and sovereignty, at a time of growing imperial might.

Around this time, advancements in print technology meant that Britain was becoming the most prolific, and arguably the most technically skilled, producer of maps and prints in the world—a factor which played an important role in enabling dissemination of topographical images. But importantly, these Dugmore drawings are not prints but the original work of hand and brush, and as such they retain a sense of human feeling, a reminder that images of apparent topographical objectivity are inescapably the product of human response to landscape.

Dugmore's output was not large and his drawings are rare, but his daughter-in-law, Lady Hutton, made mention of the existence of many albums filled with around 130. Sixty-five drawings are recorded in detail in Lady Hutton’s last will. Among them, forty-seven were discovered by Guy Peppiatt and offered on sale at an English auction house. Another one is filed in Sabin Galleries archives, London.