Thomas Robins, Sen. (1715-1770) View of Cheltenham from the west signed and dated 'T Robins Del. depct 1748.' (on the gilded sheet, lower right) and further inscribed 'A WEST PROSPECT OF THE SPAW & TOWN OF CHELTENHAM/This Mineral has been discover'd about 30 year's, In 1719 Gabriel Davis, Mason, Receiving a Cure of a... it, sunk a Well and laid in Storis which was afterwards palisaded round &/wall'd in, But not in any great repute till 1740. Cap t. Henry Skillecorne the present Propri[etor]... Made a handsome Walk and Additional building [sic]' (on the gilded sheet, lower centre) pencil and watercolour, heightened with touches of bodycolour 8 x 16 in. (20.3 x 40.6 cm.)
Artist or Maker
Thomas Robins, Sen. (1715-1770)
London, RIBA Heinz Gallery, Gardens of Delight: the Art of Thomas Robins, 1976.
Lord Northwick, Thirlstane House, 1859.
Sir Thomas Phillips, Bt.
Alan G. Fenwick; Christie's, London, 3 July 1964, lot 38 (sold 30 gns).
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THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
It wasn't until a collection of 'pictures of Exotic Plants and insects' that had belonged to Thomas Robins Junior appeared that another artist, his father Thomas Robins Senior, came to light. A body of work by this highly talented artist began to be revealed through sketch books and other sources. Today, Thomas Robins Senior is more widely known than his son and recognised as one of the most important 18th Century painters of prospects of houses, specifically of Bath and the surrounding area. Robins style is distinguished through his highly skilled use of gouache and distinctive palette. Often his works are set within elaborate and fanciful decorative borders.
Robins' greatest legacy is the unique archive he produced, registering a period in English garden history whose details were hitherto unknown. No views survive recording the brief but important era when the Rococo taste was expressed in the English landscape. Like his antecedents, Jan Kip and Leonard Knyff, Robins produced bird's eye topographical views, although his idiosyncratic works are a representative rather than an accurate interpretation of the landscape. Robins tilts the perspective in a primitive or naïve manner, allowing him to focus on his main interest: recording the details of the scene. Gardens, are by nature transient and often are subject to changes in fashion; Robins outstanding miniaturist's technique faithfully recorded the landscape providing invaluable historical data in terms of layout, buildings, planting and colours.
This is the case with the present view of Cheltenham Spa, 1748. Cheltenham Spa came into existence through the projects of Henry Skillicorne, a retired trader. In 1716 the Waters had been discovered and the Royal Old Well Spa had been built on what is today the site of the Cheltenham Ladies College. By 1738 under Skillicorne the spa was being laid out. The present vista shows the spired church to the left with the Great House set below it. Passing across to the right one sees a wooden bridge that crosses the Chelt leading up to an avenue of trees that became the Well Walk with the Spa House to the right of the view, a brick well house set to the left of the Spa in the distance. By 1742 Skillcorne had added another assembly room two storeys high to the spa and this can be seen clearly in Robins prospect. The scene is particularly delightful for its anecdotal detail as figures promenade along the Well Walk and other figures are set within the wider landscape.
Amongst his other artistic talents, Robins had studied under a Huguenot fan painter and a view of the South East view of Cheltenham Well, designed as a fan decoration, was sold at Christie's, South Kensington, 7 December 1999, lot 40 (fig. 1). Another fan with a view looking South to Skillicorne's Spa House at Cheltenham is in the Cheltenham Museum collection, illustrated in John Harris (op. cit.), pl. 37.