An Englishman, an American & their Picturesque 1870s road trip through Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt.
During the winters of 1877–78 and 1878–79, the New York publishing house of D. Appleton & Co. sent 2 illustrators to tour Egypt and the Levant area to produce sketches for Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt a kind of sequel to their phenomenally successful Picturesque America and Picturesque Europe series.
Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt was a lavishly illustrated set of books issued as “two volumes or four divisions”; it was reprinted in London by J.S. Virtue & Co., as 4 volumes. Its two illustrators were the American John Douglas Woodward (1846 – 1924) of Virginia and Harry Fenn (1837 – 1911) who was born in Richmond Upon Thames in England.
Woodward’s family had Confederate sympathies and fled to Canada during the Civil War. In 1863, John left his family, travelling to New York and studying until 1865 at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design, exhibiting his first painting there in 1867. Fenn first came to America at 19, ostensibly just to see Niagara Falls. He stayed 6 years then sailed to Italy to study. On his return he illustrated his first 2 books, Snow Bound and Ballads of New England. These were pioneering books, the first Illustrated gift books produced in America. Fenns work marked the start of a new era in bookmaking and paved the way for a wave of illustrated books, a wave which would end with the advent of photography and photogravure printing techniques. Before his Middle Eastern winter trips with Woodward Fenn was already well known for illustrating the previous Picturesque America and Picturesque Europe series.
The pairs’ sketches were compiled during joint tours of Egypt and the Levant in the winters of 1877–78 and 1878–79. They received special permission to sketch inside and under the holy of holies, the Mosque of Omar (the Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem.
Woodward documented his 2 trips in letters home to his wife and mother. He compared the streets of Jerusalem with the “dirtiest alleys of Baltimore” and of elverywhere he went, Nazareth was “the worst”. Oppressed by the heat, glare, and barrenness, the best he could muster to say about the shore of the Dead Sea was “I suppose it is not so bad it couldn’t be worse”. He was most impressed by the Syrio-Roman ruins at Baalbek, producing beautiful etchings of the tumbledown temples there. On returning to New York in 1879 he spent much of the next 3 years readying the illustrations for print. The works were hugely successful, with Woodward and Fenn earning a massive $10 000 a year each in royalties.