The legend “E.T.” Compton (1849 –1921). The Quaker boy from N.E. London who taught art to a Princess, climbed over 300 humungous mountains all over the planet and painted sights few humans, even today, will ever see.
Renowned for his “brilliant mountaineering skill on ice and rock, his truly admirable perseverance, his inexhaustible patience in bearing hardships”, Edward Theodore Compton, a.k.a. “E. T.” Compton, (1849 –1921) also painted the mountains he knew so intimately. And he was as good a painter as he was a climber.
He was born in the low lying urban sprawl of Stoke Newington in London and, to get their freakishly artistically talented son a better education, E.T.’s deeply pious Quaker parents (you couldn’t make this stuff up) emigrated to Germany where the fees for a good school would be a lot cheaper. It just gets better. They settled in Darmstadt, which was the seat of the Grand Duchy of Hesse under Louis III, the Grand Duke of Hesse. Emulating his father, Edward became an art teacher and one of his pupils was Alice, Princess of Hesse.
In 1867 and at 18 years old, this North East London boy set off on a years jaunt touring Germany’s Rhineland, Mosel and Eifel regions. Spellbound, he scribbled off endless sketches of the scenery. He hadn’t been home long before the entire Quaker Compton family set off on another mountain tour, this time to Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, home of the monstrous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. His outskirts-of-London mind completely blown away, E.T. decided to be a painter, and a climber. Of the biggest mountains he could find.
And so it was. In a life comprised of seemingly non-stop mountain climbing & painting excursions, Compton travelled to, and climbed mountains in; Scotland, Italy, Austria, Scandinavia, North Africa, Corsica, Norway (including the remote Lofoten Islands), Spain and even the mighty Andes in Colombia.
Compton set down what few human eyes had seen at the time, in a oils & watercolor Paintings and ink drawings. It’s worth noting that, apart from attending various art schools, including very briefly, London’s Royal Academy, Compton was mainly self-taught as an artist.
In 1909 Compton accompanied his friend, the Austrian mountaineer, Karl Blodig on a series of tours in Austria’s Silvretta Alps. By the time WW1 was in full swing, Compton was still in Austria. An Englishman. In Austria. Inexplicably he was invited by the Austrian army to paint the scenes at the front in the mountains but the Bavarian High Command though better of having an Englishman painting the war from the German side and he was forbidden to do so. He was also excluded from the Munich Artists’ Association, again because he was English.
Amongst his notable ascents were the Torre di Brenta Dolomites which he first climbed in 1882; the 10,000 foot Cima Brenta, being the first to climb it by its south wall in 1882; and Italy’s Grosse Fermeda. In 1905 he climbed, with his mate Karl Blodig, the formidable Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey – considered the most difficult and serious of 4,000 metre and over mountains to club on the planet.
To top this off, in 1919 Compton climbed the 12, 461 foot Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria and the highest mountain in the Alps east of the Brenner Pass. At the age of 70.
Edward Theodore Compton died 2 years later, age 72. He left a son, Edward and a daughter Dora. Both became mountain painters. His other daughter Marion settled for being a flower and still life painter.
As a mountaineer E.T. made 300 major ascents, including no fewer than 27 first human ascents of humungous mountains all over the planet.
As a painter he brought home the gold.
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