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  Henry Salt. “Plate No. IV: The Pyramids at Cairo,” 1809.  
Salt, Pyramids

Henry Salt. “Plate No. IV: The Pyramids at Cairo,” 1809. Hand-colored aquatint engraving on wove paper by D. Havell after Henry Salt. Published in Twenty-four Views in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia and Egypt (London: William Miller, 1 May 1809). Image size (including text): 19 3/4 x 27 3/4". Sheet size: 21 1/4 x 30 3/8". Minor surface soiling. Overall excellent.
$3,200. [Order]

This outstanding and rare view of Cairo based on a watercolor by Henry Salt (1780–1827) was published by William Miller in Twenty-four Views in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia and Egypt, a portfolio of large-format aquatints that comprises one of the best early-19th-century visual records of the exotic “Orient.” Miller intended the portfolio to be a continuation of Thomas and William Daniell’s Oriental Scenery (1795–1809), a collection of aquatints created from the brothers’ watercolors of the sights they observed on a journey to India. The two portfolios are uniform in size, style, and execution, but the work by the Daniell brothers is the better known of the two. Nonetheless, the aquatints by Salt and his engravers are equal to those of the Daniells, and the present work is a superb example of Salt’s ability to capture the atmosphere of a picturesque locale.

Salt here presents an elevated view of a large walled compound of buildings in Cairo, featuring several minarets and a camel caravan in the foreground. The view looks west across the Nile, where the silhouettes of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) and the Pyramid of Kafhre emerge from the desert haze. The smaller Pyramid of Menkaura can barely be glimpsed to the left of the larger buildings. The mysterious quality of the scene is enhanced by rays of sunlight streaming from a break in the clouds.

Henry Salt, the artist, traveler, and diplomat, is best known today in the field of Egyptology. During an appointment as British consul-general in Alexandria in 1815, he accumulated a collection of important Egyptian antiquities, notably the head of Ramesses II, which he presented to the British Museum, and the sarcophagus of Ramesses III, which was bought by the Louvre. He also sponsored the excavations of Thebes and Abu Simbel, carrying out significant archaeological research himself at the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.

Born in Lichfield, England, in 1780, Henry Salt began his career as an artist, receiving his training under the topographical draughtsman Joseph Farington and the portrait painter John Hoppner. Salt was introduced to the Orient in 1802, when he was hired to accompany the antiquarian George Annesley, the viscount of Valentia, as his secretary and draughtsman on a tour of the East. The two men visited India via the Cape of Good Hope, Benares, Lucknow, Ceylon, and Madras. Salt then explored the Red Sea area and in 1805 visited the Ethiopian highlands. He returned to England in 1806. Salt’s watercolors from the trip were used to illustrate Lord Valentia's Voyages and Travels to India, published in 1809, and twenty-four were reproduced as aquatints in Miller’s spectacular portfolio of the East. The plates are valued for their historical and architectural accuracy, recording as they do buildings now demolished and places altered beyond recognition.

A magnificent view of Cairo and the pyramids at Giza from one of the most important British color-plate books of the 19th century.


Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot