State Library of South Australia

David Roberts’ Egypt - A Library Treasure

Date: 17 June 2016

Between 1838 and 1840 Scotsman David Roberts spent long periods travelling through the Middle East sketching the glories of Ancient Egypt and the sacred sites of the Holy Land (Israel). He later published these sketches as lithographs.

The temples at Abu Simbel from David Roberts The Holy Land Syria Idumea Arabi  Egypt and Nubia 1842-1849
The temples at Abu Simbel, from David Roberts The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia (1842-1849)

At age ten Roberts was apprenticed to a house painter and decorator. In his teens he became a scenery painter, first with a travelling circus and then with an Edinburgh theatre company. However, as a young man in London he began producing oil paintings and soon had a reputation as a fine artist. JMW Turner persuaded Roberts to leave his theatre work and devote himself to full-time painting.

Egypt had caught the popular imagination and Roberts spent two years in the Middle East, between 1838 and 1839, sketching and painting. On his return to London he produced a series of 247 glorious lithographs, which were published in parts with a commentary. Queen Victoria was his first subscriber.

The Library owns a complete set of the works, bound in six volumes. These are not only a Library treasure, but a personal favourite of several Library staff. The Royal Geographical Society of South Australia holds a set in its original twenty parts.

Editor's note:

To discover more treasures from our collections make sure you visit our upcoming exhibition, 'A few of our favourite things', in August. Keep an eye on our Exhibitions page for more information.

Story by Anthony Laube, Customer Contact Librarian

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