A Grimm view of Bath

BathwickImagine life before the camera. If you wanted to capture the scene before you, there was no press-button answer. You had to get busy with your sketchpad. Or if you were seriously determined, you could employ a professional to fill your holiday albums.

One such was Samuel Hieronymous Grimm. He was a Swiss artist who started his career with dramatic Alpine scenes, sketched his way through France and then settled in England in 1768. His greatest patron here was Dr Richard Kaye, an able cleric who rose from country parson to Dean of Lincoln. Each step up the ladder meant a new part of the country to explore, with Grimm at his side, quiet and unobtrusive, making sketch after sketch in Indian ink.

Beau Nash's HouseAs they grew old together, they spent the summers of 1788 to 1790 in West Country health resorts, including Bath. Grimm was as industrious as ever, making over 70 sketches of Bath and the surrounding countryside. Grimm's drawings have a freshness and immediacy so often missing from the stiff engravings and posed portraits of the period. Ordinary people wander across his sketches or peer curiously at an artist perversely interested in a building only half up. We see the congregation kneeling in prayer in Bath Abbey or the Dean preaching impromptu to a group of chance-met children near Prior Park. More than any other artist, Grimm shows us the the Georgian city as it really was.

First published in Bath City Life (Summer 1993)

Dr Kaye bequeathed the bulk of his huge collection of Grimm drawings to the British Museum. They are now in the Manuscripts Department of the British Library, and can be viewed online. See also Jean Manco, Everything Curious.