Posted by: Rob Viens | December 17, 2013

The Art of the Beagle – Conrad Martens Part II

Darwin was rather quiet for most of December – presumably getting his sea legs back after four months away from the Beagle.  Plus he was probably seasick as heck. So let me share a little more today on the new artist-in-residence on the expedition – Conrad Martens.

Martens was born in 1801 in London – one of three sons of the one-time Australian Consul. Clearly his parents valued art, as he and his brothers were all sent to study painting with the famous watercolor artist Copley Fielding.  Fielding (and later the Marten brothers) specialized in landscapes.

One of the falls on the Apsley – one of Martens later landscape paintings.

Conrad Martins landscape painting - Apsley

In May of 1833 Martens traveled to South America with the HMS Hyacinth (an 18 gun sloop) – on what was supposed to be a three-year voyage to the East Indies. His excitement paralleled Darwin’s when he arrive in Rio de Janeiro and noted:

“What a place for an artist! I do most fervently hope that I may once more visit it, and have more time to revel in such delicious scenes.” (Conrad Marten’s Journal  – see link below)

He soon encountered Robert Hammond (having departed the Beagle in May of 1833), who informed him of the expedition’s need of a new artist. So Martens enthusiastically  left the Hyacinth in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1833, and traveled via the brig Indus (a merchant ship out of Halifax) to Montevideo –  in search of Robert FitzRoy. It was his goal to try to join the Beagle crew. The rest, as they say, is history.

Darwin wrote of the new addition (and the lose of his friend Augustus Earle) to his sister in November:

“Poor Earl has never been well since leaving England & now his health is so entirely broken up that he leaves us – & Mr Marten, a pupil of C. Fielding, & excellent landscape drawer, has joined us. He is a pleasant person, & like all birds of that class, full up to the mouth with enthusiasm.” (Correspondence to Caroline Darwin, 13 November 1833).

Want to read all the details of Marten’s journey from England to Montevideo and all the way to  Sydney?  Well, like many of his contemporaries he kept a journal of his travels which was later published.  You can find a copy, transcribed by Michael Organ,  titled Conrad Martens : journal of a voyage from England to Australia aboard HMS Beagle and HMS Hyacinth 1833-35. Check it out!

Portrait Cove, Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, 1834 – one of Conrad Martens paintings from the Beagle Voyage.

Conrad Martins landscape painting – Portrait Cove

Late in 1834 Marten’s left the Beagle and headed west across the Pacific – first to Tahiti and eventually to Australia.  He settled in Sydney and spent the rest of his (long) life in New South Wales.  After Martens left the ship, FitzRoy never replaced him with a new artist (as far as I can tell).  To be fair,  it may have been hard to come by one along the west coast of South America in 1834 – at least a classical European artist. And I think FitzRoy was also struggling with space and money issues by that point in the voyage, too.

Marten’s went on to become a well-respected artist in Australia, living the rest of his life in the vicinity of Sydney (which he loved), and exhibiting his work all over the world. He died, after a long and successful career, in 1878.

View of Sydney Harbour showing Sydney Cove (Conrad Martens)

Conrad Martins landscape painting - Sydney

The funeral of Rear Admiral Phillip Parker King, 1856 (Conrad Martens) – If you recall, King was the commander of the first Beagle voyage.

Conrad Martins landscape painting – Phillip Parker King

Photo of Conrad Martens in the 1870’s

Conrad Martens

If you want to see a preview of the many sketches created by Martens on the voyage, check out the excellent online compilation titled Conrad Marten’s Sketchbook.  This “book” was compiled from the collection of the Cambridge University Library. It was these sketches that Martens used after the voyage to create a series of watercolor paintings, including one of his most well know images – The HMS Beagle at Tierra del Fuego:

Conrad Martins landscape painting – Beagle

Both Augustus Earle and Conrad Martens’ paintings and drawings provide us with a unique view of Darwin’s voyage.  Along with maps and charts, and Darwin’s poor diagrams (he really was not an artist), these are the only visuals from the 5 year trip. These days, you couldn’t take a trip like this and not come back with about 100,000 digital photos.  But in Darwin’s day, if you didn’t have an artist then you didn’t have pictures.  I’ll say it again – FitzRoy was the one to recognize the importance of this and made artists were represented on the trip. Kudos to his foresight!  (RJV)

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