This striking sheet made in black and white chalk on blue toned paper is an early landscape drawing by William Mulready. Mulready was regarded as one of the finest draftsman and most considerable painters of his generation: his finished works are rare and a large percentage of his drawings are now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
This drawing is therefore singular and offers unusual insight into Mulready's working practices. Mulready frequently went on excursions to draw with his wife's brothers, John and Cornelius Varley, along with John Varley's pupil, John Linnell. This group pioneered a fresh approach to plein air painting, which is evident in Mulready's earliest landscapes. Their preferred choice of subject-matter were regularly modest cottages or dilapidated agricultural buildings. In this beautifully worked drawing Mulready has focussed on the picturesque qualities of these ramshackle structures. The carefully rendering of the houses and the receding alley suggest that this study was undertaken, in part, as an exercise in perspective. The ladder hanging on the house on the right has been radically foreshortened and this sheet may well have been made using an optical device, such as a camera lucida. We know that Cornelius Varley, in particular, was interested in developing optical drawing aids, eventually patenting his ‘Graphic Telescope’. Artists in Mulready's circle regularly used optical devices, John Sell Cotman, for example, frequently used a camera lucida to help him record architectural elements, what is unusual, is to find studies such as this, which appear to be principally exercises in using such a device.