Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Walking the Rift: The Missionary Art of Bishop Alfred Robert Tucker

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Walking the Rift: The Missionary Art of Bishop Alfred Robert Tucker

Article excerpt

Professional artists were quite frequently essential personnel during the early Victorian voyages of discovery in East Africa. Art was flourishing in Great Britain in the late 1800s and David Livingstone's 1857 Zambezi expedition included a professional artist, Thomas Baines, to record ethnographic studies, geographical features, and botanical specimens of interest. Painters, unlike photographers, had the ability to recreate fast moving events. For example, "Elephant in the Shallows of the Shire River, the steam launch firing," by Thomas Baines, 1859, depicting an elephant charge, was painted at a later date from a description given by an eyewitness. The artist himself was not present at the event.1 Baines himself showed his belief in the superiority of paint to photography by painting himself into the landscape, in the bottom left of one of his pictures, as if asking the question, "Can a photographer do this?"2 The emphasis that Victorians placed on popular science, together with the beliefs and teaching of John Ruskin that art should reflect accurate and informative geographical and anthropological records, helped to carry artists into unknown places. Victorians had a compelling curiosity for foreign, unknown and exotic scenes and some artists traveled widely, painting scenes to satisfy this domestic Victorian appetite.3 The recording of the unknown was not limited to professionals by any means, and the diaries and journals of government officials, explorers, businessmen, and tourists often included maps and sketches - as documentation, to remind the traveler of the adventure, or to show those at home the destination, much as photographs would be used today.

Missionaries, as well, included sketches in their diaries, journals, and letters home. Some of these tracings, such as landscape scenes in the diary of John Percy Nickisson of the Church Missionary Society's mission station on Speke Gulf in the southeastern corner of Lake Victoria (called Nasa or Nassa), were amateurish, while others, such as those of Archdeacon Robert Henry Walker in Uganda, showed more ability. Still others, such as those sent to the Church Missionary Society from Frederick Burt at the mission station (called Jilore) one day's march up the Sabaki River from Malindi on the coast of Kenya, had a map-like quality and were sent home to the mission oversight committee to illustrate building plans or mission station lay-outs.4

Art was used for a number of purposes. Professional artists, such as Baines, often produced works for public exhibition. Private individuals and missionaries, such as Nickisson, produced illustrations for private uses. In the person of Alfred Robert Tucker (who also painted under the name of Alfred Maile) there is a rare opportunity to examine the collection of a missionary who was also a professional artist and whose art was used for both private and public purposes. Tucker came from a family of artists; his father, mother, and four brothers all practiced the same profession. As there is no record that he received any formal schooling it is likely that he was educated at home, as were many middle and upperclass children.5 Tucker was trained in art at an early age by his father who felt that, of all his sons, Alfred had the most potential to become a successful artist. Selling his first painting at the age of fourteen, his career as an itinerant landscape artist was a fulltime occupation from 1863 until 1880 when he entered Oxford as an undergraduate. Tucker was one of only a small number of missionaries (only seventeen percent) with a university degree.7 Both at Oxford and throughout his career he continued to paint, exhibiting nine paintings in all at the Royal Academy of Art and two at the Grosvenor. He spoke of John Ruskin as "my old teacher."8 Both were at Oxford during the same years and both lived in family homes in the Lake District - Tucker at Woodlands in Langdale, Ambleside, and Ruskin at Brantwood on Coniston Water. …

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